Wild Ponies of Virginia

Grayson Highlands Pony Reading Sign

Grayson Highlands Pony Reading Sign

As full time RVers who love horses, we often travel with horses to explore trails around North America. This sometimes  involves finding and staying in horse campgrounds. At other times it’s just dry camping in the wilderness where drivable roads and ridable trails intersect. State parks sometimes are ideal for this, offering a convenient clean camping area and access to a network of horse and hiking trails.

One such place is Grayson Highlands State Park (about 5000 acres), part of Mount Rogers National Recreation Area (20,000 acres) in southwest Virginia. It has both a people campground as well as a horse campground. The extensive horse/hiking trails cover many miles of wonderful, but very rocky, trails. These include part of the famous Appalachian Trail that goes from Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine. Views here are spectacular, with rocky ridges and grassy areas. We liked this area and decided to apply for a temporary position (two months) as camp hosts in the horse campground. Camp hosting in a horse camp involves typically involves signing in guests, assigning horse stalls, selling ice, answering questions, and keeping the peace. That amounts to only about 2 hours of work per day. The rest of our day we were free to ride the trails with our great gaited Rocky Mountain Horses or otherwise do as we pleased.

GH Pony with Nancy

GH Pony with Nancy

The trails led quickly up the mountain to the many wide open fields and through a series of horse gates. Well trained horses can push their way through these gates with their noses or chests, and the gates close automatically (usually using some cables. pulleys and a large suspended rock as a weight) behind when you pass through. Within these huge open areas were the Wild Ponies of Virginia, typically only 1/2 the height of our horses, who were relatively tame and used to seeing many hikers and horseback riders. Especially from horseback we could slowly ride right up to them, talk to them (usually no reply), and take pictures.

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GH Ponies behind boundary fence

GH Ponies behind boundary fence

There are reportedly several hundred of these wild ponies up there in the mountains. We learned later that every year a portion of the herd, mostly the young foals, is rounded up , captured and sold.

The area was once heavy forest, but logging during the early 1900’s and wildfires created the open areas.  Today,two herds of free-roaming ponies make their homes in the high country, and also help to keep the open areas clear.  A private association manages the herds, one of which is in Grayson Highlands State Park.  The other lives within the Crest Zone of the Mount Rogers National Recreation Area. There are lots of theories of their origin, but no one really knows. The ponies were there long before the park was established in 1965.

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There are other areas where Wild Ponies of Virginia can be found. The ponies of Assateague Island National Seashore and Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge are world famous and have been the subjects of hundreds of books and articles.

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Jack
TheNatureOfHiking.com
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