Some say the ponies swam ashore from a Spanish shipwreck in the 1500s. Others say that mainlanders brought ponies to the island in the 1700s to avoid a tax on livestock. Being a romantic, I prefer the shipwreck story.
On a gorgeous day this past week, Jack and I left Philly at 10 AM and got to Assateague Island National Seashore at about 1 PM. There's a Maryland state park there, too, but we went to the national park on the Maryland side. (For any of you who are 62 or older, you can buy a lifetime pass to our national parks for $10 until the end of the year, when it goes up to $80!)
Assateague is split between Maryland and Virginia. The Virginia ponies are owned by the Chincoteague Fire Department. The Maryland ponies belong to all of us and are managed by the National Park Service.
Because I'm a vegan, I usually take at least some food with me when I travel. I like good food and I can't count on restaurants to provide it for me. No thank you, I do not want a salad or a plate of steamed veggies! I made a non-egg and olive sandwich, with chips, and pickles. Jack bought an awful sandwich at a chain sandwich shop. We ate in the shade on the beach on the Chincoteague Bay side of the island, but I love the Atlantic Ocean side of the island best. We took off our shoes and socks and waded in the salt water.
There are driving roads and hiking trails on the island. We saw two ponies, a stallion and a mare, at a campsite. We walked along the Marsh Trail boardwalk and saw crabs in the water, wading birds, an egret, an eastern kingbird, a cardinal, and other birds. These were exciting to us because, normally, in Philadelphia, we see pigeons, sparrows, starlings, mourning doves, grackles, and the occasional hawk.
I was afraid that the two ponies at the first camp site were the only ones we would see. I was hoping to see them frolicking in the waves. There are about 300 ponies on Assateague, but they roam through the vegetated middle of the island, so they're not always visible. Jack thought we should stop at one more camp site on our way out of the park and - we saw about eight more ponies.
They were all the solid chestnut and chestnut and white pinto types. I was expecting them to be smaller, more like Shetland ponies, but they were 13 or 14 hands high. (For non horse people, a 'hand' is 4 inches. A pony is a horse that measures 14.2 or less at the withers / shoulders. We had a Shetland pony stallion who was the same size as our Irish Wolfhound.) The two young ones still had their winter / baby coats, but the others were sleek and shiny.
After walking around and watching the ponies, we sat at a picnic table away from the heard. You're not allowed to touch or feed the ponies, for good reason. They can be aggressive if they think you're going to feed them or if they feel they need to protect their herd. Any horse can bite or kick, believe me! I have been bitten and kicked and thrown.
As we sat there watching the ponies, I realized that one of them (the one to the left in the last photo) was watching us while grazing and moving toward us. Horses can be sneaky and I thought it was wise for us to move back to the car.
The horses on the Maryland side are given chemical contraceptives to control the herd size. This is the most effective and humane way to control herds. Those on the Virginia side are made to swim to Chincoteague, the foals to be auctioned off to support the Chincoteague fire department. I prefer controlling the herd size with contraceptives. You never know where an auctioned horse will end up, sometimes with the killers. The wild horses out west should be given contraceptives instead of being rounded up, when some are always killed, and penned. Your tax dollars at work.
It was a pleasure to watch the ponies on Assateague, roaming free, as wild horses should.