(March 23, 2020) Off the coast of Maryland and Virginia, there are two herds of wild ponies on the island of Assateague, separated by a fence on the state line. The ponies arguably rose to fame with the release of Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry in 1947.
Photo by NPS
The Maryland herd is managed by the National Park Service and the Virginia herd is owned and managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which is allowed to graze on Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge with a special use permit issued by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. However, the permit restricts the size of the herd to approximately 150 adult animals so every year, at the end of July, the ponies swim from Assateague to Chincoteague on what is known as “Pony Penning Day.” The foals are then auctioned off and the proceeds from the sale benefit the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department.
Misty of Chincoteague is an enchanting novel for all ages about the ponies of the Virginia herd, and in particular a special mare, Phantom, and her new foal, Misty. The story follows two orphaned children who save money to purchase Phantom and Misty at Pony Penning Day. While they initially are not able to, they eventually end up with both ponies. Phantom is trained to ride, but the children eventually decide to let her return to the island, as she is clearly longing to do. Misty stays behind with the children.
The horses in the book are based on horses who really were a part of the herd. Misty, however, was actually born in captivity on the Beebe Ranch. Henry purchased Misty as a weanling and took her to live in Illinois with her for years. Misty eventually did return to Chincoteague where she had several foals. The most famous of which was arguably Stormy whose story inspired the novel, Stormy, Misty’s Foal, which Henry wrote in 1963.
The sequel takes place during a raging storm that really hit the area in 1962. Fans of Misty were consumed with fear for their lives, but also for the life of pregnant Misty. The news of her and her foal surviving the storm brought welcome relief and hope to the community and fans across the country.