Because the Chincoteague Pony is a hybrid whose breeding program is largely left to natural selection, conformational traits may vary among individuals. Most ponies tend to resemble the Welsh or Arabian breeds, although Mustang blood is obvious in others.
Head: Expressive, with broad forehead; large, soft eyes, straight or slightly dished short face; firm muzzle; small, wide-set, tipped-in ears; tapered muzzle, large nostrils and rounded jowls.
Body: Clean, moderately refined throatlatch and neck; well angulated shoulder; broad chest and loins; short back; deep flanks; well-sprung ribs; round croup; straight, sound legs with dense bone and an appearance of overall hardiness; round, hard hooves; adequate mane and tail.
Height: Individuals generally range from 12.2- 14.2 hands, with exceptions under and over that.
Weight: Approximately 750 pounds, with exceptions under and over that.
Color: May be any color. Paint markings are extremely common.
A tiny island situated off the coast of Virginia seems an unlikely place to find wild horses. Yet, it is home to one of the most beloved breeds that ever roamed free. The most widely accepted legend has it that a 16th century Spanish galleon bound for South America was torn asunder off the shoals of Assateague Island during a violent storm. After escaping from the cargo hold, the Barb horses it carried swam to the safety of the island's nearby shore. Another legend would place the horses on Assateague Island in the 17th century, turned out there to graze by mainland farmers who wished to avoid fencing requirements and the payment of livestock tariffs. However they reached Assateague, the horses soon adapted to the rigors of island life. Natural selection helped them evolve into a pony-sized, hardy breed over the next two centuries. As they flourished in a young country, so did the people who settled there.
Immigrants found Virginia a most hospitable place to live- the climate was temperate, the soil fertile and the sea held great bounty. By 1671, some had found their way to Chincoteague Island (meaning Beautiful Land Across Water). Barely seven miles long and one and a half miles wide, Chincoteague is located four miles off the eastern shore of the Chesapeake Bay and sheltered from the unforgiving sea by its larger neighbor, Assateague, which measures 37 miles in length.
Most of those living on Chincoteague earned their livelihood from the sea, although a few remained herders and farmers. During the late 18th century, they began the process of capturing the wild horses of Assateague, which often swam the narrow dividing channel to raid farmers' crops. Selected horses were pulled from the herd to be domesticated, the rest returned to freedom, where they continued to breed on.
Islanders found the ponies to be sturdy, intelligent and willing-ideal for work and pleasure. The thinning process also controlled the equine population and prevented overgrazing of the island's limited resources. Although Assateague remained uninhabited by man, it sheltered a thriving wildlife population- ponies, deer and birds.
By the early 1900s, the Virginia coast had become a popular destination for tourists and sportsman alike. Chincoteague and Assateague had hitherto only been accessible by boat, but the influx of people spurred natives to build a causeway and bridges connecting them to the mainland in 1922. Even though this made travel easier, two devastating fires served as a harsh reminder to the community of their relative isolation and lack of emergency services.
Determined that history not repeat itself, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department was formed in 1924, and quickly became the backbone of the community.
The Fire Company faced the dilemma of such groups everywhere- a lack of funds to purchase sorely needed equipment. Members brainstormed for money-making ideas, and soon lit upon a unique solution. They would make pony penning and sales into a yearly fundraising event! In exchange, the Fire Company would assume responsibility for the welfare of the wild herd, a task they took very seriously.
Ground plans were laid and the entire community pitched in to help. July seemed an ideal time to hold the event, as it was warm enough for even the pony foals to swim with their dams from Assateague to Chincoteague and would attract summer visitors to the area. It was decided that a carnival would kick off the festivities, and continue for several weeks while ponies were rounded up, penned and auctioned off to the highest bidder.
Pony penning proved successful, with animals fetching $25-$50 apiece, and attendance grew with each passing year. However, by the early 1930s, members of the Fire Company began to feel concerned about the lack of genetic diversity within the herd. An attempt to infuse new blood was made in 1939, when 20 wild mustangs were purchased from the Bureau of Land Management and set free on Assateague. (Later genetic contributions were to come from the Arabian breed, as it was felt that the Mustangs may have temporarily diluted the breed's tendency to throw a large percentage of paint markings and more refined features.
In 1943, the federal government purchased Assateague Island and divided it: the Maryland end became Assateague National Seashore Park, the southern end Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department subsequently came to an agreement with the government regarding their continued involvement with ponies on Virginia soil. (When barriers between the two sections were erected, some ponies fell under Maryland's auspices.)
Although the Chincoteague Pony was a popular area attraction, it was not until Marguerite Henry, a well-known author and lifelong equestrienne, visited the island in 1946 that the breed gained national recognition. Her next book, Misty of Chincoteague was published to critical acclaim in 1947. It detailed the true story of a local family named Beebe, and their acquisition of a young chestnut and white paint filly the previous year. Misty of Chincoteague was soon hailed as a children's classic, and the real-life pony became an overnight sensation. Children from all around the country wished for a Misty of their very own. So well known had the ponies become, that when a crushing storm ruined almost all the island forage in 1962, children from virtually every state in the nation sent money from their piggy banks to aid in the pony relief effort. Henry was to later collaborate with illustrator Wesley Dennis on a sequel entitled Stormy, Misty's Foal (published 1963), and with illustrator Karen Haus Grandpre on Misty's Twilight (published 1992), thus introducing several successive generations to the wonderful Chincoteague Pony.
Although she has long since passed away, Misty herself is far from forgotten. Each year, among the crowds which flock the shoreline to view the pony swim, excited cries may be heard from children. "Where's Misty?" "I think that one looks like Misty!"
1996 marks the 50th anniversary of the birth of Misty of Chincoteague. In honor of the occasion, Breyer has added Chincoteague Ponies and they are, Misty II (Stormy's 5th daughter), Mayday Twister and Black Mist, who are two of Misty II's daughters.
THE CHINCOTEAGUE PONY TODAY
Today, Chincoteague Ponies may be found throughout the United States. Known for their striking looks, good nature and intelligence, they are beloved family members. In addition, Chincoteague Ponies excel at a variety of competitive endeavors and are often a child's first introduction to the horse world.
Ponies have become a thriving industry on Chincoteague island. The pony motif can be found incorporated in many aspects of everyday life, and the ponies themselves are seen as a living piece of history. To that end, the Chincoteague Pony Association was formed in 1994, and serves both as a membership organization and breed registry (151 animals have been registered to date).
The 1995 Chincoteague Pony Penning was attended by approximately 55,000 people and brought in revenues in excess of $78,000. Their careful stewardship of these animals has enabled the Volunteer Fire Company to continue to purchase the best technology available.
For more information, or to join the
Last Update: January 09, 2018
by: Don Dostie