The famous Chincoteague ponies actually
live on neighboring Assateague Island on Virginia's eastern shore.
The ponies are owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company,
which holds a grazing permit for a herd of 150 ponies in the Chincoteague
National Wildlife Refuge.
Several theories have evolved of how the ponies happened to be on
the island. Some believe that the ponies swam ashore from a shipwrecked
Spanish ship. Others believe that pirates deposited the ponies on
the island along with other treasure. Still others think that the
ponies are simply descendents of livestock that was owned by local
However they came to live on the eastern shore, the ponies have
become legendary due in no small part to a series of stories by
Marguerite Henry, beginning with Misty of Chincoteague, written
in 1947. The title character, Misty, was based on the Chincoteague
pony that Ms. Henry bought at the annual pony auction, which occurs
the last Thursday in July each year.
The pony swim and auction began in 1924. In recent years, around
40,000 people visit Chincoteague during this annual event. The day
before the auction (Wednesday) is when the ponies swim from their
home on Assateague Island across a channel to Chincoteague. Locals
refer to the event as the "pony penning." After the ponies
swim, they are placed in pens to await the auction.
The pony herd is actually rounded up on Assateague three times a
year for veterinary care. Fire Company volunteers also check on
the ponies every other week throughout the year. Even though they
are well cared for, these are wild ponies. It may take twice as
long to train them as it does ponies that are not born and raised
in the wild, but they can become tame and make excellent riding
ponies and family pets.
Chincoteague ponies are a recognized breed. Those who purchase ponies
at the auction may register them with the Chincoteague Pony Association.
Like thousands of girls and boys around the world, Mallory has read
the Misty stories and dreams of a pony of her own. Join Mallory
on her trip to Chincoteague.