Chincoteague/Assateague: The chincoteague ponies live on the barrier island of Assateague in Maryland and Virginia. legend has it that the horses arrived on the island when a Spanish galleon sunk off the coast. The surviving animals swam to shore and are the ancestors of today's herds. Most likely they are descendants of herds turned loose by early settlers.
Today there are two groups of these ponies, the maryland herd and the virginia herd. The maryland herd consists of approximately 140 head and is overseen by the maryland park service. The virginia herd consists of approximately 130 head and are overseen by the islands volunteer fire department. Both herds share the same island, which is Assateague Island, Virginia.
The free roaming ponies have been living on the island for hundreds of years. Due to their poor diet and harsh environment the animals only grow to pony size. Most all coat colors and patterns can be found, with pinto being the most popular and the most prevalent.
Their diet consist of coarse saltmarsh cordgrass and American beachgrass. The high concentration of salt in their diets causes the horses to drink twice as much fresh water as domestic horses causing the ponies to have bloated appearance.
Every year in July a Pony Penning is held. The herds are rounded up, and on Wednesday of Pony Penning week the ponies swim from Assateague to Chincoteague. The ponies are held in a pen at the carnival grounds until they are allowed to swim back on Friday morning. The day before an auction of most of the foals is held with a few kept as future breeding stock. The proceeds of the auction are used to care for the feral ponies and finance the local fire department. This pony penning began in 1927 after the town burned down due to not having a fire department so the pony auction was instituted to help finance one. The whole process of the Pony Round-Up, auction and return swim takes three days. A second roundup is held in the fall for a vet check.
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