ASSATEAGUE – An otherwise perfect Labor Day on Assateague on the symbolic end of the summer season ended on a sad note on Monday night when one of the wild ponies that inhabit the island was struck and killed by a vehicle near the approach to the Verrazano Bridge.
Around 8 p.m. on Monday, a wild pony was struck by a vehicle leaving the parks on the causeway approaching the bridge. The horse, identified as T3KR, an alpha-numeric designation used to name the 100-plus wild inhabitants of the island, was a 20-year-old bay mare. The horse reportedly stepped into the path of a moving vehicle, according to Assateague Island National Seashore officials.
The accident occurred as the vehicle was leaving the park area and headed toward the bridge. The driver was not injured, but was cited for unsafe operation of a motor vehicle. Initial reports state the horse stepped into the path of traffic. It is believed the horse died instantly after being struck by the vehicle. The horse was a member of a group of wild ponies known as Jester’s band, or the causeway band. It is often the first band of horses visitors encounter after crossing the bridge onto the barrier island.
The unfortunate incident is a reminder of the importance of using care and caution while driving on the island and interacting with its famous wild inhabitants. The ponies, which number over 100, often interact and mingle with the hundreds of thousands of visitors to the island with sometimes dangerous or deadly results.
Many of the horses inhabit wild and seldom visited areas of the island, but more than a few can routinely be seen in and around the visitor areas, interacting with vehicles, beach goers and campers. Of the 29 horses that have been killed on the roads on the island since 1982, 16 have been on the causeway near the bridge.
“It is essential that visitors to the island understand that horses can move quickly,” said Assateague Island National Seashore Chief of Interpretation and Education Rachelle Daigneault on Tuesday. “A horse may be startled into traffic by something going on nearby that is not obvious to the driver. It is the responsibility of each driver to be aware of wildlife and move with caution when driving on the island.”
Daigneault said many of the horses interact with island visitors, who often mistake them for domesticated animals. However, it is important to remember the ponies are wild animals and caution should always be used when encountering them.
“Horses can often be found near roadways,” she said. “Visitors sometimes lure them to the roads and even to their vehicles with food. The volunteer Pony Patrol plays an important and valued role in educating visitors about the dangers of interacting with the horses and also in safeguarding both horses and visitors. Even so, the issue of petting and feeding the horses also remains a challenge for us.”