Back in the 90s we spent Easter weekend on Chincoteague Island, home to the wild horses made famous in Marguerite Henry’s “Misty of Chincoteague” books.
There are actually two herds of horses, also known as Assateague horses, living on the island, one herd on the Maryland end of the island and one herd on the Virginia end. Each herd has about 150 horses.
The Maryland herd, or Assateague herd, is owned and managed by the National Park Service and, other than contraceptive and emergency medical treatment the Maryland herd is treated like other wildlife, with no special attention or treatment given to them. They’re one of the last free-ranging feral horse herds in America.
The Virginia, or Chincoteague herd, is owned and managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department. Through a special agreement with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service the herd is allowed to live and graze in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
Each year the Chincoteague fire department holds a roundup and auction of the horses. The auction serves two purposes. First, it controls the size of the herd. Second, it helps finance the fire department’s operations. The auction draws as many as 50,000 people who watch the herd make its annual swim from Assateague across the channel to Chincoteague.
The horses are quite beautiful and seem oblivious to the tourists around them. We saw many of the horses around the island, usually from a distance, but we did have the opportunity to see several of the horses grazing along a bike path. While they may seem harmless, it’s important to remember that they’re wild animals and can easily run over a nearby person.
Here are a couple photos of the horses from our visit to the island.