The horses are small in size, more like ponies and have large bellies. They graze on abundant but nutrient-poor saltmarsh cordgrass, saltmeadow hay and beach grass. Which is why they are short in stature. They drink over twice the amount of water that domesticated horses will due to their salty food supply. All the salt in their diet and the water they drink causes the bloated appearance. There are fresh water ponds on the island.
In the winter they stay in the shrub thickets to feed and find protection from the wind. Their thick furry coats protect them from the ferocious winter winds. In the spring the rain brings fresh plant growth and they live in the marshes close to their best food sources. The foals are usually born in late spring. When summer comes the horses flee to the beach to escape the mosquitoes and flies in the marshes. The cool ocean breezes keep the bugs away. When fall comes they can return to the marshes and the abundant grasses.
There are two different herds of horses. The Maryland herd, that roams free on the island and are truly free and the Virginia herd that is owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Dept. The Virgina herd produces 60-90 foals every year. Most of them are sold at the annual auction, after an annual swim across the inlet from Assateague to Chincoteague (the proceeds go to the Fire Dept.) This swim takes place every July and is a big tourist draw. Marguerite Henry made it famous with her book 'Misty of Chincoteague'. They keep their herd at or below 150 adults. The Maryland herd was up to 175 at one time but they have to consider the ratio of horses to food supply to keep a healthy herd so they began using a non-hormonal, non-invasive vaccine to prevent pregnancy. This vaccine is delivered by a dart to the hindquarters of selected mares each spring. Each mare is allowed to have one offspring. This successfully lowered the birth rate to fewer than 10 foals a year-enough to ensure a sustainable population. Wild horses are highly social animals that form complex, family-based societies and using this contraceptive method they are able to control the population and not interrupt the natural relationships in the wild. Their goal is to keep the herd size to less than 125 horses. There were 122 horses on the island when we were there. The stallions are very territorial and each stallion has several mares in his band and they stay in one particular area and when a young stallion finds himself in another's territory there can trouble!
A mushroom turned upside-down! What did you think it is....
sorry couldn't resist:)
There is also an Over-Sand Vehicle (OSV) zone at Assateague Island National Seashore. It contains miles of unspoiled beaches to accommodate OSV enthusiasts and other beach goers. You have to purchase a yearly permit and only 31 vehicles are allowed on the beach at one time. When we were there it was a gorgeous sunny day and the beach was lined with trucks and fishermen.
|quite a set up isn't it?|
Lots of people in the water having fun even though it was cold. They just wore wet suits!
|Couldn't resist taking a pic of this dog having a ball! Sure miss my girls!|
We had a nice picnic and walk and saw some wild turkeys and deer. I didn't get a shot of the deer. There are two kind of deer there, sika and white tail. Hunting is allowed on the island.
here and here!