ASSATEAGUE — Just a little over a month since his removal from his natural home on Assateague for being overly aggressive while raiding the coolers, picnic tables and campsites of visitors to the barrier island, the wild horse Fabio is adjusting well to his new home at a ranch in Texas.
In early August, the 18-year-old stallion had to be removed from his Assateague home after his bold attempts to steal food from visitor’s campsites, coolers and picnic baskets deemed him too dangerous to roam freely around the island’s densely populated areas. For Fabio, a harem stallion and alpha male in his herd, the lure of snacks fed to him by visitors over time caused him to boldly and aggressively saunter into camping and day-use areas seeking handouts.
As a result, a decision was made to transfer Fabio off of Assateague and relocate him at the Doris Day Rescue and Adoption Center in Texas, where he is currently being retrained, or trained in the first place since he was a wild horse on the barrier island, for possible future adoption. For the last several weeks, Fabio has steadily grown accustomed to his new surroundings, although his favorite spot continues to be at or near an irrigation sprinkler, perhaps a longing for his former beach home. Anne Rathbun-Favre, director of the Texas facility, said last week Fabio is thriving thus far in his new digs.
“As far as his training goes, Fabio has been reintroduced into our herd at the Doris Day Rescue and Adoption Center and is doing well,” she said. “He’s enjoying his new companions and the fresh grass in addition to the sprinkler.”
Part of the process initially is to train Fabio in the daily rigors of being a domesticated horse, according to Rathbun-Favre.
“We are continuing to train him on his suppleness when asked to lead, farrier prep, trailer load and enter into a stall,” she said.
As far as his aggressive behavior toward food and water, Fabio is also showing steady signs of improvement although it’s a trait he has learned on Assateague and might only be broken of it for good if he is placed in a situation with trained handlers, according to Rathbun-Favre.
“To date, he has shown no further signs of food aggression, including when we have removed food from him,” she said. “However, we continue to believe that it will be important that he be placed into a situation where people are familiar and skilled out handling horses. Without the proper leadership and knowledge of horse behavior, he, like most horses, will exhibit dominance around food and water.”
While Fabio’s aggressive behavior led to his removal from Assateague, his trip to the adoption and rescue center in Texas is not being considered a punishment. The horse’s behavior was the inevitable result of the continued interaction between the island’s natural inhabitants and their human visitors.
In fact, just weeks before Fabio was removed from Assateague, National Parks officials announced two new regulations aimed at preventing often-dangerous interactions between the famous wild ponies and the visiting public. The new initiatives include a renewed effort to educate the public about the dangers of getting too close to the wild ponies, along with a couple of regulations intended to get the message across.
The first regulation prohibits approaching or remaining within 10 feet of any horse on the barrier island. The second requires campers and other visitors to properly secure food and food-related refuse in hard-sided, lockable storage bins or coolers.