Have you ever wondered how the ponies came to Assateague Island? There are several theories. The most popular is a legend that a Spanish galleon carrying a cargo of ponies sank off Assateague in the 1700's and some of the ponies were able to swim to shore. Another legendary theory claims the famed pirate Black Beard, gifted a heard of horses to one of his 14 wives, who lived on Assateague Island. A more plausible theory is that the "Chincoteague Ponies" are descendants of colonial horses brought to Assateague Island in the l7th century by Eastern Shore planters when crop damage caused by free roaming animals led colonial legislatures to enact laws requiring fencing and taxes on livestock. We may never solve the mystery behind how the ponies got to Assateague Island, but no one can deny that it was Marguerite Henry who made these ponies famous with her book Misty of Chincoteague.
The modern-day descendants of those domestic horses are wild and have adapted to their environment. Prior to the refuge's establishment in 1943, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company purchased the ponies and continues ownership to this day. The Firemen are allowed to graze up to 150 ponies on refuge land through a Special Use Permit from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service.
A fence along the Virginia/Maryland State line (the northern refuge boundary) separates the island's ponies into two herds. The Maryland herd is owned by the National Park Service. The Virginia herd is owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company and is grazed in two designated compartments on the refuge.
Following tradition, the Fire Company rounds up the entire herd for the Annual Pony Penning and Auction held on the last Wednesday and Thursday of July. Some foals and yearlings are sold at auction to benefit the town's ambulance and fire services. For more information about the ponies or Pony Penning Events please visit: http://www.chincoteaguechamber.com/pony-events/ev-pony.html
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