Wild pony N6ELS-H, Delegate's Pride, known by pony fans as "Chip", has exhibited aggressive behavior to visitors and will spend his days at a Texas wildlife sanctuary. NPS photo.

Aggressive, Food-Conditioned Horse Removed from Assateague

One of Assateague Island’s wild horses has been removed from the national park and relocated after multiple aggressive incidents that have injured park visitors.

The stallion Delegate’s Pride (N6ELS-H, also known as “Chip”), had become “increasingly aggressive towards park visitors and staff when pursuing human food or when park staff attempted to redirect him or his band away from crowded visitor use areas such as campgrounds and parking areas,” according to Assateague Island National Seashore, calling him “highly food conditioned.” That comes from visitors and campers feeding horses or leaving food improperly stored at the campgrounds or beach—things that are strictly forbidden. Once a wild horse associates people with food and is unafraid to approach them, the National Seashore says it’s extremely difficult to reverse the behavior.

In the case of “Chip”, Assateague says he has been resistant to the park’s usual non-contact methods to move horses out of potentially dangerous situations. Actions that help other horses on the island to move along seem to have no effect on Chip. The National Seashore also says Chip has been involved in more than half of all incidents since 2017 that left people injured.

Chip will be permanently moved to Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch, a wildlife sanctuary in Murchison, Tx. “We do not take these decisions lightly, but occasionally it is necessary for the safety of visitors and staff,” says the National Seashore in a statement.

Assateague Island National Seashore reminds people that feeding wildlife, baiting the horses with food or leaving food for them is prohibited. And all visitors must maintain a safe distance from the horses (over 40 feet or a bus length). Assateague plans to release updated food storage regulations this month for campers. Anyone camping at the National Seashore must only store food in their vehicle or in a strapped cooler inside the food storage box provided by the National Park Service under all picnic tables. These specially-designed tables were added in 2019 with horse-proof food storage compartments, which hold standard-sized strapped coolers and hard-sided containers.

“All visitors need to take this food storage issue seriously and help us reduce the frequency of inappropriate interactions with the wild horses,” says Seashore Superintendent Hugh Hawthorne. “The free roaming nature of the Assateague horses is what makes them so unique and special, but there are also issues like this that need to be addressed.”

For more information on how to safely see the wild horses at Assateague Island National Seashore, go to nps.gov/asis.

-Meg Walburn Viviano