by: Sam Serio
Mother Nature made horses, and Mother Nature made ponies. But Mother Nature also made a remarkably tough, intelligent, and beautiful breed of horses whose small stature has meant that they are universally referred to as ponies, and turned them loose to roam the shores and wilds of Assateague Island, Virginia.
Today, however, they known as the Chincoteague Island ponies, for the Virginia coastal island directly to the west of Assateague. The ponies are a major reason why Chincoteague and Assateague Islands have become magnets for families vacationing on Eastern Shore.
These two small stretches of land are overflowing with family-friendly attractions, including a National Wildlife Refuge, a National Seashore, and a Maryland State Park. Chincoteague Island has gained international fame thanks to the annual Pony Penning and Auction, which occurs at the height of summer when the weather, fishing, water sports, and other opportunities for outdoor fun are at their peak. An entire week at the end of each July is set aside on Chincoteague for Pony Penning.
The week begins with the annual three-day Chincoteague Island Blueberry Festival bringing artists and crafters from ten states. They are greeted by thousands of mainlanders anxious to experience blueberries in every imaginable form, from soup, pudding, and shortcake to muffins and, of course, the Ultimate Blueberry Pie. There’s plenty of live music to keep things hopping, and a wonderful variety of food vendors!
After such a great kickoff, the family fun on Chincoteague continues to build throughout Pony Penning Week. While you wait for Pony Penning Day to arrive, you and the kids can bike the wildlife trails on Assateague Island, visiting its Wildlife Refuge Center, and earning your Junior Birding badges. Get a closer look at the ponies so integral to life on Chincoteague by visiting the Chincoteague Pony Centre on Carriage Drive. Treat the kids to a pony ride or riding lesson!
No family vacation on Chincoteague and Assateague is complete without a day at the beach. The Assateague National Seashore includes nineteen miles of undeveloped beaches where you and the kids can hike, beach comb, or sunbathe while learning how Assateague was before the arrival of civilization. Swim and surf to your heart’s content, or try your luck surf fishing.
There’s more family fun every Friday and Saturday night of July, and throughout Pony Penning Week, with the Chincoteague Carnival benefiting the Chincoteague Island Volunteer Fire Department. Enjoy all the traditional carnival rides, games, and food, as well as a spectacular July 4th fireworks display. The highlight of the Carnival is the Pony Auction on Thursday of Pony Penning Week.
On Wednesday, Chincoteague’s famous Salt Water Cowboys head for Assateague Island to round up the pony herd. At low tide they herd the ponies about 100 yards across the Channel for Thursday’s auction. The remaining ponies are herded back to Assateague for another year of freedom on Friday.
If family fun is what you want, there are no better places to find it than on Chincoteague and Assateague Islands during the final week of July!