By Jim Weaver
Chincoteague Ponies: Wild Horses At The Atlantic Shore In Virginiae theory is they swam ashore from shipwrecked Spanish sailing vessels over 400 years ago. Horses were not native to America and were imported from Europe. Another theory is that in the distant past there were small farms on Assateague Island and the feral ponies are decendents of domestic farm animals that escaped or were abandoned there. Today the Virginia herd consists of about 150 ponies.
In 1927, there was a major fire in Chincoteague destroying many homes and other property. Shortly afterwards the Chincoteague Fire Company was organized. In the mid-1930s, with the permission of the federal government, it began acquiring Assateague ponies and selling them at auction to raise money for its support. Eventually, an agreement was reached whereby the Chincoteague Fire Company assumed ownership of the Virginia herd and full responsibility for its management. Today, the entire herd receives veterinarian examinations and necessary treatment twice each year.
To control the herd population and raise funds for the Fire Company, an annual “pony auction” is held in July.
The day before the auction the ponies are herded to a shallow part of the channel between Assateague and Chincoteague Island and at low tide they swim across. About 45 “saltwater cowboys” from the area assist with the herding and crossing. Each year about 50 ponies are sold. The auction raised $120,000 in 2013. The top price ever paid for a pony was $17,500. Those not sold swim back to Assateague Island the following day.
The 1947 book “Misty of Chincoteague” by Marguerite Henry, an account of an Assateague Island pony, and the subsequent Hollywood movie of the same name made the island town world famous and a tourist destination. There is a bronze statue of Misty in the municipal park here and the Chincoteague High School athletic teams are named “The Ponies”.
The ponies can be seen daily grazing in a large containment area of Beach Road on Assateague Island. Binoculars are necessary for a close-up view. There is also a small exhibit of ponies next to MacDonald’s on Maddox Boulevard and ponies can also be seen and ridden at the Chincoteague Pony Center at 6417 Carriage Drive.
Best Western Plus
When visiting Chincoteague, you’ll want to stay at Best Western Plus on Maddox Boulevard opposite MacDonalds near the bridge to Assateague Island.
It’s website is:
Also see www.ChincoteagueChamber.com and www.AssateagueIsland.com to plan your visit.
PS Bring lots of mosquito spray!