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Ponies & Pontoons

A magical day with Daisey’s Island Cruises

June 2024

Piper (left), a Mickey Mouse marking on her right shoulder, wades through the water as Smooch (right) grazes. (Photo by Amanda S. Creasey)

by Amanda S. Creasey, Outdoors Writer

As my alarm goes off at 6:45 a.m. on a Saturday, I question why I thought the morning tour time was a good idea. I had a 9 a.m. option, an 11 a.m. option and a 2:30 p.m. option. Why did 9 a.m. seem like the best choice? But I resist the temptation to snooze and get up. It’s pony time!

Although they’re known as the Chincoteague ponies, the 150 or so equines spend most of their time on Assateague, only visiting Chincoteague when they’re swum over by saltwater cowboys, like Ayden, a Chincoteague native, known as a “Teaguer.” Ayden’s family came to the island in the 1680s. He has been working the pony boat tours with Daisey’s Island Cruises for nine years, helping out in some capacity or other since the age of 12.

We see our first herd less than 10 minutes into the tour. It consists of a stallion named CLG ToMorrow’s Tidewater Twist, his 11 mares and one foal. They graze in front of the lighthouse, which still stands on the same piece of land where it was erected in 1867.

The second group we see consists of two herds: Henry’s Hidalgo’s herd on the right and another on the left, three foals between them. In a typical year, between 50 and 80 foals are born on the island. Ayden’s brother found a new foal just this morning, the 25th of the season.

Twice, we see the two stallions engage in subtle conflict, quickly resolved after briefly rearing up and whinnying. The mares have names like Two Teague Taco’s Chilibean, Wendy’s Carolina Girl, Good Golly Miss Molly and Barbara’s Tasi, a horse Ayden himself rescued when she was a foal separated from her mother.

I can’t help but inwardly smile at the glee my 11-year-old self would have experienced on a boat ride like this, wild ponies splashing toward us through the water, getting close enough to lick the salt off the front of the pontoon, just inches from where I sit, my dogs on my lap. It would have seemed like pure magic. And then, I realize that even for adult me, being this close to wild ponies is still pure magic.

Before our tour ends, we see not only dozens upon dozens of majestic wild ponies but also three bald eagles; two loons; countless cormorants, vultures, seagulls and several small fishing boats catching flounder. The two-hour tour feels like a fraction of that time, and I am slightly envious of Teaguers, who live in such regular and close proximity to the beautiful ponies and enjoy the privilege of acting as their stewards.

As we part ways with Ayden, exchanging the boat slip for our parking spot, we pass several people and their dogs arriving for the 11 a.m. tours. I smile. They, too, are about to experience the magic.

Passengers on a recent tour offered by Daisey’s Island Tours saw dozens of wild ponies, as well as other wildlife and fishing boats. (Photo by Amanda S. Creasey)