I was looking to leave town with my daughter and take a nature based, mini vacation as this summer has been exceptionally hectic and we really needed to get away. It had to meet a few basic requirements, it needed to be short range, economical and laid back. She is really into horses and I am “Joe kayak” so we came up with a perfect way to combine the both of them. We decided a road trip down to Virginia and Maryland’s Asseteague Islands would be perfect.

This National wildlife refuge is the home of the infamous “Misty of Chincoteague” pony and there are several hundred ponies living and roaming freely on the beachfront, in the marshes and back woods of the island. There is much historical dispute as to where this horses actually came from, but we liked the tale of a shipwrecked spanish galleon and the only survivors were horses that were able to swim to the islands. On the way down we decided to take the Cape May/Lewes ferry. Even though it cost a bit more, I feel it was a cool experience and worthwhile way to cut down some road time. Yes of course that’s my truck with the yax on top.

Traveling down the back roads of Virginia towards Chincoteague was an experience in itself. Posted speed limits dropped from 50 mph to 20mph as you entered each town limit and it couldnt be more obvious a speed trap. All in all, it took about 4 hours to get to the island from NJ. We checked into our motel and quickly drove to the park. We weren’t in the park 1 mile before seeing our first band of ponies! they were walking in the marsh, grazing on the cord grass, hay and beach grass. Not the best of diets for a horse but they survive. These ponies must be tough as nails.
The biting flies and mosquitos in the marsh were relentless on them. You can see blood on the ponies inner leg in the above photo! Look at the size of the fly on his nose! We had bug spray on us the entire trip, but luckily a stiff breeze kept many of the bugs away.
Hard to describe the feeling of paddling right up to these guys and watching them graze and hang out. They seem to care less about the presence of a kayak, and even on land they really didnt care about people at all.In Chincoteague Park, the herd is kept in large areas behind fences and protected, so you can only view them from afar. But In Asseteague, which is the part of the park in the northern section, the ponies walk around at will! Yes, this means right in the middle of the street, in front of your car, in your camper and on your beach blanket.

While I was paddling on the last day, a though occurred to me. There’s alot of great horses in the tri state area that are being adversely affected by this economy, displaced and sent out to god knows where. Wouldn’t it be great if we could turn Sandy Hook into a park like this? Think about it, it’s got similar same characteristics, and I am certain that all the nude people on Gunnison Beach would get a real kick from sharing a blanket with a pony. And then for a bonus, once a year we could swim them over at slack tide and march them right up first avenue in Atlantic highlands and have a big horse auction just like down there!

Ponies werent the only attraction on the island, there were loads of wading birds like egrets and great blue herons. Piping Plovers, wigeons and more. Herds of deer and throw in a few osprey scoping out schools of jumping fish, fiddler crabs and plenty of oysters! Yes, oysters by the acre! As the tide was falling, our kayaks would scrape the tops of them, they were everywhere. These towers of oysters would grow on one single shell at the bottom!
All in all, we had a blast! What a wonderful, laid back kind of place. Nice people, pretty marshland and lots of spunky little ponies. Next time I am thinking that we will camp in Asseteague and sleep with the ponies near the beach and take our chance with them pulling down our tent.