Politics

Virginia designates Chincoteague Island pony as official state horse

Virginia lawmakers approved a bill on Tuesday, designating the Chincoteague Island pony as the official pony of the commonwealth.

The bill was introduced by Republican state delegate Robert Bloxom Jr., who is a resident of the Eastern Shore of Virginia, where Chincoteague Island is located.

CHINCOTEAGUE, VA – JULY 25: Wild ponies are herded into the Assateague Channel to for their annual swim to Chincoteague Island, on July 25, 2012 in Chincoteague, Virginia. Every year the wild ponies are rounded up to be auctioned off by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

“This is probably the most important bill of this legislative session. This is the main event,” Bloxom told the House of Delegates last Friday.

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The delegate gave a brief history of the Chincoteague pony, which he called a “special breed” that has lived and run wild on Assateague Island for hundreds of years.

Stories passed down for generations linked the horses to an old Spanish Galleon that shipwrecked off the coast of Assateague Island in the 1700s.

Chincoteague ponies gallop into the corral at the Chincoteague Carnival Grounds after the 90th annual Chincoteague Pony Swim on Wednesday, July 29, 2015. A portion of the pony herd will be auctioned on Thursday to benefit the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which owns and maintains the herd. 

Chincoteague ponies gallop into the corral at the Chincoteague Carnival Grounds after the 90th annual Chincoteague Pony Swim on Wednesday, July 29, 2015. A portion of the pony herd will be auctioned on Thursday to benefit the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which owns and maintains the herd.  (Jay Diem/The Daily Times via G3 Box News)

Bloxom said DNA testing was conducted on the herd, which linked the ponies back to Spanish origins.

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For the past 98 years, a pony swim has occurred in Chincoteague Island.

“This is where the ponies are herded to swim to Chincoteague Island every year, on the last Wednesday of July at slack morning tide,” Bloxom said.

Once on Chincoteague, some of the foals are auctioned off, not just to control the size of the herd, but also to bring in money for the Chincoteague Island Volunteer Fire Department.

July 29, 2015: A pair of Chincoteague ponies make the 90th annual Chincoteague Pony Swim across Assateague Channel to the Chincoteague Island, Va.

July 29, 2015: A pair of Chincoteague ponies make the 90th annual Chincoteague Pony Swim across Assateague Channel to the Chincoteague Island, Va. (G3 Box News)

The department provides fire and ambulance services for the nearly 3,000 residents on Chincoteague Island.

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Last year, Bloxom said, the auction raised over $400,000.

The pony swim was made famous by the book, “Misty of Chincoteague,” written by Marguerite Henry in 1947, and later turned into a movie in 1961.

Bloxom told the house speaker he hoped he could see the importance of naming the Chincoteague pony the state pony.

“It is time the Commonwealth pony up and give Chincoteague heritage the recognition it deserves,” Bloxom said.

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Delegate William C. Wampler III, a Republican out of Abingdon, Virginia said he believed the current state pony was in the mountainous Grayson County and wondered if the delegate of that county wanted to defend its current designation as the state pony. But the room fell silent.

“I would put my auction up against his auction, which I don’t believe there is on, any day,” Bloxom said. “I would put my saltwater cowboys herding up my herd, far before they run wild in the mountains and never get herded up.”

At the end of the discussion, several delegates tossed jokes into the ring, including Republican House Delegate Tony Wilt of Rockingham, who asked if a person wanted to vote against the measure, if the response would be “nay.”

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When the matter was brought to a vote on Tuesday, House delegates approved the measure, 93-7.

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