The Chincoteague Pony is a hardy breed varying greatly in physical characteristics seen in a variety of colors and patterns, with pinto being common. Developed on Assateague Island, off the Atlantic coast of Virginia, the ponies live in a feral condition and are managed by the by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company of neighboring Chincoteague Island. Most are between 13 and 14.2 hands high, but when raised under domesticated conditions, have reached 16 hands.
Excess numbers are rounded up each year during the annual Pony Penning and auctioned off as a fundraiser by The Chincoteague Pony Association, established in 1994. The ponies sold to private owners are successfully domesticated and used as riding ponies.
Legend has it that the ponies came to live on Assateague Island following a Spanish galleon wrecked off of Assateague Island and the surviving ponies swam to shore. Another less romantic theory is early 17th century colonists used the island for grazing to avoid the tax on fenced livestock. Whichever is true, the free-roaming ponies of Assateague have lived there for hundreds of years.
The ponies are owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department. The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on Assateague Island allows the fire department to keep a maximum of 150 adult ponies. A yearly event since 1925, Pony Penning Days is held on Chincoteague on the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July when the herds are rounded up, and the ponies swim the channel from Assateague to Chincoteague where they are held in a pen at the carnival grounds on Chincoteague until they swim back on Friday morning. On Thursday, an auction of most of the foals is held with a few kept as future breeding stock. The proceeds are used to care for the ponies and finance Chincoteague’s fire department.
Author Marguerite Henry went to Pony Penning Day in 1946 to research her book and met the owners of Misty who later sold her to Ms Henry for $150.00. Misty lived with Marguerite for 10 years and became a legend from the novel Misty of Chincoteague. Misty later returned to Chincoteague and had many foals and her most famous offspring Stormy became the subject of the book “Stormy, Misty’s Foal”, one of the many subsequent sequels of Misty of Chincoteague.