Assateague Island National Park

Assateague Island National Park


In addition to being a complete book nerd, I was a horse kid.  From the time I was about eight years old, if a book had a horse in it, I read it. Smoky the Cowhorse, by Will James; Buffalo Gal, by Bill Wallace; Black Beauty, Anna Sewell; The Black Stallion, Walter Farley; The Saddle Club books, Bonnie Bryant; even The Red Pony, by John Steinbeck. [Note: that last one isn’t like the others… it’s more like Old Yeller. Fair warning.] There were many more authors and books about horses on my shelves. So many, in fact, that my parents indulged me in riding lessons for a few years and 4-H (where I rode a borrowed Tennessee Walker) for a few years after that. I loved coming home every Wednesday night from lessons smelling like horses. The rest of my family probably didn’t appreciate it as much…

One author who can’t be ignored when the discussion is horse books for kids is Marguerite Henry. Like many other readers, I started reading her books with Misty of Chincoteague, and then read everything I could get my hands on. In addition to the Misty books, probably the most memorable for me was King of the Wind: The story of the Godolphin Arabian. With so many Marguerite Henry books in my personal history, and so many of them set on the barrier islands of Assateague and Chincoteague off the coast of Virginia, imagine my surprise last month when I drove up to a craft show in Maryland and saw a sign that read “Assateague Parks, 10 miles,"

I was in Ocean City, Maryland, getting ready to set up a new booth design and work a four-day show solo (my other half being down in Virginia at another show), and I really didn’t have time to go wandering. I was too excited about seeing the wild horses in person to stay away, though! As soon as the show was over, I packed up my booth and hotel room, and the next morning I was on my way to Assateague (instead of meeting Robert in Pennsylvania as originally planned).

If you really want to connect to the Marguerite Henry stories, start in Virginia, where you can visit Chincoteague Island and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. This is where all the action in Misty of Chincoteague takes place, and where you can still visit the horse ranch in the book and see the ponies swim across the channel before the annual auction! (Visit for more information.)

Since I was already in Maryland, out of my hotel room, and due in Pennsylvania by dinnertime, I took the shorter route and visited the center portion of Assateague: Assateague Island National Seashore, run by the National Parks. It was one of the most relaxing days! The bands of wild horses (short enough to be considered ponies, and recently a registered breed as Chincoteague Ponies) inhabit all three areas of the island—the Maryland State Park on the northern end, the National Park in the middle, and the wildlife refuge on the southern end.

I started out on the beach, sitting in the sand and watching the Atlantic waves rolling in in the sunshine. After a while, I got back in the car and started driving to another one of the good spots to sit (the old ferry landing), but before I got there, I was stopped on the side of the road, watching a band of horses run by! I got out and stood a safe distance away (because
the horses will charge, bite, and/or kick if you get too close!) chatting with a small group of other visitors. I learned from them that you can camp in the park, both in tents and RVs.  I took some not-very-good pictures just to prove I’d been there, and meandered on.


At the ferry landing, on the bay side of the island, I found an area completely devoid of ocean noise; just four or five kinds of birds freewheeling over the marshy areas and another band of horses grazing across the water on a spit of land. Eventually, they decided to move off, and I got to see with my own eyes the moment every horse kid dreams of: wild horses, running in a group; manes flying and water splashing up around their hooves. It was picture perfect… but I was too far away to get a good picture. It doesn’t matter much. Now that image lives in my head.

Be awesome. Read books.

And may your unexpected book dreams come true.

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1 comment

What a cool experience.

Doris Badger

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