The Chincoteague Pony was developed on the Assateague Island of Virginia and Maryland, United States. Another name used for this pony is the Assateague horse, but due to its smaller size it is considered a pony.
In 1947 a children’s book series written by Marguerite Henry, “Misty of Chincoteague”, made the breed famous. Over the years the breed has been introduced to other horse breeds and developed a variety of different characteristics.
They live in poor conditions on the government owned island, with a fence running along the Maryland / Virginia border. A herd of about 150 ponies reside on each side of the fence. The Maryland herd is treated as wild horses governed by the National Park Service. They are given contraceptives to prevent over population.
The Virginia herd is owed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company and are part of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. These ponies are treated and inspected twice a year by veterinarians in preparation, if they are sold at auctions.
Other than the estimated 300 ponies that live on the island, around 1,000 more live on the mainland, that have been purchased or bred privately.
One legend on how the breed was formed states that during the sixteenth century a Spanish shipwreck happened off the coast of Virginia and the breed are decedents of the horses from that event. Another legend states that the breed are decedents of horses left on the island by pirates.
Neither of the legends have documentations that mention horses being on the island in that era. Also when colonists settled on the island in the late 1600s, there was no reference of horses already inhabiting the island.
A more feasible explanation is that the horses were brought to the island by farmers during the seventeenth century. However, both the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company and National Chincoteague Pony Association believe in the shipwreck legend.
Although having horse characteristics, the Chincoteague is considered a pony. Its average height is around 54 inches, but can reach as tall as 58 inches and weigh around 850 pounds. The color can be of any shade and can also have pinto-like patterns. The pinto coloration ponies generally bring in higher bids at auctions.
Characteristics of the pony vary, but the general appearance is having a straight or slightly concave head profile and broad forehead. The shoulders are angled with a broad chest and loins. The back is short and has a rounded croup with the thick tail setting low.
They are considered to be intelligent and can easily be trained. They are used for hunting, driving and riding.
On the last Wednesday in July, up to 50,000 people watch as riders bring the Virginia herd across the channel from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island. It takes an average of seven minutes to cross. Before the event the herd is evaluated and any horse not able to make the swim, mainly pregnant mares, are brought across by truck and trailer. After the swim, the herd is inspected and treated by veterinarians. The next day larger foals are auctioned off and the remaining herd is returned to Assateague on Friday.
The average selling price is around $1,300, but as of 2009 the highest amount paid was $11,700.
Image Caption: Chincoteague Pony. Credit: dbking/Wikipedia (CC BY-SA 2.0)