On Tuesday, the Richmond Times-Dispatch reported that the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company posted this message on its Facebook page: "Fall Round Up has been canceled due to the childish, idiotic actions of our government."
The fall roundup being talked about is the annual roundup of about 130 feral ponies on the Assateague Island National Seashore. The two-day event, held on a Saturday and Sunday each year, is crucial to an economy built largely on tourism.
Once the ponies are driven from Assateaque Island across a narrow strait at low tide, they are given a medical checkup, and then the herd is culled, with a number of the yearlings being put up for auction. After about two days, they are then driven back across the strait to their island sanctuary.
The Chincoteaque roundup was made popular by Marguerite Henry’s 1947 novel “Misty of Chincoteague.” Over the years, tens of thousands of visitors have made the trek to the Eastern shore of Virginia to watch the famous "pony penning" and auction. But, not this year folks. The Assateague Island National Seashore is closed to visitors due to the government shutdown.
The ponies of Assateaque Island
The feral ponies living on Assateaque Island are descendants of domesticated stock that was grazed on the island as early as the 17th century by Eastern Shore planters. Planters grazed their horses on the barrier island to avoid paying mainland taxes and to circumvent fencing requirements.
Slightly smaller than a regular-sized horse, these sturdy, shaggy ponies have adapted to a diet of marsh and dune grasses. The island can be a harsh environment, yet with freshwater impoundments and natural ponds, they have managed to thrive.
The island itself is divided between the states of Maryland, with the upper two-thirds, and Virginia, having the bottom third. A fence separates two distinct herds, with the Maryland herd of about 130 ponies being managed by the National Park Service.
The Virginia herd is owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company and allowed by permit to graze on Chincoteague refuge. Since the horses take care of themselves all seasons of the year, they are considered to be "wild." They are also "feral" because they are descended from domesticated stock.