The truth about Misty of Chincoteague is…
Misty of Chincoteague was never part of the wild herd of Chincoteague Ponies. She was born in captivity at the Beebe ranch to two horses that also lived in captivity. Marguerite Henry did use the real names of Misty and her mother Phantom, as well as the very real traditions of the annual pony penning and auction. The rest, I’m afraid, is fiction. Henry met Misty at the Beebe ranch and begged Mr. Beebe to sell her the horse. Beebe relented, and Misty not only became Henry’s muse, but book tour companion as well. After the book tour, Henry returned with Misty to Chincoteague where she was able to birth her first foal, Stormy. It is thus that Misty’s descendants continued to live in Chincoteague, but in captivity rather than as part of the feral herd of Assateague Island.
Today Misty’s descendants still live in captivity at the Pony Center, the Beebe ranch is long gone. The center carts her descendants into the downtown for tourists to feed and pet. Misty’s great-great-granddaughter Morning Glory is trailered into the downtown twice a week in the afternoons.
Outside the library we met another of Misty’s great-great-granddaughters, Misty III. Her handler told us she looks like Misty because of her palomino tan and white coloring. Turns out I’m not very adept at giving a treat to a horse. Each time she put her large mouth near my hand I panicked and dropped the treat! Sorry, Misty III!
As of 2015, the Pony Center owns all but one of Misty’s descendants in Chincoteague. The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department does not usually add horses to the herd, despite offers of ponies in need of re-homing, but last year they made an exception. This time somebody was selling a colt that happens to be a Misty descendant. Beach Boy, foaled in 2015, is the first Pony to introduce Misty’s DNA into the herd. Beach Boy looks nothing like his predecessor, Misty. His hide is white except for his head and rump which are jet black. He certainly doesn’t have Misty’s coloring, but it is exciting that the herd will now contain her DNA.
The Real Chincoteague Ponies
“Ooohhh there’s Riptide!” A mother and daughter standing next to us outside the auction ground pens squealed, and started photographing one of the horses.
As far as I could tell, apart from coloring and a number freeze branded on each pony’s rump, all the horses looked the same to me. As some of the numbers repeated, it was beyond me how these women could tell any of the animals apart! Standing outside the auction ground pens at the beginning of the week, I was at a loss to tell one pony from another. Over the course of our week long stay, however, I learned to identify many of them by name (named through auction buy-back rights), knew who their sires were, and even began to feel a personal attachment to this herd.
Upon inquiry, the woman holding the camera proudly told us she had joined the I Love Chincoteague Ponies! Facebook group two years ago and had since then learned to identify all the ponies. As they began to point out individual ponies to us, they filled us in on the more recent history of the herd. (And if you’re curious, yes, I did immediately pull out my iPhone and join the Facebook group. The enthusiasm of the locals, and loyal followers of the Chincoteague Ponies Facebook group, is catching.)
Turns out the numbers on the rumps are birth years of each pony. Knowing this, I began to notice that some ponies definitely appeared older than others. The women pointed to a horse with a distinct swayback in a farther corner of the pen, “That’s Unci. She isn’t in any pain and makes beautiful offspring. And Ace is the black one in the mass of horses over there. And this one closes to us is Riptide.”
While Misty was her generation’s legendary horse, Surfer Dude (1992-2015) was the legend of his time. Sadly, Surfer Dude passed in 2015, and the wound is still raw within the town and its followers. Tributes to him can be found all over town, including a commemorative pillow in the sitting room of our B&B. Surfer Dude had fought his way to lead stallion of the herd and sired many horses in today’s herd. He was chestnut brown with a blond mane. Today Surfer Dude’s son, Riptide, is following in his father’s footsteps. Not only in his beautiful coloring, with the same brown and shockingly blond mane which covers his eyes in teenage-angst style, but in temperament as well. In the wake of the tragic loss of his sire, he fought his way to leader of the South herd.
Later in the week we revisited the pens to find them empty save one horse. The rest of the ponies had returned to Assateague during the return swim. This lonely tan pony was Chief, leader of the North pack. He had picked a fight with Riptide on the morning of the auction. We heard they had tried to get at each other through the fence, and Chief injured his leg. The Saltwater Cowboys had left him here to heal and await later transport back to the Northern herd.
One more truth…
Henry’s horse Misty and her foal Stormy, featured in book 3 of the Misty series, lived long lives in Chincoteague. With the books’ popularity came long lines of children to meet the famous ponies. Many of these lucky children remain enchanted by Chincoteague today and now return with their children. Although the horses have passed on, it is still possible to visit them. Or their taxidermied hide anyway. Both are on display at the Chincoteague Museum. Just in case your literary travel isn’t complete without visiting the stuffed pelts of the legendary ponies.
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