Pony Gangs of Assateague Island

photo by Gunner Hughes

A great article about the park rangers who keep the peace between the rival gangs of ponies and people.


The ponies are wild, and don’t act like the domestic horses that some people expect. They bite and kick and steal food right out of your hand. And people who don’t know better make the mistake of fighting back.

“The ponies are big trash pandas. Like bears, but friendly-looking,” laughs park Assistant Manager Meghan Rhode. Almost anyone who has spent time on Assateague has a story of being run down by a horse for their sandwich or bag of chips, myself included. It sounds funny, and is somewhat in retrospect, but in the moment it’s fully terrifying. The rangers’ primary problem is preventing that by convincing people that these horses are wild.

“A big portion of our clientele grew up on farms and have been around horses — they love to tell you that. It’s harder to convince them that this is a different situation,” says Rhode. Sure, a domestic horse will bite or kick, but not in a territorial, attacking way. “They’re accustomed to their own space, pushing other people and horses around. … There are stallions here who are willing to battle pretty hard for territory, for food, for mares. That’s one of my biggest problems, getting people to stand up and back away from the horse.”

But the rangers clearly love what they do.

“We protect the resource from the people, the people from the resource, and sometimes people from people.”

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