Two herds of Chincoteague wild ponies are housed on the lovely Assateague Island and are divided from one another by a fence at the Maryland-Virginia state boundary. With a long, rich history, these wild ponies have grown to be a truly American treasure.
Between the well-known Pony Swims and a well-known children’s horse book, the Chincoteague ponies have enjoyed some time in the limelight.
The excellent book Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry was read by many equestrians as children. The beloved book chronicles the experiences of two kids who are rearing a wild Chincoteague pony’s foal.
About Chincoteague Wild Ponies
On Assateague Island, about 300 Chincoteague wild horses are free to wander. The ponies are split into two herds because Assateague Island is split between Virginia and Maryland.
The National Park Service oversees the herd in Maryland, while the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company is the owner of the herd in Virginia. The US Fish & Wildlife Department sells a grazing permit to the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company once a year. They are allowed to keep a herd of about 150 mature ponies under the terms of the permission.
The Chincoteague pony was officially recognized as a breed in 1994. The horses are 12 to 13 hands tall. They have short legs, round stomachs, thick manes, and stocky bodies.
Check out this video of a horse greeting beachgoers.
What Do the Chincoteague Wild Ponies Eat & Drink?
The ponies’ food is distinct since Assateague Island is home to salt marshes, coastal woods, and sandy beaches. They generally consume cordgrass from the marshes and sip the island’s pure water.
The ponies use up to twice as much water as other horses because the cordgrass they eat has such a high salt content. Their tummies seem round and swollen as a result of this.
Visitors are strongly advised not to feed or pet the ponies for the sake of everyone’s safety. Ponies that depend on people for sustenance run the risk of being injured by approaching too closely to moving automobiles. Human food can also be detrimental to the ponies. The ponies are wild, so if somebody approaches too closely, they may kick or bite them.
History of the Chincoteague Wild Ponies
For hundreds of years, Chincoteague ponies have inhabited Assateague Island. Over time, they have adapted to thrive over the 37 mile barrier island.
When it comes to how the ponies arrived on the island, there are a couple of different theories on how they got there.
The most popular story told among locals is that the ponies are descendants of the survivors of a Spanish galleon that had wrecked along the coast of Assateague.
Others say that they were brought to the island in the 17th century by mainland owners looking to avoid fencing laws and taxation on livestock.
History of the Chincoteague Pony Penning
A long-standing custom of livestock owners is to brand, claim, and break their roaming herds with pens. It developed into a common occurrence on the island in the 1700s, complete with merriment among the locals.
The oldest account of Pony Penning that we are aware of was published in 1835. Assateague Island and Chincoteague Island would alternate days for penning by 1885.
The penning celebrations gained in popularity, and the final Wednesday and Thursday in July were established as the annual penning days in 1909.
Residents of Chincoteague agreed to stage a carnival at the Pony Penning to collect money for the firefighters’ equipment in 1925 after a number of destructive fires in the town.
The sale of 15 colts indicated the carnival’s success. The event attracted excitement from people all throughout the nation, and thousands of people flocked to view the ponies.
The Chincoteague Pony Swim is what? Pony Penning continues to draw spectators from all over the world today. Every year, over 40,000 people attend The Pony Swim to witness the ponies participate in this yearly event.
Check out The Pony Swim in the video below.
After being collected up, the horses are examined by veterinarians before swimming from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island. The first foal to reach the shore is given the moniker King or Queen Neptune and is awarded later that day in a raffle drawing.
Following their swim, the ponies take a 45-minute break before participating in a procession along Main Street to the carnival. After spending the evening at the carnival grounds, the ponies are auctioned off the next morning.
The foals are sold at auction to prevent the herd population from becoming out of control. The proceeds from the auction benefit the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company and the horses’ annual veterinarian care costs.
The Fire Company auctions off a couple of the foals each year as “Buy Backs.” To restock the herd, the Buy Back ponies are brought back to Assateague Island.
Before they are released back into the wild, the Buy-Back pony winners get to give them names. The surviving horses swim back to Assateague Island the day following the sale.
Profits from one foal are donated to a local charity each year. Also, the Feather Fund offers assistance to eligible kids in order to help them buy a foal.
The fund was established in honor of Carollynn Suplee, who, before her death from cancer in 2003, always assisted kids in buying ponies at the auction.