Living wild on an island off of the coast of Virginia, Chincoteague Ponies are actually a small breed of hardy wild horse. These horses are frequently captured as foals, tamed, and used as family ponies. A related group of ponies live on a neighboring island called Assateague. Although all of the ponies come from the same bloodlines, the ponies from Assateague are called Assateague Ponies and those from Chincoteague are called Chincoteague Ponies.
Scientific & Common Names
Genus & Species - Equus ferus caballus
Common Name - Chincoteague Ponies
The Chincoteague Pony in wild herds seldom grow to more than 12 or 13 hands due to the limitations of the available food on the islands where they live. However, ponies that are removed from the islands as foals and fed a more normal horse's diet can grow to the size of a normal small horse. Most Chincoteague Ponies exhibit pinto coloring, white with brown or black spots, although they come in all colors. They have thick tails and manes and slight feathering of their fetlocks. Because the ponies living in the wild have a high concentration of salt in their diets, they have a bloated, "chubby" appearance.
Chincoteague mares and stallions can breed by 2 to 4 years of age. The mares are pregnant for around 11 months before giving birth to a 50 to 60 pound foal.
Chincoteague Ponies are quite intelligent, and they love people. Foals are usually easy to tame and enjoy frequent handling and training. They are playful, curious, and kind. In the wild, three bands of horses live on the island comprised of one stallion in each band with a "harem" of females.
Legend says that the ponies ended up on the islands after a Spanish galleon was shipwrecked carrying a load of horses in the 1600s. The horses swam to shore and began breeding, living in a feral state. However, some believe it is more likely settlers from the mainland placed their horses on the islands to avoid taxes and fencing laws in the late 1600s. The horses eventually went feral and were abandoned. Over the years, nature has selected for ponies that have adapted to the environment, creating this small, all-American breed of horse.
The wild herds are managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. Managers try to keep the wild herd to a population of 150 ponies. Each July, the Chincoteague Fire Department holds a fundraising event to auction off foals to prospective owners. The foals are then trained for riding and as family pets. Because the grazing of the wild ponies is damaging the salt water marshes, experimental trials of contraceptives in the herd have been attempted to keep their population numbers in check. This trial has been fairly successful. Around 1,000 Chincoteague Ponies live in captivity.