Every little girl loves horses—or so I’ve heard. All I know is, I’ve loved horses since I was old enough to read Marguerite Henry’s Misty of Chincoteague, and all the Henry books that came after. Misty is based on real events: the annual pony penning that takes place in Chincoteague, Virginia.
Herds of wild ponies live on Assateague Island, which stretches along the coast of Maryland and Virginia. Allegedly they are the descendants of horses that swam ashore from a wrecked Spanish galleon, or else were brought to the island by colonial settlers. Wherever they came from, the horses have roamed the barrier island since the 1600s.
Chincoteague’s volunteer fire department rounds up the horses on the Virginia end of the island and herds them across Assateague Channel each July. Some of the foals and yearlings are auctioned off; the proceeds from the sale benefit the fire department and go toward the animals’ veterinary care. The annual roundup and sale helps keep the population of wild horses manageable. Carnivals and fireworks lead up to the big event, held this year on July 24, when shuttles will bring spectators as early as 5 a.m. to see the ponies swim.