September 12, 2012
On my trip to the eastern shores of Virginia and Maryland, my intent was to see the Chincoteague ponies. I missed the popular pony swim from Assateague (A-suh-teeg) across the channel to the Chincoteague (SHIN-koh-teeg) island, but I saw the ponies and learned so much about them.
The Chincoteague Pony, also known as the Assateague horse, is a breed of pony that lives in a feral condition on Assateague Island of Virginia and Maryland with a fence dividing the two. They are commonly called ponies because of their small stature, created by the poor habitat present on Assateague Island and by eating only salt marsh plants and brush. They can be any solid color and are often found in pinto patterns.
Several legends are told regarding the origins of the Chincoteague Pony, the most popular being that they descend from survivors of wrecked Spanish galleons off the Virginia coast. Another one is that they descend from stock released by 17th century colonists looking to escape livestock laws and taxes on the mainland. In 1835, the practice of pony penning began, with settlers rounding up the ponies and removing some of them to the mainland. In 1924 the first "Pony Penning Day" was held by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department, where ponies were auctioned as a way to raise money for fire equipment. The annual event has continued to the present day.
The National Park Service manages the herd on the Maryland side of the island. They control the number of ponies there by using a special vaccine. Each year they inject the vaccine into some of the mares to keep them from having babies that year.
The Chincoteague Fire Department manages the herd on the Virginia side of the island. It controls the number of ponies there through the annual pony auction.
A word of caution….bring bug repellent! The mosquitos are monsters!
Some books about the ponies are: Misty of Chincoteague by Marquerite Henry, Pony Island by Candice F Ransom, and Wild Ponies by Jim Arnosky.