A video originally posted to the People of the Ocean City Boardwalk Facebook page is now making its rounds across the Internet. In the short cell phone video, we see exactly what not to do when confronted with the wild ponies of Assateague Island.
The now-viral footage first shows a small group of wild Assateague ponies approaching a beach blanket. It appears the ponies are looking for food and don't seem to mind that they have an audience. One beachgoer, however, is shown in what we can only assume is an effort to shoo the horses away and save her beach snacks. The woman walks up to the horse, hits it on the rump with a plastic shovel, and then immediately falls backward as the horse kicks out with its back legs.
Watch the video of the wild ponies below:
The woman quickly gets back up and doesn't seem to be seriously injured. The entire encounter, however, serves as an important warning: Choose to disregard the laws about the wild ponies, and there's a good chance you'll get kicked.
The Wildlife Protection laws enforced in and around the Assateague Island National Seashore say that the "feeding, touching, teasing, frightening, or intentional disturbing of wildlife nesting, breeding, or other activities" is strictly prohibited. It's safe to say that hitting a wild pony with a plastic beach shovel is included under those terms.
Signs warning visitors of the laws surrounding the wild ponies and other wildlife are posted in several places around Assateague State Park and Assateague Island National Seashore. They also say visitors and residents are required to practice their best social distancing by staying a minimum of 40 feet away from the ponies at all times. This includes when the ponies decide to approach you on their own.
With free access to the beach and surrounding area, the herd of wild ponies on Assateague Island has learned to co-exist with humans. The family bands that spend most of their time near the beach and residential areas are no longer afraid of humans. In fact, they see them as a reliable food source. They often go on what park officials call "beach blanket raids."
Stealing snacks is obviously problematic, but the biggest concern is for the horses, not the humans. Regularly eating human food makes the ponies sick, and it has even led to several pony deaths. This is why advocates for the ponies continually encourage beachgoers to secure their food as if they were at a campsite.
The ponies can become especially aggressive around food--hence the kicking. If you ever visit Assateague Island and are privileged enough to see horses, the best thing to do is slowly walk away and maintain a safe distance. Do not hit the horse with a shovel when it tries to steal your snacks, and do not pose with the horse for the perfect Instagram photo.