Safety Tips for Viewing the Wild Horses

During your visit to Assateague, you will most likely encounter at least a few of the island’s most popular residents. Petting or feeding the wild horses may seem like a harmless and fun thing to do, but the consequences can be terrible. For your safety and the safety of the horses, please obey park regulations and do not approach, touch or feed the Assateague horses.

photo of child bitten on back by wild horse
This child was was bitten by a wild horse. Most children will not understand the dangers of getting too close to wild horses. Adults are responsible for their children’s safety around horses.

The Dangers of Being Too Close

  • Horses bite and kick in response to crowding or competition for food.
  • Visitors can be knocked down and stepped on if horses spook or react suddenly.
  • Horses are large animals, making it dangerous for anyone, especially children, to get too close
  • Any horse may bite, but be aware that each band has a harem stallion whose job is to protect his mares, and most bites are by stallions.

The Dangers of Petting and Feeding Wild Horses

Both petting and feeding cause harmful behavior changes in horses

  • Horses become unafraid of humans – this is not the same as being “tame”!

  • Horses begin approaching cars and visitors, becoming more aggressive over time; your actions today can endanger future visitors!

  • Horses are attracted to roads, increasing the risk of being injured or killed by a vehicle

In searching or begging for food, horses:

  • Grab objects from visitors, bite at clothing and hands

  • Push visitors away from open trunks, car doors and picnic tables

  • Tear into tents and destroy property

photo of horses fighting next to road
Assateague horses are WILD; they don’t behave like domestic horses. Stay at least 40 feet away from them.

Things to Remember While Observing Wild Horses

  • For your safety and the safety of the horses, do not approach, touch or feed them.
  • Stay at least 40 feet away, the legal minimum (a “bus length”), but remember that may still be much too close depending on the circumstances.

  • If horses approach you, back off and return to your vehicle.

  • If horses approach your vehicle, roll all windows up.

  • Don’t open trunks or coolers if horses are nearby.

  • Assateague horses DO bite and kick, and can carry rabies.

  • These horses are WILD; they don’t behave like domestic horses and can’t be treated like domestic horses.

  • Citations may be issued for feeding or petting horses or any other wildlife.

photos showing wild horse bite mark on visitor's shoulder
This woman received a painful bite from a stallion defending “his” water source (pooled water at the base of a campground water pump). Wild horses sometimes perceive the presence of a human as a challenge or a threat to food, water, foals or other band members.

How Close is "Too Close"?

  • Is 40 feet (a “bus length”) still too close? Think about it! Each visitor to the island must use common sense when observing any wildlife, including horses.
  • If a stallion began herding his mares away, if a fight broke out, if the horses spooked – could you stand where you are and not be at risk of getting run over?
    Then you’re too close.
  • Is your presence changing the horses’ behavior (are they approaching you or moving away in response to your presence)?
    Then you’re too close.
  • Treat the horses with respect - move back, stay safe.
photo of horse killed by vehicle
Stallion hit and killed by car

NPS Photo


This stallion was hit and killed by a car. The average death toll for horses on the park’s roads is one per year. Horses which are not used to people spend very little time near roads, and are much less likely to end this way.

Keep your distance to protect and preserve the wild horses!

Wild Horses on Assateague
Wild Horses

Enjoy their beauty from a distance, and you can help make sure these extraordinary wild horses will continue to thrive on Assateague Island.

Photo of mare and foal grazing on Assateague Island. Learn about how the NPS manages the horses.
Horse Resource Brief

Learn about how the National Park Service manages the population of wild horses on Assateague.

Last updated: February 27, 2021

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