On my last day, I drove north to the Maryland portion of the Assateague Island National Seashore. It was another beautiful day with little wind and in-and-out sun but I only encountered a few people. What I did encounter were several small herds of wild horses! The Assateague horse, also known as the Chincoteague Pony, is a small wild horse that lives on Assateague Island. The breed was made famous by the Misty of Chincoteague series written by Marguerite Henry (which were hands-down my favorite books as a child). Several legends are told regarding the origins of the horses, with the most popular being that they descend from survivors of wrecked Spanish galleons off the Virginia coast. It is more likely that they descend from stock released on the island by 17th century colonists looking to escape livestock laws and taxes on the mainland. The wild horses have adapted remarkably well to the harsh environment they live in. Salt marsh cordgrass, rosehips, bayberry twigs, and persimmons supply the bulk of their food. They are short and sturdy and due to the high salt content of their food and heavy water consumption, they have a very bloated look to their bellies.
I photographed some horses right along the road but also had some great opportunities to photograph them in the marshes. Each herd included a stallion, several mares and youngsters of varying ages. I also found one lone stallion and wondered why there were no other horses with him until I realized he was much older and had probably been driven out by a younger male. After spending several hours with the ponies, it was time to head home and back to the “real’ world but I’ll definitely return soon.
I hope you’ve enjoyed my posts on my Chincoteague/Assateague adventure! Look for many future paintings of these birds and wildlife in my new series, “Seeking Refuge: Four Seasons on Assateague Island.”