If you have ever wondered "what are Chincoteague ponies," here is the answer to that and other frequently asked questions (FAQs) about this rare breed. From Misty of Chincoteague to the annual Chincoteague Wild Pony Swim to their history and origin, you'll find lots of facts related to the ponies of Chincoteague in this guide.

Chincoteague Pony Origin & History

The exact origin of these ponies is unknown, but there are two legends about how they came to Chincoteague. One school of thought is they descended from Spanish horses, survivors of a shipwreck, and adapted to island life.

Alternatively, some believe they developed from farm animals released on the island by early settlers. In either case, the Chincoteague pony is a sturdy, stunted pony that survived extinction by eating the sparse island vegetation and drinking salt water.

Anecdotal evidence places the ponies in the 1700s, but the first documented account of them is in 1835. Ponies of this type were herded across the Assateague channel from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island for a pony penning. This early swim was a precursor to the famous Pony Swim which is held annually on Chincoteague Island.

Breed Characteristics

A Chincoteague pony is about 13 to 15 hands tall, or 52 to 60 inches, with a bloated appearance caused by drinking salt water. Their manes, which are an adaptation to harsh environmental conditions, are thick and get shaggy in winter. Excellent runners with strong hooves, they are low maintenance horses and easy to feed. In fact, many people say “a pony can get fat on a cement slab.”

They are perfect first mounts for children because of their small size and gentle natures but are equally pleasing to individuals that want good driving, jumping, hunting or trail riding animals. They are a rare pony breed with fewer than 3,000 ponies in existence.

Coat colors are usually pinto or paint, but they can also be tobiano, palomino, black, sorrel, or chestnut. Let’s decode these colors in layman’s terms:

  • Pinto: solid color coat with white splashes
  • Paint: solid color coat with any color patches (skewbald) or large patches of black on a white coat (piebald)
  • Tobiano: white splashes on a dark coat
  • Palomino: gold coat with a blonde mane
  • Sorrel or Chestnut: red coat, may have brown undertones, and light manes

Now, let's discover some interesting facts about Misty of Chincoteague and the current status of the ponies of Chincoteague.

Misty of Chincoteague's Back Story

Marguerite Henry’s book, Misty of Chincoteague, boosted awareness of the breed and may have been instrumental in helping Assateague Island become a wildlife refuge. To celebrate the 1961 release of the movie based on the book, Misty was paraded down the main street of Chincoteague and then placed her hoof prints in cement in front of the local theatre.

Today, a tiny group of Chincoteague ponies graze in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. The herd is owned and maintained by the Volunteer Fire Company of Chincoteague and its size limited to 150 ponies. The annual pony swim and auction thins the herd, while providing funds for its upkeep.

According to the National Chincoteague Pony Association, the largest privately owned breeding herd is located in Bellingham, Washington, and there are about 2,980 ponies in the United States and Canada.

Own a Chincoteague Pony

Do you want to own a Chincoteague pony? You could visit the Chincoteague Firemen’s Carnival and pony auction, which is held annually on the last Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday of July. Watching the ponies swim the channel is awe-inspiring, and you could win one because the first foal ashore is raffled to the public. Alternatively, locate a private breeder by contacting the National Chincoteague Pony Association for a referral.

Owning one of these rare horses, or simply learning about them, is a good way to learn more about the breed. If you want more answers to the question, “What are Chincoteague ponies?” visit your local library to find out more about the ponies of Chincoteague.



2011 Chincoteague Pony Swim