As Pony Penning begins, recalling visiting the wild ponies and other wildlife on Assateague Island

I love Marguerite Henry’s books, especially Misty of Chincoteague. Chincoteague and Assateague aren’t exactly in our backyard, so somehow I have never been to the annual Pony Penning event, which begins July 25 this year and is described with so much excitement in the book.

Still, I’ve always wanted to visit that part of Maryland and Virginia. So while we were on our beach vacation, we took a day trip to Assateague Island to see if we could catch some glimpses of the more than 300 wild ponies living there.

I wasn’t sure how many horses we would actually see, so I tried not to overpromise. Just before crossing over to the island, we stopped at the visitor center to get some information.

What we discovered was a nature center that may well have been worth the trip on its own.

Leo reached into a tank and carefully pulled out a horseshoe crab. None of the rest of us had the courage to do it, but he was so excited—and it was the highlight of his day.

We also saw an eel and some interesting fish, read about some of the area’s nature, worked on a free craft, and used telescopes to see the island across the water.

The visitor center staff was welcoming and told us that the lighthouse was too far away for a visit that day, that each of the horses has a name, and that one of them is a loner, a bachelor who spends time on his own.

As we headed across the bridge to Assateague, it felt as if we were entering a different world.

The sun was shining, the water was still and blue, and the simple natural beauty was stunning. At one point a horse trotted right past our car. We saw a few more nibbling grass near the road. I was driving, so I handed the camera to our sons and told them they could each take one photo.

For the first time ever when given a camera they each took only one photo—and not 15.

The perspective of a 5-year-old:

The perspective of a 7-year-old:

Then we found a spot where people were crabbing.

We saw a bald eagle—always a thrill. A college intern working at the park for the summer told us it was the first one he had seen there, too.

We watched the seagulls flying low above the salt marshes.

And our boys had the chance to talk with a man and his son who were crabbing from a bridge.

They even saw the man put a crab to sleep before throwing him back into the water.

Now, the truth is that besides seeing eight or nine horses from the car, this is as close as we got to actual horses.

That was fine with us. In fact, I think our boys thought the wildlife we saw was even more exciting than seeing the ponies. It was a magical day for our family, a day to experience God’s creation first-hand, and we absolutely want to go back.

Next time maybe we can travel as far as Chincoteague, Va., to see where Misty lived. And, while I’m dreaming, I’d like a pony—or at least a trip to Pony Penning.

Learn more about the Chincoteague Pony Swim here and here.

Catholic Review

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.