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Chincoteague Pony

Chincoteague Pony
Chincoteague pony
Country of origin: United States
Horse (Equus ferus caballus)

The Chincoteague Pony is a hardy breed that developed on Assateague Island, which is off the Atlantic coast of Maryland and Virginia. The ponies live in a feral condition on the Virginia portion of Assateague and are owned and managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company.[1] Excess numbers are rounded up each year by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company of neighboring Chincoteague Island during the annual Pony Penning and auctioned off as a fundraiser. These ponies, sold to private owners, have been successfully re-domesticated and are used as riding ponies.

File:Assateague fg02.jpg
Feral ponies on Assateague Island

The Chincoteague Pony Association was established in 1994. All ponies sold by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company are eligible for registration, as well as those bred by private breeders. There are several Chincoteague Pony breeders scattered around the United States, the Chincoteague Pony Breeders Association was established in 2006. Several of these breeders also breed descendants of Misty of Chincoteague.



The breed varies greatly in physical characteristics since there is no true breed standard. Chincoteagues are known for being easy keepers and often do not require shoes. Most are between 12 to 13.2 hands (48 to 54 inches, 122 to 137 cm) high, but when raised under domesticated rather than feral conditions, some have been known to reach 16 hands (64 inches, 163 cm). Chincoteagues come in a variety of colors and patterns, with pinto being common.

Habitat and ownership

Chincoteague ponies actually live on Assateague Island, which is part of both the states of Virginia and Maryland, and it a protected area, including Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge and Assateague Island National Seashore. Like other horse breeds living on the barrier islands of the Atlantic coast, forage and fresh water are scarce, and this contributes to the small size of the animals.

Two separate herds of ponies live on Assateague Island, separated by a fence that runs down the Maryland-Virginia state border. Though descended from the same original stock, the Maryland feral ponies are called "Assateague horses" and are maintained by the National Park Service. The Virginia feral ponies are called "Chincoteague ponies" and are owned by Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Services allows the ponies to live on Assateague under a special use grazing permit, allowing approximately 150 adult ponies in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on Assateague Island.[2][3]

In recent years, tourism has had an impact. On the Maryland side of the island, encounters with tourists who get too close have resulted in human injury from ponies biting, kicking, knocking down visitors or even tearing into campers' tents. When feral, the animals can be very aggressive, particularly in their search for food, and visitors who do not understand that they are dealing with wild animals add to the problem by trying to feed and pet the ponies. On the other hand, ponies have become ill from being fed inappropriate human foods, and an average of one horse a year is killed by being hit by a car.[4][3]


There are two theories of how the ponies came to live on Assateague Island. The legend is that a Spanish galleon wrecked off of Assateague Island and the surviving ponies swam to the island. However, there is little evidence supporting this theory, and the more likely origin of the ponies is that early 17th century colonists let their animals loose on the island to avoid fencing laws and livestock taxes.[3] Whichever theory is true, the free-roaming ponies of Assateague have been living there for hundreds of years.

Pony Penning

File:Chincoteague pony swim 2007.jpg
Chincoteague ponies arriving on Chincoteague after swimming the channel

Since 1925, on the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July, Pony Penning is held on Chincoteague. The herds on Assateague are rounded up, and on Wednesday of Pony Penning week the ponies swim the channel from Assateague to Chincoteague. The ponies 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 of the auction are used to care for the feral ponies and finance Chincoteague’s fire department. Additional roundups are held in the spring and fall for an examination by a veterinarian, vaccinations, deworming, and hoof trimming. Along with the fall roundup is an informal sale of the foals born after Pony Penning[citation needed], and the foals sold in July that were too young to be weaned are picked up by their owners.

The Feather Fund

The Feather Fund is a non-profit organization based in Maryland that purchases Chincoteague ponies for children. It began back in 2004, to carry on the work of Carolynn Suplee, who was known as the "pony fairy." Each year Feather Fund volunteers attend the Pony Penning with the recipients to purchase the ponies, who then travel to the recipient's home states. The number of recipients varies from year to year, but there is always more than one. The Feather Fund works closely with the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department and other non-profits to raise money toward purchasing the ponies.

Misty of Chincoteague

The Chincoteague Pony was made famous by Marguerite Henry’s 1947 children’s novel Misty of Chincoteague, and the subsequent sequels Stormy, Misty's Foal, Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague, and Misty’s Twilight. The real Misty of Chincoteague was born on Chincoteague in 1946, and her descendants still serve as ambassadors of the breed.[5]


Chincoteagues have excelled in the show ring in a variety of disciplines.


External links


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