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The Legend Of The Assateague Horses Of Delmarva

Delmarva Peninsula lies on the northeast coast of the United States and is occupied by the entire state of Delaware and partly by Maryland and Virginia. The name of the peninsula is formed by parts of the names of these three states. The peninsula is protected from the elements by a barrier island called Assateague Island, home of a feral band of equines called the Assateague horses that escaped domesticity. Residents of the Chincoteague, Virginia, part of the island refer to them as the Chincoteague Ponies. Here, the two terms are used interchangeably.

The pony/horse dichotomy on either side of the island stems from the fact that these animals are shorter in stature than the minimum for classification in the horse category for purposes of competition. This minimum height, while varying slightly from country to country, is approximately 14.2 hands, equal to 147 centimeters or 58 inches.

While it is true that the animals in question do fall below this minimum height, they display other phenotypic features of the horse, such as their temperament and conformation. Their short stature is believed by some to be a consequence of their poor diet from grazing on high-salt plants hardy enough to survive in the salt marsh ecosystem.

According to legend, the animals are descended from a band of Moor ponies that swam to the island from a shipwrecked Spanish vessel, the Santo Cristo, around 1600. The animals were originally en route from Spain to the Viceroy of Peru. Some sources describe the animals as Arabians. Another story is that the animals were released into the wild by a rancher in order to avoid paying tax on the livestock.

The herd of around 140 animals that dwell on the Virginia side of the island is owned and cared for by the volunteer firefighters on Chincoteague Island. The Maryland side of the family, on the other hand, number around 130 and are owned and taken care of by the state park service in Maryland. The two groups are kept apart by a fence marking the state border.

The legend behind this breed of animals, somewhat stodgy in shape due to retention of water from a high-salt diet, was immortalized in the children’s novel, “Misty of Chincoteague”. The author of the book, published in 1947, was Marguerite Henry, who followed it with two sequels. The legend was brought to the silver screen in a movie called simply, “Misty” in 1961.

Another controversy surrounding this strange breed centers around Misty’s background. In the book, she is captured from the wild; however, there area those who insist that she was foaled on Chincoteague Island from domesticated parentage. Chincoteague Island is separate from Assateague Island by a brief inlet of water. Both Misty and her foal, named Stormy, were processed by a taxidermist and are now displayed at Beebe Ranch in Virginia.

Whether you wish to believe the legend of the feisty swimmers or the more mundane tale of the rogue rancher, the history of the Assateague horses is an interesting one. Their fame has spread all over the country, as testified by the fact that the National Chincoteague Pony Association was established in Bellingham, Washington, in 1980.

You can visit the website www.intheherd.com for more helpful information about The Legend Of The Assateague Horses Of Delmarva

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