Cumberland Island is a barrier island off the coast of Georgia that is only accessible by ferry. You can camp there, but it is still more or less uninhabited by people, so it is a wonderful place to see wildlife.
One of Cumberland's claims to fame is its herd of feral horses - there are about 150 of them roaming the 17-mile-long island. I've only seen wild horses one other time, when I was much younger, at Chincoteague Island, and they were so far off that it was difficult to see them at all. So this was a really exciting experience, wandering the beautiful island right alongside them.
However, feral horses have very different manners from their domesticated counterparts, and they can be much more unpredictable and dangerous when people approach them. When you board the ferry, the rangers give instructions not to feed, approach, or touch the horses, because they have injured visitors before. Not surprisingly, in the age of Instagram, one of the most serious injuries was when a girl tried to take a selfie with a horse, and it bit her right on the neck. She had to be airlifted off the island!
I was frustrated by how little fear and respect people had for these animals, even after hearing all this. It was especially shocking to see parents bringing their children much too close (as you can see in the photo of this mare and her foal). I'm genuinely surprised that I didn't see anyone get hurt.
Having spent a lot of time around domesticated horses, I was struck by the physical condition of most of these wild ones. It's not an easy life for them on the island, and many (but not all) of them had distended bellies, visible ribs, and poor muscle quality.
This one breaks my heart. I'm not sure what was wrong with this poor girl, but she was skin and bones. The Cumberland herd is not managed by the park service, so the horses get no veterinary care if they are ill - nature just runs its course.
As I've been reading more about the horses, I can see why animal and environmental activists are concerned about them being on the island. Yes, they are beautiful, but they are a non-native species and their presence has a lot of complicated implications for the ecosystem and the horses themselves. I'm very grateful that I had the opportunity to see them, but I don't know if I can say what is right after being there.