One of my favorite places to unwind, relax and be alone is Assateague Island National Seashore. I love to take off for a few days and camp out with the horses, and I love to photograph them. I am often dismayed when I see tourists approaching the horses, feeding them or otherwise interfering with the their habitat. I have such a deep respect for these creatures, and love studying them and watching their interactions.
Feral horses live in groups and have a dominant stallion and several mares, one of which is also dominant, and the group includes the offspring. When the offspring reach sexual maturity at about two years of age, the stallion will chase the colts and fillies out of the herd. The colts are driven out to reduce competition and the fillies, it is believed, are chased out to prevent inbreeding and keep the health of the herd strong. The fillies usually join another group of horses fairly quickly, and the colts often will form bachelor groups.
On the Maryland side of Assateague, the National Park Services manages the herd by carefully cataloging the females that have produced foals, and using a vaccine to prevent pregnancy administered through a dart gun into the hind quarters of selected mares. There are only about ten foals born every year on the Maryland side. A 2005 study indicated that 125 horses was the maximum number that could survive and thrive on the Maryland side of the island. A fence separates the Maryland and Virginia side of Assateague.
On the Virginia side, the herd is privately owned by the fire department. Sixty to ninety foals are born every year, and most of those are auctioned off the last week in July during the famous Assateague Island Pony Swim. This keeps the size of the Virginia herd to 150 horses.
I am planning another visit to Assateague very soon to photograph the ponies again before the cold weather returns.
In the meantime, enjoy the newest gallery on my website.