The Assateague Ponies
by Ronald R. Keiper
©1985, Tidewater Publishers
ISBN - 0-870333-330-5
Assateague Island, on the eastern shores of Maryland and Virginia, is home to bands of semi-feral ponies, and has been for hundreds of years. Semi-feral, because the Maryland herds, at least, are permitted to eat, breed, roam, and die wherever and however they choose, but at the same time, they are used to human company and even sometimes approach them for food or other attention. Keiper notes that though there are several feral bands (those that have previously been domesticated and then returned to the wild) of horses in the world, there are most likely no truly wild ones.
In 1975, Dr. Ronald Keiper, an assistant professor of zoology from Pennsylvania State University, stepped forward to assist in the scientific study of these ponies and his research forms the solid basis for this book. Though it is clearly a scientific work, it is written in a less formal, easy to understand "voice". Keiper's love of the animals shows through in his writing. Reading this book doesn't feel like wading through a scholarly thesis; it feels more like reading a very informative and interesting case study.
Keiper details the life cycles of the ponies, their sociological dynamics, and their eating and breeding habits. He draws some conclusions that are very interesting when compared to the life of a domestic equine. For example, colic and founder, which are common in domestic horses, do not seem to be present in the Assateague ponies. Detailed studies of their diets are included, as well as the effect of the ponies' grazing on the plant life of the island.
The book includes many photographs of the ponies, taken during the ten-year research period, when the author spent countless hours among them, following them and observing various behaviors. The National Park Service, in commissioning this study, allowed for the opportunity to learn a great deal about the natural behaviors of these animals, and Keiper has done an excellent job of putting that opportunity to use.
The Assateague Ponies is a 100-page paperback with an informative glossary, a useful index and a fairly extensive reference list. The author is also co-author of a book for younger readers about the Assateague ponies, entitled The Island Ponies.