I have wanted to go down to Assateague / Chinoteague Island since I moved down to Delaware. I had been waiting until after the “tourist season”, and finally made the roughly 2 hour drive down on a comfortably cool October weekend. The sky was fluctuating between partly cloudy and dramatically overcast, which I think make for fabulous photos.

Wild pony closeup

Assateague Island National Seashore is on the Maryland side of the island and Chinoteague is on the Virginia side.  This long, narrow strip of land along the Atlantic edge of the Delmarva peninsula is an interesting mixture of whitish sandy beaches & dunes, thick pine forests, and salt marshes. 

Even though it was “interesting” weather that weekend, there was still a surprising number of people around. I will have to try to go again during the week so see if more critters come out with fewer people around. There were people strolling along the beach, flying kites, having cookouts, and wind-surfing.

As intriguing this destination is just for the scenery, the real attractions are the wild ponies that freely roam the island. According to the National Park Service’s website:

The “wild” horses on Assateague are actually feral animals, meaning that they are descendants of domestic animals that have reverted to a wild state. Horses tough enough to survive the scorching heat, abundant mosquitoes, stormy weather and poor quality food found on this remote, windswept barrier island have formed a unique wild horse society.

I saw the first ponies blocking the entryway to the camping ground’s parking lot. These several “pushy ponies” were plump and well-fed by tourists, of course. Unfortunately the ponies that learn to beg for food often get hit by cars. The next pony I saw was alone, browsing a camp site along the beach. It was a very thin, scraggly pony with spots of missing fur, so I couldn’t help but feel bad for her. The final pony was also alone, but she appeared to be a healthy weight, grazing on the grass along the marsh side of the island.

The Assateague Island website says that the ponies have roamed the island since the 1600’s and that they may have come over with early colonial settlers who let them graze on the island. Another theory has them arriving when a Spanish galleon sank offshore. Of course these aren’t the only wild creatures on the island – there are loads of water fowl and birds. I assume there are also a myriad of other critters, but I didn’t see any on the day I was there.

All photos © Colleen D. Gjefle