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 Assateague, and are managed by the National Park Service. 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.
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.
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, the more likely theory is that early 17th century colonists let their animals loose on the island to avoid the tax on fenced livestock. Whichever theory is true, the free-roaming ponies of Assateague have been living there for hundreds of years.
SInce 1925, on the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July, Pony Penning Days are 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. A second roundup is held in the fall for a vet check, an informal sale of the foals born after Pony Penning, and the foals sold in July that were too young to be weaned are picked up by their owners.
The Chincoteague Pony was made famous by Marguerite Henry’s 1947 children’s novel Misty of Chincoteague, and the subsequent sequels Sea Star: Orphan of Chincoteague, Stormy: Misty’s Foal, 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.