Reducing Close Encounters of the Horse Kind

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Date: July 11, 2011
Contact: Carl S. Zimmerman, 410-629-6071

Berlin, Maryland - Superintendent Trish Kicklighter today announced several new initiatives to help prevent harmful interactions between the wild horses of Assateague Island National Seashore and the visiting public. The initiatives include a renewed effort to educate the public about the dangers of close interactions with the horses and the adoption of two new regulations.

The new initiatives are intended to help keep both the Assateague Horses and the visiting public safe. Although all of the horses are wild, some of those that live year-round in the developed area along Bayberry Drive have become very habituated to humans. This does not mean that they are tame, only that they've lost their natural fear of people. "Visitors often mistake habituation for tameness and that's when the problems start", said Kicklighter, "Unfortunately, every year, some will learn the hard way by getting bitten or kicked, often severely."

The interactions with people also create problems for the horses. Horses that have lost their natural fear and associate people with food are more likely to stand by the sides of the roads looking for handouts. An average of one horse per year dies as the result of being struck by an automobile along park roads.

To help reduce the incidence of too-close encounters, two new regulations have been adopted and will now be enforced by National Park Service Rangers.

The first new regulation prohibits willfully approaching or remaining within 10 feet of any horse. According to Chief Ranger Ted Morlock, "Being too close to the horses just invites trouble. We would really prefer that no one get within 20 feet (a bus length), but 10 feet is now the absolute legal minimum." The new rule also expands the existing ban on touching or feeding the horses by prohibiting any actions intended to attract horses, such as offering food. 
 
The second regulation addresses the need for campers to properly secure food and food related refuse. Unattended food, whether out in the open or inside tents, is a strong enticement and has led to some horses becoming aggressive in their pursuit of food. This has included ripping open fly screens and tents, and opening non-locking coolers. The new rule requires that all food and food refuse be secured in hard sided and lockable storage (e.g. vehicle, locked cooler) when not being used.

"We're really hoping that visitors will take this issue seriously and help us reduce the frequency of inappropriate interactions with the horses," said Kicklighter. "We recently had to remove an 18 year old stallion from the island that had become dangerously aggressive in his pursuit of human food. Although we've found him a good home, it's a shame that it had to come to that."

For more information on Assateague Island National Seashore and viewing the wild horses safely, visit www.nps.gov/asis



Last updated: February 26, 2015

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