So the next morning we went back to the main highway and headed north. We crossed over the Maryland State line and saw a sign for the Maryland part of Assateague Island.
Hmmm … should we go?
Finally we decided we weren’t in that big of a hurry, so we’d check it out. (Assateague Island is split into Virginia and Maryland, but you can’t cross the state line ON the island – you have to go out to the main highway to get from one state to another. Not sure why, but I’m guessing it has something to do with horses.)
Before we got to the bridge to take us to the Maryland side of the island, we saw another visitor’s center – this one uniquely called “Assateague Island Visitor’s Center.” That sounded promising and so we went inside and questioned the rangers – who actually answered us nicely and explained the horse situation (after promising that we wouldn’t have any problems actually finding wild horses). They did not send us to McDonalds to see the horse in the pen.
This is all rather complicated and not exactly logical sounding, but the Virginia Assateaque Island horses are owned by the local volunteer fire department. Not sure why a fire department has horses, but again, I’m sure there’s a reason. I do know that they keep 150 horses and that they’re fenced in large pastures. The fire department does make money by selling the foals.
The Maryland horses are owned by the National Park Service and run free. They keep the herd to less than 125 horses, because a larger herd would destroy the barrier island.
Some history – No one is sure exactly HOW the horses got to Assateaque Island – there’s a couple different theories including a result of a shipwreck or maybe early settlers put their horses on the island to hide them because they had to pay taxes on their animals. No one knows.
The wild horses thrive on the island plants and because of the ocean saltiness in the plants – they drink twice as much water as mainland horses.
The island has lots of warnings not to get too close to the animals because every year tourists get kicked, bitten or knocked down by over zealous visitors attempting to get pictures. . (My own close-up pictures were done with my telephoto lens NOT because I was close. I saw my dad get scratched by a bear at Yellowstone – I respect wild animals.)
So the moral of this story is: If you want to see the wild horses – go to the town of Chincoteague for the museum and Misty statue (and ice cream), but to actually see wild horses, go north to the Maryland side.