As a child, I remember being really fond of Marguerite Henry’s books, one of my favorites being Misty of Chincoteague. I loved the story of the adventures of a young filly going from the wild to being welcomed as a part of a family. It has been the history of these hearty horses has always intrigued me. Did they come from wrecked Spanish galleons as legends say? Or is there a less romantic side of their story? Nonetheless, they have survived and thrived on the small island of Assateague of the coast of Maryland and northern Virginia.
The Chincoteague pony, or the Assateague horse as it is also known, is a small horse that lives on the island of Assateague. Due to poor diet and inbreeding the “horse” is more of a pony size. It is most commonly recognized for its pinto variations, but it can also be found in solid colors. The romantic legend of the horse surviving from wrecked Spanish galleons is not likely, or is it? Legend has it that the horses were on board a Spanish galleon named La Galga, which may have wrecked along the shores of the island during the mid-1700s. The story which has been passed down for generations is “stronger than fiction”. However, there are theories that suggest that it is more likely that they may have been on the islands during the 17th century and set free by colonists in efforts to avoid livestock taxations. Either way, the Chincoteague pony lives on.
On every last Thursday of July, there is a day known as Pony Penning Day. This day is known for the round-up of the wild ponies to be sold as a benefit for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. This tradition of auctioning off some of the wild ponies for the benefit of the fire company began in 1925, however the history of pony penning goes way back to the 1700s. The purpose of the pony penning in modern times is to keep the numbers of the herd down to 150 and also to help raise funds for new equipment for the fire company. The day continues to draw visitors from all over the country and the Chincoteague pony’s story lives on.