Assateague begins transfer of ‘aggressive’ Md. horse to his new home

There’s heated debate on social media about the fate of Chip, a wild horse from Maryland’s Assateague Island who’s being relocated to a sanctuary in Texas. But the staff at his final destination says he’ll be well-cared for when he arrives at his new home.

Noelle Almrud, the senior director at Cleveland Amory Black Beauty Ranch in Murchison, Texas, said the sanctuary is home to another horse relocated from Assateague Island about 15 years ago. That horse, Fabio, “is now a senior gentleman, and so he’s living out his best life at the sanctuary.”

Chip will have “hundreds and hundreds of acres to roam,” Almrud said. Although he’ll be gelded, so he can’t breed, the horse will be able to form his own herd at the ranch.

“We respect that he doesn’t want to be handled, and so when they take on horses like Chip, we try to give them as much space and dignity as possible for the rest of their lives,” said Almrud.

Almrud says there are not many sanctuaries that can take on wild — or as she calls them — feral horses, but the Texas ranch has experience with them. When Black Beauty Ranch was founded, one of the first efforts was to relocate hundreds of feral donkeys from the Grand Canyon.

Many other rescues take on horses raised with humans and can be handled, but “we focus on the ones that can’t,” Almrud said.

The ranch houses more than horses and donkeys. Animals, including big cats subject to wildlife trafficking, housed in roadside zoos, or primates used in laboratory testing are also kept at the ranch.

Chip’s History

According to the National Park Service staff at Assateague, Chip had become increasingly aggressive while searching out food left by human visitors to the park. Since 2017, there have been nine documented cases involving aggression toward humans at the park.

According to Park Superintendent Hugh Hawthorne, Chip was involved in five of those cases.

Hawthorne said the wild horses forage off the marsh grasses on the island, but once exposed to food left by visitors — either by accident or on purpose — the horses develop a taste for what they find in unsecured coolers or other open containers.

“Human food is much higher in sugar and carbohydrates,” and the horses develop a preference for it, said Hawthorne.

This week, National Park Service staff posted an image of Chip on Facebook that showed him in a trailer. He’ll be quarantined before he can begin the journey to his permanent home in Texas.

On the park service Facebook page, more than one commenter suggested humans responsible for feeding the horses or leaving food out should be barred from the park.

“Good luck, Chip. I’m sorry stupid humans who couldn’t follow simple rules led to this,” one commenter said.

While humans may have created the problem, Hawthorne said, “Our primary mission is seashore recreation,” he said. “The fact that you can come to the seashore and see horses that’s an extra bonus.” 

Visitors are told not to feed the horses and secure coolers and food containers. Guests are also asked to give the horses a wide berth of space, at least 40 feet or one bus length.

Kate Ryan

As a member of the award-winning WTOP News, Kate is focused on state and local government. Her focus has always been on how decisions made in a council chamber or state house affect your house. She's also covered breaking news, education and more.

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