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Photo of a herd of ponies running on Chincoteague shore
Herd of ponies running on Chincoteague shore

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Pony Swim and Auction
A Local Legacy

Can you guess how a herd of wild ponies arrived at Assateague Island, Virginia, and how their offspring have continued to live there for more than 300 years?

No one knows how the "ponies" got on the island, but one myth says that they are descendants of mustangs that swam there from a shipwrecked Spanish galleon (a large sailing ship). The most likely explanation is that they are the descendants of horses that were brought to the island in the late 17th century by owners on the U.S. mainland who wanted to avoid taxes and laws requiring them to be fenced. Although they are called "ponies," they are actually horses. Their diet of grasses and seaweed and the harsh environment prevent them from growing to full size, which makes them look more like ponies.

Today, the ponies are split into two main herds -- one on the Virginia side and one on the Maryland side of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on Assateague Island -- and each herd has about 150 animals.

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