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Cumberland Island: Home to Wild Horses & Snakes With Attitude

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I hadn’t appreciated until last week that there were still wild horses in the US.

"One of the scrawny looking horses we saw - notice the brown one lying down too"

One of the scrawny looking horses we saw – notice the brown one lying down too

I knew about the wild horses on Sable Island off the coast of Nova Scotia. But it wasn’t until I got to Georgia – and more specifically, south Georgia that I discovered that Cumberland Island, one of Georgia’s pristine outer islands is still home to wild horses.

"Wild horses on the pristine white sand beaches of Cumberland Island"

Wild horses on the pristine white sand beaches of Cumberland Island

Wild horses definitely couldn’t keep me away from Cumberland Island – though the snakes certainly could. In fact the wild horses, and the phenomenal, empty, clean, white sand beaches were a huge draw.

"Check out just how skinny this horse is"

Check out just how skinny this horse is

I can’t say the same about the water mocassins – a poisonous snake with attitude as we discovered. It blended into the scenery and hung out right beside the path, just a few feet from where out friend Ted almost stepped. We tried to get it to move by throwing handfuls of leaves. It didn’t budge – and appeared to be annoyed if I can fancy myself a snake reader. Round two involved more leaves and a few light sticks. And with that, all four feet of it slithered away.

Locals tell us that this snake will actually come after you. Good to know. (Though if you read the comments one gentleman says it most definitely is not a water moccasin.)

"A poisonous water moccasin - otherwise known as a cottonmouth"

A poisonous water moccasin – otherwise known as a cottonmouth

Back to the wild horses 

It’s interesting how our perception about seeing wild horses is so different from our encounters with farm dwelling horses. It’s really very exciting to see them in the wild and the only disappointment I felt was that they didn’t go thundering by in the surf as we ate our picnic lunch.

We saw the horses in three locations – on the beach in the distance, eating grass in the sand dunes and in the interior of the island. Judging by the amount of manure we saw, they must roam all over.

"Our friends trying to get a tad closer to the horses"

Our friends trying to get just a tad closer to the horses

These wild horses are protected by The Wild Free Roaming Horses and Burros Act, in place since 1971. The wild horses are treated as an integral part of the natural system and since Cumberland Island is a National Seashore and part of the National Park Service, they are protected.

It was a real thrill to see the horses…and the snake. You’ll be hearing more about our fabulous trip via kayak to Cumberland Island.

Have you ever seen wild horses – and where was that??

Leigh McAdam

HikeBikeTravel

Author Leigh

Avid world traveler. Craves adventure - & the odd wildly epic day. Gardener. Reader. Wine lover. Next big project - a book on 100 Canadian outdoor adventures.

More posts by Leigh

Join the discussion 104 Comments

  • Jordan Schmitt says:

    That snake is a non-venomous Eastern Coachwhip.

  • Jordan Schmitt says:

    That snake is a non-venomous Eastern Coachwhip.

  • Freya says:

    Stunning photos ! Love the horses not a big fan of the snake however ;)

  • Freya says:

    Stunning photos ! Love the horses not a big fan of the snake however ;)

  • Tal Galton says:

    About the SNAKE: It is DEFINITELY not a cottonmouth/water moccasin. As a previous poster said, it is most likely an Eastern Coachwhip (non-venomous). They are very fast, slender snakes. Cottonmouths are very heavy-bodied.

    About the horses: they are feral horses and not adapted to the maritime forest ecoregion. Please see Wild Cumberland’s page on the island’s horses: http://wildcumberland.org/?page_id=35. The horses are in terrible health and they wreak havoc on the delicate ecosystem. The current park superintendent has expressed a desire to remove them. One ill-effect of the horses presence on the island is the incredible abundance of ticks. One effect that you will appreciate is that many venomous snakes on the island (diamondback rattlers and cottonmouths) often don’t strike at large mammals (i.e. humans) even if disturbed. This is because they have become accustomed to the horses tromping around and have learned not to waste their venom on large mammals.

  • Tal Galton says:

    About the SNAKE: It is DEFINITELY not a cottonmouth/water moccasin. As a previous poster said, it is most likely an Eastern Coachwhip (non-venomous). They are very fast, slender snakes. Cottonmouths are very heavy-bodied.

    About the horses: they are feral horses and not adapted to the maritime forest ecoregion. Please see Wild Cumberland’s page on the island’s horses: http://wildcumberland.org/?page_id=35. The horses are in terrible health and they wreak havoc on the delicate ecosystem. The current park superintendent has expressed a desire to remove them. One ill-effect of the horses presence on the island is the incredible abundance of ticks. One effect that you will appreciate is that many venomous snakes on the island (diamondback rattlers and cottonmouths) often don’t strike at large mammals (i.e. humans) even if disturbed. This is because they have become accustomed to the horses tromping around and have learned not to waste their venom on large mammals.

  • Bob says:

    I know this post is old, but I just want to reiterate that the snake pictured is not a Cottonmouth, it’s an Eastern Coachwhip. Completely harmless. And Cottonmouths DO NOT chase people, that’s just a ridiculous myth. Cottonmouths are actually pretty docile and don’t want to bite if they don’t have to. A Cottonmouth will be much thicker and will have a pretty blocky head. They’ll also open their mouth and stare upwards when threatened. Please for the sake of all that is good edit this post to contain accurate info.

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