There is a legend that states that in the 16th century, a Spanish Galleon capsized during a violent storm off of the coast of the islands of Assateague and Chincoteague, which are found just off of the coast of Virginia and Maryland. It is said that there were Arabian horses aboard that ship that were sent by the viceroy of Peru. They were on their way to Panama to be used in the gold mines that were found there. When the Spanish Galleon capsized, seventeen of these Arabian horses swam ashore to the islands in order to survive and live on.
The seventeen horses began to do whatever they could to survive. They ate American beachgrass, coarse saltmarsh cordgrass, bayberry twigs, thorny greenbrier stems, seaweed and poison ivy. In the manner of true survivorship, the horses began to drink small amounts of salty seawater when their sources of fresh water were not available.
This scavenger diet was not without consequence and the diet stunted the growth of the horses. The salty seawater gave the stomachs of the horses a very bloated appearance. However, the breed also became very hardy as a result of their determination to survive the harsh conditions. The wild Arabian horses continued to breed and thrive on the island. They eventually evolved to what we now know as the Chincoteague pony.
In the late 1600's, immigrants from Virginia began to settle on the island of Chincoteague. The ponies, being true scavengers, could not resist the allure of good food and began to raid the crops that the farmers planted. The ponies would swim across the narrow channel that separated the islands in order to obtain the banquet that awaited them. With a forced interaction between the farmers and ponies, a relationship developed between man and beast. The farmers quickly discovered that the ponies were quite ideal for work as well as for pleasure.
Today the Chincoteague pony is considered to be honorable and extremely brave. They love to learn things which are new and to play. The ponies have a very good nature about them. Their disposition is thought to be gentle, sweet and kind. These ponies are very versatile and are considered to be highly intelligent. They love to be around people and are very well suited to be around children. They are often said to have the personality of a puppy dog.
The Chincoteague pony is very easy to keep. They are a very clean pony and will keep their pasture or stall clean by only using one area for bathroom use. The pony also requires a smaller amount of food than a horse that is full grown. The pony is not picky when it comes to food and will do fine with a weed patch, some hay, a bit of grain and fresh water. It has been said that the Chincoteague pony has the ability to get fat on a slab of cement.
With proper care, this former scavenger and survivor is flourishing. The ponies are becoming more and more popular as time passes. But the determination that they found inside so long ago, lives on.