A Hidden Island With Wild Ponies in Virginia
Arriving in Chincoteague Island
Chincoteague Island is one of the best hidden secrets in Virginia. This island is home to wild horses, dolphins and beaches. However, we happened to arrive here during the end of October, so we skipped out on the beach part.
We checked into Refuge Inn, a hotel with one of the tops views on the entire island. Funny enough, they also have a few horses of their own in a stable next to the parking lot that you’re allowed to feed for 50 cents. I say feed because really all you can do is get a handful of corn, chuck it in their food pen and watch them mow down from a distance. In other words, you can pay the hotel to feed their own horses. No hand-feeding, or else.
A Problem Arises in Chincoteague
We were recommended to stop by a local restaurant nearby for a luxurious display of seafood and pasta. This, did not disappoint me. What did disappoint me, however, was the call I received during dinner. Unfortunately, our wild pony tour for 8:00AM the next morning required three people to book in order to go out and only the two of us had booked. Though my sizzling plate of pasta was tempting, I spent the rest of our evening making calls, trying to get a pony tour booked within 12 hours. After signing the check and heading out, we tried our luck with the hostess.
“You know what you should do? There are a ton of Chincoteague Facebook groups and, well, some are more active than others, but just post in there asking if anyone knows of a tour available for tomorrow morning. Someone should be able to help out.”
Now, this was fabulous advice, advice I’m surprised hadn’t even crossed my mind before. I requested to join five Chincoteague Islands groups during our five minute drive back to Refuge Inn. Seeing as I needed to wait for my acceptance into these prestigious groups, I went to the hot tub to sit out the waiting game.
To my surprise, the hot tub was more of a glorified bathtub, and I wasn’t alone. Trying to ignore the sheer awkwardness of stepping into a bathtub with a senior citizen couple who acted as if they were on a honeymoon, I pulled out my phone, pretending to make a call.
Hot Tub Confrontation
“I don’t know if I’d do that,” the old man sitting across from me chuckled, his beard turning even more white with tub foam.
“Why not? It’s waterproof,” I explained, motioning to my phone.
We then got into a conversation, as his wife explained their road trip plans and how fabulous their first time in Chincoteague Islands had been. They’d been living in Atlanta for almost two decades now, and the small town was a great escape.
“Yeah, I was supposed to do a pony tour tomorrow morning, but they cancelled on me about an hour ago,” I explained.
This, was clearly the wrong thing to say, as his wife then went into vivid detail explaining how wonderful the wild horses were and how knowledgable their guide was. Their guide, of course, being the one who had just cancelled on me.
“I’ll tell you what to do,” the burly man said, leaning forward, “You call them back and DEMAND a tour tomorrow. You tell them that [insert his wife’s full name] referred you and that you’re willing to pay for the third spot.”
His wife giggled, embarrassingly replying, “Awww well, I mean, you don’t have to do that..But it was an awesome experience. It’s definitely worth it.”
Finding a Pony Tour
Sitting across from them, I was unsure on how to reply after all of the information being thrown at me. The man stepped out of the tub and promptly dove into the freezing pool; I guess this was their cue to leave. Looking back down at my phone (this time for real), I noticed I had been accepted into one of the groups. I posted a question and in no less than two minutes received a reply, with a link to a pony tour.
Availability: 9:00AM Tomorrow
Reveling in how perfect the tour time would be, I booked it instantly.
*One New Facebook Message*
“Hello there. This is Cap’n John. I can bring you to see the ponies tomorrow morning. I have an opening at 9AM, but you will be with two other people.”
Turns out, those two people were my booking. Not only did we get a tour, we also received a personal message from the captain inviting us out. I headed to bed that night in the cozy sheets of Refuge Inn, excited for what our tour would bring the next morning.
Finding Captain John
Arriving at the marina, it was safe to say we were confused. I called Captain John after searching for his boat unsuccessfully on our own.
“Ahh, so yer the ones walking’ ‘round over there. Turn to the North.”
“Um. Where is the North?”
“Up the dock,” he replied, as I shifted my gaze North.
“Okay, do you see me now? I’m wearing white shoes,” he replied, as I looked at five other people standing in various spots with undetectable colors of shoes.
Walking closer to the people, Captain John waved at us, cheerfully. I wondered why he didn’t choose to describe himself as the one wearing a neon orange jumpsuit, but at least we found him. Hopping onto the boat, we jetted off into the marshes.
“You see that white dot there, that’s one of the wild horses.”
A Magical Sight
I squinted, looking about a mile down into the forest, not seeing much of anything. He zoomed off toward it, then stopped the boat almost instantly.
“Wow. Yup, you don’t see that everyday. That’s miraculous.”
As we exchanged looks of what-is-he-talking-about, John pointed up toward the tree branches. Three bald eagles rested on the peaks, looking down at us. About 50 feet to their right in another tree, sat an overflowing nest full of twigs and leaves and straw. I had to agree with John on this one, you definitely don’t see this every day. I watched the ferocious birds in amazement for a few still moments and then we were off again.
“Lesse if we can’t get you closer to the horses,” he challenged himself, cruising at lightning speed into the shallow waters.
Spotting the Wild Ponies
The boat swiveled through the winding path just as the herd began to exit the forest into view right in front of us. The white one with spots grazed on the long grass, as the brown one shook her mane back and forth. Stopping to gather her surroundings, hair now perfectly blown for pictures, she trotted forward. Her hooves sucked in the mucky ground, making a suction noise with each stride toward us.
Now, about ten feet away, she plopped down on the ground and rolled onto her back, swaying side to side like a dog ready for a belly rub. She knew what she was doing, as the click of cameras shuttered like the paparazzi on a Friday night. We gazed at the herd in wonder for quite some time, before John decided we should challenge ourselves to find some more—these ones made it way too easy for us. Leaving the other tour boat behind, we sped into the shallows. John chuckled, looking back at the other captain.
“Ha, see, he’s too scared. He won’t go out here. I had to tow him outta the mud last week right there,” he said pointing into the murky water as he peeled out.
I don’t think he actually wanted to see any horses in here, he just wanted to show the other captain his motor skills. Backing up, we cruised across the channel, now heading straight toward a lighthouse. As we got closer to the shore, I realized we weren’t slowing down in the slightest.
Captain John’s Boating Skills
“It’s okay,” John said looking down from the wheel, as he spotted our wide eyes and nervous faces. We must’ve been going forty miles an hour, getting faster and faster as we neared the bushes. Flying through the brush, we shot over the weeds and into another body of water. I couldn’t imagine what the people on the other boat were thinking while watching us. Were they jealous or were they concerned for our lives? The world may never know. Either way, John got us ten feet closer to the lighthouse than the other group—that must count for something, right?
As the skies became darker, my worst fear began to surface. There was rain on the forecast for the day and downpour was to happen strictly during the two hours when we were out in the water. And downpour, it did. I zipped up my rain jacket as the drops soared at us from all angles, pelting me in the face and absolutely soaking my clothes. John, of course, was convinced he could outrace the rain and we spent the next thirty minutes flying high speed against the wind to the find the northern herd.
When we finally slowed down, I opened my eyes back up and there they were. The northern horses, four of them. However, there was something very odd. None of them were moving, they were all standing, sure, but instead of grazing, they were frozen in place. It was like they were at a second grade birthday party playing for prizes and the music stopped.
“Uhhhh, are they okay?”
“Yeah! They just hangin’ out,” John said, nonchalantly.
One Last Hidden Gem in Chincoteague
I had a feeling they were sleeping, not chillin’, but I gave John the win. Our time with him was coming to an end, but he had one last surprise. A friend had called in a sighting close to the dock. Creeping in, I saw a flash out of the corner of my eye—and then another, and another! There was an entire pod of dolphins circling us. They peeped out of the water, gliding their fins over the surface and dove back underwater to look for brunch. It was magical.
I couldn’t fathom that a place could share not only wild horses, but wild dolphins AND a family of bald eagles, all during one rainy morning. I no longer cared that the other tour had cancelled on us. In fact, I was grateful it did. I mean, who else would be able to take us far and wide around the Chincoteague Islands at daring angles during a rainstorm? Only Captain John in his white shoes would be the one to share that moment.
We thanked him graciously for the wild ride and stepped back off the boat. To my surprise, on the edge of the dock right where he parked shone the name Raven, sparkling in the sunlight peeping out behind the clouds. I suppose it’s just my fate to have silver lining bad luck on road trips then, isn’t it?
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