Chincoteague Pony Penning

Thanks to Marguerite Henry’s book Misty of Chincoteague, the annual Pony Penning Week which takes place during the last week in July in Chincoteague, Virginia has become a famous tradition that draws large crowds each summer.

Book Summary

Misty Book
This beautiful book belongs to my aunt, but when I looked all over town for a copy with this cover I was only able to find signed copies ranging in the $300-$500 range at the local bookstore!

Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry is loosely based on real horses and people. The book follows two young orphans, the Beebes, who dreamed of purchasing one of the Chincoteague herd ponies who in the past has escaped the annual round-up. On this year the pony, slowed by her new foal, Misty, joins the round-up and the children are able to not only purchase their dream pony, but her new colt too. In the end, the elder pony longs to return with the herd to Assateague Island so the children let her go, but they are able to keep Misty.

Henry based the book on a real horse named Misty that she herself bought from the Beebes and even took on her book tour! She never forgot, however, that Misty was and always would be connected to Chincoteague. She returned to the Island when it came time for Misty to birth her foal, Stormy. Henry went on to write a series of 4 Misty books. The third of which is about Stormy. The final and fourth is about Misty’s final years.

Buy Misty of Chincoteague from Amazon and read along with me!

(*This is an affiliate link, which means I will make a few cents if you purchase the book. Any commission will be put towards hosting fees for this blog.)

The Place

ponies grazing
Chincoteague Ponies grazing in the salty marshes of Assateague Island

Nobody quite knows how horses came to live on Assateague Island. The accepted story is that they broke free from the wreck of a Spanish Galleon off the coast and have lived feral ever since. They graze in the salty marshes of the Island and as a consequence, the ponies have developed into squat little beasts with bloated bellies.

Today, the Island of Assateague, which stretches from Maryland to Virginia, is a nature preserve. At the state line a fence divides the horse population of the island. The Maryland herd is called Maryland Horses, while the Virginia herd is trademarked Chincoteague Ponies. The Chincoteague Ponies are owned and cared for by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department who are allowed by state law to keep 150 adult horses on the island. While the horses are left alone for most of the year to live wildly, they have year-round vet care and fences to deter them from walking in the way of cars visiting the preserve as well as a fence dividing the North and South herd to keep the rival stallions from fighting.

The Event

return swim
Chincoteague Ponies swim between Chincoteague and Assateague Islands

Each summer, to humanly cull the herd back to 150 horses, the Fire Department holds the annual Pony Penning Week during which most of the fouls are auctioned off, with some exceptions. On the first day all of the Chincoteague Ponies are rounded up and penned on Assateague. The next morning the volunteer herders, called Saltwater Cowboys (generally retired Fire Department Officials and friends), drive the herd across the channel to Chincoteague exactly at slack tide. This is the annual Pony Swim and draws the biggest crowd. The Ponies then are allowed to rest before being paraded along the city streets to the carnival ground pens. The next morning the auction is held. Some show up to purchase a reliable work horse, while others who have dreamed of their very own pony find their dreams come true. The day after the auction the herd, minus the auctioned foals, is walked back to the channel and let go to return to Assateague until the next year. The whole town of Chincoteague gets in on the action. The downtown shops sell Pony Penning Week art and souvenirs, the movie theater plays free showings of Misty of Chincoteague on a first-come basis, and each evening as everything else shuts down, the carnival grounds swing into action with food, music, games, and rides. It’s like a week-long small-town party.

Plan Your Visit

This annual event is so popular that every room in town gets booked. Also, many of the accommodations in town require that you pay for the entire week. According to my observations, you’ll have to book your stay about a year in advance if you hope to find room in Chincoteague during Pony Penning week. If you’d like to make your literary travel complete, you’ll want to stay at Miss Molly’s Inn, the inn where the author of Misty stayed when she found her muse and began writing her famous book.

If you’d like more information about the events of Pony Penning Week, or to learn about the ponies and their stories, or even what there is to do in Chincoteague for both pony lovers and those not so interested in the ponies, make sure you’re subscribed to the blog! You won’t want to miss the rest of this series!

Let’s Talk!

Are you a Misty Fan? A horse lover? Have you been to Chincoteage Island or longed to go? Let’s discuss in the comments below!


  1. We go to chincoteague every year. It’s a wonderful place to visit. Something for everyone. Wallops island (NASA) is interesting if you like science. We usually take a boat tour and we find different things on each tour. There is a bus tour that takes you to a remote part of the island on an access road. The people are so nice and inviting. We highly recommend a trip st lease once. Be careful though because you’ll get hooked!

    1. It’s true! I love visiting even during the off season! Last visit we took a boat tour, which I’ll write about in a later post. Visiting Wallops is interesting. I didn’t know about the bus tour! Thanks for the info!

  2. When I was about 7 my Dad took me to meet Misty -during P.P. Week. It was the most wonderful day of my life till then ! She was so beautiful as Maureen led her out to shake hoof w/ a long line of kids . It was so fun much later to take my own kids to P.P. . Misty was long gone , but the day was just as special to my kids . This past summer of 2016, my husband and I spent the week in Chincoteague . Wonderful-magical-beautiful – Loved every minute of that week -from the Beachwalk to the Carnival – ,my dtrs coming for the day w/ my Great grands – eating great seafood -being w/ friends . I so hated to leave the island ! We came back for Fall Round Up and I was lucky to be at the Water Hole w/ some friends to get really close to those awesome CI ponies . Can’t wait to get this book !

    1. Wow! You actually got to meet Misty?! What a wonderful memory! It’s so nice you’re now able to bring your family back! I convinced my parents to join us this time and we all had a wonderful time (despite the mosquito bites)!

  3. It is a very well written interesting story. I knew about the Chincoteague “Pony Penning” but I learned lots of new information, about the ponies. I understood that the area can only support certain number of horses and therefore every year they have to reduce the numbers to the limit by auctioning a few Ponies.
    I am however sorry for the auctioned ones. They are losing their family, their friends and their freedom. They are permanently separated from them and probably they have to live their life alone, no other pony around them and have a good or a bad owner.
    I do not know if ponies dream or not, but if they do they probably go back in dream to their family and friends and playing and roaming with them eating dune and marsh grasses and drinking fresh water from ponds. They wake up. . . and they are alone.

    1. The young foals are sold at the time that the older stallions will push the younger males out of the herd. Taking them off the island also prevents fights for control between the males. Most of the ponies are auctioned to good homes where they will bond with their human caretakers. I will write later about the Feather Fund which purchases horses for deserving children who will learn responsibility, hard work pays off, and gain self esteem through ownership of their own pony. The fund will also rehome any of the ponies to good families if the need arrises.

  4. Oh that book cover of Misty looks awfully familiar…I bet I had it as a kid! I remember seeing the Chincoteague ponies when my family took a vacation down to Virginia. I was pretty young then and always wanted to go back and see them at some point. Really interesting info on “Pony Penning” never knew about that!

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