(Nov. 1, 2019) Zoe Newman, 14, has done something no one else has in the history of Assateague Island National Seashore – she adopted the entire herd of wild ponies who call the land home.
Newman’s mother, Sam, surprised her daughter on Oct. 14 during their most recent trip to Assateague by coming up with $2,120 to adopt 53 ponies on top of the 22 she had already adopted over the past four years. Overall, it cost the family $3,000 to foster every horse in the herd.
“At the visitor’s center, my mom said she had a challenge, and she started recording and she told me we were going to foster the remaining 53 horses,” Newman said. “At first I didn’t believe her … I thanked her so much because it was unbelievable.”
Newman first fell in love with Assateague and its wild ponies when she used her savings to adopt her first foster, a chestnut pinto named Annie Laurie, at 10 years old via the Assateague Island Alliance’s fostering program.
“When I was 10, we went into the visitor’s center to look around and I saw that they have a foster horse program,” Newman said. “I thought that was pretty neat, and this one horse, Annie Laurie, she was my favorite … she was the first horse I recognized on the island. So I begged my mom to foster her … on April Fools Day [that year] we finally adopted Annie Laurie, and since then, every time we go out there I just have to adopt another horse.”
Since Newman and her family live in Lexington Park, Maryland, she is unable to visit as much as she would like to, but the family travels as often as they can, especially during the summer and holiday breaks from school.
Funds raised from the adoptions are used for educational purposes and for herd management. The mares receive birth control, which helps keep the herd to a manageable size. It also helps the mares avoid giving birth when they are too young, which lengthens their lives, said Ashlie Kozlowski, outreach coordinator for Assateague Island Alliance.
“The foster horse program began as a public education outreach program,” Kozlowski said. “The Assateague Island Alliance had taken over managing this program when the organization was formed in 2008, and the funds all go to support the wild horse management program.”
Kozlowski and others in the organization affectionately call Newman and her mother, the “horse girls,” whenever they see them.
“We are so grateful for all of our donors, but especially for someone so young to have that kind of philanthropic mission for herself,” she said. “When I asked her why she decided to do this, she said because she just wanted to give something back to Assateague, because the wild horses give her so much back.”
On her own, over the course of four years, Zoe fostered 22 ponies and donated her remaining savings to the Assateague Island Alliance.
Some of her favorites, not including Annie Laurie, have been Yankee, a 5-year-old stallion with a band of several females; Chestnut, another stallion; and Precious, one of the older horses on the island who often gets left out of the fostering process due to her age.
Newman saves her money all year earned from part-time jobs in order to either adopt new horses or renew the one-year leases on her current adoptions.
Fostering horses is not the only way Newman has been taking care of the Assateague ponies. Whenever she visits, Newman continues to look after their well-being by picking up litter, especially balloons, and speaking up when she sees other visitors acting dangerously, such as attempting to pet the horses.
“Whenever we’re driving on the island, she’ll have me pull over and pick up all the trash she sees,” Sam Newman said. “During our last visit, she caught a couple of people, older people, trying to pet Yankee and his band. She went up and she said, ‘Excuse me. We’re not supposed to pet the horses.’ The lady snapped back at her and said, ‘Well, I have two horses,’ and she said, ‘I understand that, but your horses are trained and these are wild [animals].’”
Newman and her mother plan to continue fostering the entire herd every year from now on, and Newman aspires to become a horse ranger when she graduates from school.
Just because all the horses are adopted by one person, however, does not mean that no one else can adopt a horse now, Kozlowski said. Each horse can be adopted by multiple people.
“All 75 horses are available in the visitor center and on our website, if anyone would like to become a foster parent,” she said. “The fostership is good for one year and they have the option to renew if they like or choose a different horse. It makes a really great gifts around the holidays, especially for people that already have everything.
“We are so lucky to have a wild herd of horses and it is important to maintain a way for them to have their wild inherent behaviors for all of us to enjoy for current and future generations,” Kozlowski said. “By having the foster home horse program and supporters we are able to ensure that continues.”
Fosterships can be purchased online at the Assateague Island Alliance website at assateagueislandalliance.org. The cost is $40 per horse, though additional donations are welcome.
Assateague Island rangers remind civilians that these horses are wild animals, and should not be pet, fed or approached as they can cause severe damage if provoked.