A unique type of pony still lives in feral herds on Assateague Island near the Virginia and Maryland coast. The breed?s name comes from Assateague?s neighbor Chincoteague Island, where the residents have a long tradition with their ponies.
Sine the 1700s, the Assateague herds have been gathered and sorted, but in 1925, the Pony Penning and Auction became an official, annual event on Chincoteague Island. Every July, members of the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company round up the ponies on Assateague, and herd them into the water to swim across the channel to Chincoteague.
There, they are penned and most of the young ponies auctioned off. A few are kept as breeding stock, and foals too young to leave their mothers are sold later in the year. The auction raises funds for the fire company to care for the Assateague herds, and keeps the herds from overpopulating.
Most feral Chincoteague Ponies stand 13 to 14.2 hands, but under domestic conditions some grow taller. Their features often resemble those associated with horses rather than ponies, such as large heads with straight profiles, relatively long necks, and pronounced withers. They may be any solid color, and many have pinto coat patterns.
The Chincoteague Pony is embedded in American lore and known around the world because of the 1947 children?s book Misty of Chincoteague. Author Marguerite Henry relates the adventures of two Chincoteague children and their hopes for one special mare and her filly, and how the traditional Pony Penning brings them together. The story still inspires thousands of tourists to visit the islands to see ponies roaming free on Assateague, swimming the channel, or at auction on Chincoteague.