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These ponies inhabit a 37-mile barrier island off the coast of Assateague Maryland and Virginia. The breed is somewhat of a mystery, and there is great speculation and intrigue to how they even came to be on this small island. They however, have gained some attention by their appearance in such things as the children's book, 'Misty of Chincoteague' and there is even an annual 'Pony Penning' event that takes place. There are a couple myths of how these hardy ponies came to reside on the islands. One of these legends states that a 16th century Spanish ship was on its way to South America but was thrown off course and wrecked on the island in a storm; the cargo is believed to have escaped from the ship. The other story says that the horses were set free on the Assateague Island by farmers in the 17th century to avoid fencing requirements and livestock tariffs. The horses were said to have adapted to the island life and evolved into the ponies.During the late 18th century, ponies were captured and some were domesticated while others were returned to the wild where they could continue to roam free and breed. As time passed, it was realized that these horses were a rather sturdy, smart, and ideal horse for farm work as well as all around pleasure riding.
In the early 20th century, the lack of genetic diversity was becoming a cause for concern for the health of the breed, so twenty wild mustangs were purchased and set free on the island. Later it was said that the introduction of the Mustangs wasn't the best idea as it diluted the bloodline and their ability to throw the natural paint markings, so Arabian blood was introduced later. Today the two different pony herds are separated, one on the end in Virginia and one on the end in Maryland; each herd has about 150 ponies. This is to lessen their impact on the environment of the islands.
The Chincoteague Ponies can also be found throughout the United States and are not just limited to the islands; they are well known for their good looks, intelligence, and good nature. They are often the horse of choice for a child when first being introduced into the horse world. They also excel in a variation of competitive rings.
The 'Misty of Chincoteague" children's book mentioned earlier is what made the Chincoteague nationally known. The detailed book was about the life of a family going through raising one of these ponies; it made the ponies of real life very famous and every child in the country was wishing for one. They had reached levels of popularity so high that when a storm hit the islands nearly wiping out the entire stock, children from all over the nation emptied their piggy banks sending money in the effort to replenish the breed. To this day, flocks of tourists with children swarm the shorelines to catch a glimpse of these incredibly gorgeous ponies.
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