28 August 2012

The Wild Ponies of Chincoteague

Another summer, and another visit to Assategue and Chincoteague Islands, have come and gone. Back in Philly, the question that typically follows "How was your vacation?" is "Did you see the wild ponies?" We have been fortunate to see the ponies in their wild habitat on each visit, and on this visit, we saw them on multiple occasions. On the last day, however, as we were leaving the beach, the horses quickly appeared roadside at the only permitted road on the island. I have never seen them so close, complete with a calf and even an egret, often seen standing on their backs. The pinto calf is obscured in this photo behind the group of ponies directly behind the egret in flight. The ponies quickly retreated into the woodlands after I stopped the jeep to photograph them.

Legend states that Chincoteague ponies descend from Spanish horses shipwrecked off the Virginia coast on their way to Peru in the 16th century. Another story holds that they descend from horses left on the island by pirates. Both of these theories are unlikely, as no documentation has been found to show horses inhabiting the island this early, and no mention of horses already existing on the island was made by colonists on either the mainland or the island in the mid-to-late 1600s. Evidence points, however, to their ancestors actually being horses brought to the islands in the 17th century by mainland farmers. Livestock on the islands were not subject to taxes or fencing laws, and so many animals, including hogs, sheep, cattle and horses, were brought to the islands. While the National Park Service holds to the theory that the horses were brought to the island in the 17th century, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which owns the ponies on the Virginia side of Assateague, argues that the Spanish shipwreck theory is correct. They argue that horses were too valuable in the 17th century to have been left to run wild on the island, and claim that there are two sunken Spanish galleons off the Virginia coast in support of their theory. The National Chincoteague Pony Association also promotes the shipwreck theory. In the early 1900s, they were described as having been on the islands since well before the American Revolution, and were described at that time as "very diminutive, but many of them are of perfect symmetry and extraordinary powers of action and endurance." *wikipedia


  1. Ooh, I've always wanted to visit Chincoteague and see the ponies. When I was a little girl in the 70s, I read Misty of Chincoteague and was enthralled with the story. Thanks for posting/sharing your amazing experience. Two years ago I was in the Black Hills (South Dakota) on vacation and went to the 11,000-acre wild horse sanctuary to see the rescued mustangs who live and breed freely there. Amazing.

    P.S. Your blog is beyond lovely. It's always a treat to visit.


  2. You should make a trip to Chincoteague. It's quiet, unspoiled (the preserve, that is) and wonderful. Thanks for the kind words, too.

  3. It's now on the bucket list. Thanks for the suggestion.

    Best, Karen


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