Cumberland Island Horses
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About Cumberland Island HorsesAbout Cumberland Island Horses



Cumberland Island (a barrier island off the state of Georgia's,rnUS, southeast coast )is one of a handful of places on the East Coast that arernhome to bands of feral horses. The horses on Cumberland Island may have similarrnancestors to the Chincoteague/Assateague ponies, which are thought to have beenrneither shipwrecked or abandoned there by Spanish explorers in the 1500s.rnrn 

rnrnPlantation owners, various military activities, and influxesrnof pleasure horses brought by the island's more recent residents blended intornthe population over the centuries, resulting in a horse that's still veryrntough, but not as stubby and fuzzy as its cousins to the North. It's notrnunusual for the Cumberland horses to reach 15 hands (5 feet tall at thernshoulder), and they are longer legged and longer backed than other East Coastrnferal horses.

Currently about 150 horses live on Cumberland island, andrnwithout any significant predators, the population is growing. Visitors to thernisland delight in the way the horses splash along the beaches and peacefullyrngraze in scenic spots like the ruins of the Dungeness mansion.

rnrnHowever, many conservationists and local folks concernedrnabout the island's pristine beauty see the horse as an invasive non-nativernspecies.They eat sea oats and beach grasses that are scarce to begin with, andrnare critical to preventing dune erosion. They also tend to trample delicaternfoliage in the marshy areas.

rnrnThere are those, too, for whom the horses' well-being is thernmain concern, and life on Cumberland is no picnic, even though the animals havernmanaged to tough it out for centuries. Competition for food can be intense, andrnthe herds are often beset with parasites and other diseases. Sand colic, arnpainful and sometimes fatal condition caused by the ingestion of sand whichrncollects in the horse's delicate digestive system, is a common problem whenrnhorses are grazing along the sea shore.rnrn 

rnrnThere was some effort to thin the herds in the early 1970srnwhen they numbered in the hundreds, but since then the National Park Servicernhas not interfered with the population. In recent years, as more attention hasrnbeen given to the effect of the horses on the fragile island ecosystem, thernPark has been exploring a number of options to find a balance between thernisland's ecological requirements and the spirit and history that the horsesrnbring to its sandy shores, windswept dunes and cool shady lawns.

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