Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Island Colonial Mustangs: Assateague Ponies Challenge Painting #147

My earliest contact with wild horses came in 1966 when my father and uncle planned a camping trip to the newly up graded Assateague National Sea Shore.  I say upgraded because The National Seashore was actually created following the 1962 hurricane that wiped out most of the island's residences.

Yearling Assateague Pony and Sea Gull
5 " by 5"
Watercolor on Acrylic Paper
by LindaL MartinArtist

The actual National Sea shore was not created until 1965 and only had amenities for daytime activities and rough camping. The idea was to protect the island from development and to preserve the natural nursery for over 350 species of migratory and year around birds and other wild life. At that time we had to drive through Ocean City, Maryland to get to Assateague. Every inch of the sand at the island where Ocean City stood was covered with store fronts and pavement except for the strip of sand that was the beach.  No one wanted that to happen to Assateague.

In 1966 they had installed a visitor center on the north island and cold water bath houses with restrooms. There was maintained a keeper house on the north island and a Light house across the inlet from Chincoteague Island on the south island.  
 I was familiar with Chincoteague ponies. All of us horse crazy girls had read Margret Henry’s book Misty of Chincoteague. So I knew these were there. But no one would listen to me until my uncle sat down with my dad and told him. He warned us not to leave any food out or even a cooler because the ponies were known to raid the camp sites. He told us stories about how a woman had left a bowl of apples on her picnic table and the next day the bowl was broken on the ground and the apples all gone.  Another story was how the ponies could come through at night and turn on all the water faucets so they could get a drink.  According to recent news reports, generations of ponies have passéd that down.

The migration of the ponies was daily and there were park service escorts that cleared the way on the beach so ponies could pass through groups of people in the morning and evening and graze without molestation on protective parts of the North Island. Even in 1966 the Assateague ponies were deceptively tame.  They weren’t really tame they were wild and had been for generations long before the last settlement was removed from the island in the 1962. With literally millions of people visiting their habitat and interacting with them since the establishment of the National Sea Shore The wild life has become as desensitized to not only humans but also automobiles, bicycles, and motorcycles.  They simply ignored them and go where they want.

The ponies of Assateague have become like bears in the National Park and Skyline Drive. The danger comes when people think that the begging animals are tame and illegal interaction isn’t curtailed. There are signs posted warning folks not to pet the ponies, not to feed the ponies, not to get within 10 feet of the ponies. The fine is $100 per incident if a person is caught. For the pony who is addicted to candy bars, corn chips and soft drinks it can mean removal from the herd and loss to the gene pool.  Or worse the horse can die or require euthanasia because of their aggressive behavior and or injury due to inappropriate food when they become ill from human food.

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