Did You Know?
Herds of wild ponies roam over much of Assageauge Island, which is just off the coasts of Maryland and Virginia.
Every July, people in Chincoteague, at the southern end of Assateague Island, round up the ponies and sell them at an auction. You may have read about this. The round-up was made famous in the book by Marguerite Henry called "Misty of Chincoteague."
Q: Where did the ponies come from?
A: The story goes that a Spanish ship wrecked offshore in the 16th century. Some horses on board survived the wreck and swam ashore to Assateague Island. The wild ponies there now are descendants of those horses.
Q: Is that story true?
A: Not likely. The ponies are probably descendants of horses that were turned loose there by early settlers and then forgotten.
Q: Are the ponies truly wild?
A: They’re "wild" because they live free and fend for themselves. But they came from tame horses, so they really should be called feral (FAIR-ul) instead of wild.
Q: So, why are they ponies instead of horses?
A: Ponies are just small horses. Over many, many years of living in a harsh environment with poor-quality food, they gradually became smaller.
Q: Who owns the ponies?
A: The herd that lives on the Maryland side of Assateague Island is managed by the U.S. National Park Service. The herd that lives on the Virginia side belongs to the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company.
Q: How many ponies live on the island?
A: A good size for each herd is about 150 ponies. More than that can harm the island by trampling and eating all the vegetation. The pony penning and auction each year is one way to keep the herd size under control.
Q: How can I find out more about that?
A: Go to www.chincoteaguechamber.com/pony-events/ev-pony.html. And to find out more about the wild ponies of Assateague, go to www.nps.gov/asis/naturescience/horses.htm.