On the Eastern shore between Maryland and Virginia lies a barrier island. This coastal landform is home to numerous marshes, bays, and coves. Locals refer to the Maryland side as Assateague Island and the Virginia side as Chincoteague Island.
However they got here, they live and thrive on the island. The horses are self-sufficient, eating the natural island vegetation, such as marsh grasses, rosehips, persimmons and bayberry twigs.
Both Maryland and Virginia share ownership of the horse population and oversee the care of their environment. If the pony population isn't controlled, there won't be enough food for all the horses on this small island. Once a year in July, "salt-water cowboys" (local volunteer firefighters) round up horses that need to be removed from the island. This yearly attraction draws 40,000 plus pony fans. Waiting on a crowded shore, spectators watch the horses swim across the Assateague Channel to Chincoteague Island. Later, these ponies are put up for auction, find new homes, and quickly adapt to domesticated life.
If you want to see the horses in all their natural glory, it would be best to come any other day of the year. Bridges span over to the island from both Maryland and Virginia. Managed by the National Park System, the land is flanked by lovely beaches and bursting with assorted wildlife. It's open every day of the year and there's lots of beauty to view. The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge is located on Assateague Island and is one of the most popular birding destinations in the United States. You can take a wildlife tour, or see the sights by kayaking through the area. You're almost guaranteed to see the wild ponies when you join a boat tour along the inland waters. Peregrine falcons, sandpipers, bald eagles and ospreys are just some of the birds that find refuge on the island.
It's truly a beach lover's paradise here. Spend your day four-wheeling on the beach, swimming and beach hiking. After collecting seashells on seldom-traveled sands, head up to the Assateague Lighthouse for a tour. Eat at Bill's Seafood Restaurant and devour dessert at the top-rated Island Creamery, both located on nearby Chincoteague Island. Then, check in at the 1848 Island Manor House, Miss Molly's Bed and Breakfast or the Channel Bass Inn. Relax your beach-tired body by curling up with a copy of Misty of Chincoteague near a cozy fireplace. Then head to bed and dream about....horses.
Are you a beach bum, horse lover or bird watcher? Let us know your thoughts on the fascinating horses of Assateague!