News About Wild Horse Scientists
July 25, 2012
Early this summer, here in the Mid-Atlantic, we were in the grip of a sticky, sweltering heat wave. One day, as the afternoon steamed on, the thermometer outside my office window read 96 degrees, but with humid air sitting over everything like a damp sponge, the heat index was well over 100. I had ridden Remy early, but there was no beating the heat, even at 8 a.m. Both of us, I and my wonderful horse, sweated and puffed and were happy to be done by 9. Then he got a cold shower, some sweet hay, and a couple of horse cookies that he enjoyed under his fan which, though it only blew hot air around, at least kept the flies away. I got the air conditioner in my car, cranked up to full blast.
On Assateague Island, Maryland—some 200 miles to the south—I imagine the wild horses made their way to the ocean and stood up to their bellies in the surf during the hottest part of the day. Greenheads and other biting flies would be out on a day like this, along with clouds of mosquitoes, and this is one method these small feral horses have devised over hundreds of years to survive extremes of summer in their unnatural home.
When I first thought of writing about the wild horses of Assateague, it was their vulnerability and toughness that most impressed me. It still is. By the time my book, Wild Horse Scientists, is published on November 6 of this year by Houghton Mifflin Books for Children, as part of the acclaimed “Scientists in the Field” series, the Atlantic hurricane season of 2012 will be nearing an end. I hope it will have been kind to humans and other animals alike. Now, when summer storms or winter blizzards hit this part of the world, I always think of the island horses who manage to survive whatever nature throws at them without any of the comforts or protections my pampered domestic horse enjoys. The brilliant Diane Ackerman wrote about this very thing last month in the New York Times; you can read her article here.