The Wild Ponies of Assateague and Their Feathery Friends

It was the writer Marguerite Henry who really put Chincoteague, Virginia on the map. Her book, "Misty of Chincoteague" and the movie that came later have inspired thousands to visit the now famous barrier islands, Chincoteague and Assateague on the East Coast of Virginia. While there are no Misty descendants roaming on Assateague today, there are about 150 wild ponies that live in two herds, the southern and northern, across a bridge from Chincoteague on the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Up to 70 offspring are born each year, most in the spring, then sold at auction in July to raise money for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company that actually owns the herd.

On the Refuge, no wildlife is more spectacular than the snow geese that arrive each fall to feed and rest. The sound and sight of thousands of the snows taking off at the same moment is dramatic. The snows and other wildlife attract nearly 1.5 million visitors to the Refuge each year. While many visitors come to enjoy the long, white sand beach along the Atlantic Ocean, the Refuge is a major attraction for bird watchers. When the Atlantic Flyway becomes active with migrating birds, there are 14,000 acres of dunes, marsh and maritime forest where they may put down to feed. In 2009 when the snows arrived they found their usual feeding grounds flooded with salt water from a ravaging November nor’easter and had to find habitat nearby.

While the wildlife, as well as the famous Assateague Lighthouse, bring visitors to the Islands year round, each July up to 40,000 people crowd onto the small Island for the annual Pony Penning when the foals are auctioned off. This event started in 1924 and has grown to a major attraction with people coming from all over the world. Some come year after year, and for some of the famous Saltwater Cowboys who roundup the ponies, it is an annual vacation.

These original photographs are the works of student and adult staff members of www.wildponytales.info, a web magazine that publishes stories and photos about the islands. The publication was started six years ago by Robert Boswell, a former newspaper editor and Accomack County journalism teacher with a few of his students. Although some of the writers have moved on to college and other interests, the current staff and Mr. Boswell welcome story ideas and story contributions.

Income from these photos goes to support the website and a contribution from each sale is made to Chincoteague Pony Rescue, a non-profit that rehabilitates abused and unwanted ponies and makes them available for adoption. For more stories about the Islands and the ponies, go to www.wildponytales.info.


%d bloggers like this: