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Chincoteague pony becomes an official state symbol in Virginia

CHINCOTEAGUE, VA — Virginia has a state bird, insect, tree, and even a state bat. And now, thanks to an Accomack County 4-H teen, the commonwealth has an official state pony—the Chincoteague pony.

Chincoteague Pony, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge, Chincoteague, Virginia.

Photo Credit: Judy Gallagher,licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution

Of the state laws that took effect on July 1, possibly the most heartwarming was one naming the Chincoteague pony as the state’s official pony. The effort was spurred by 17-year-old Sophia Gallivan, a student at Broadwater Academy on the Eastern Shore.

“My dad and I were driving home from a horse show, and we were talking about iconic things from each state,” said Gallivan, who is a horse enthusiast and member of the Chincoteague Pony Drill Team. “The Chincoteague pony is such a Virginia icon that I thought it was probably the state pony, but then we found out it wasn’t recognized at all. I was like, ‘This has to be done.’”

Backed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company—the organization that manages the legendary wild ponies—Gallivan contacted her local representatives, Del. Robert Bloxom, R-Accomack, and Sen. Lynwood Lewis, D-Accomack. They introduced matching bills during the 2023 General Assembly.

“It was a whirlwind,” Gallivan said. “I visited the Pocahontas Building three times, spoke with a lot of legislators, and gave handouts about the pony’s history, importance and economic impact on Chincoteague.”

Her efforts succeeded, and the bills passed with overwhelming bipartisan support. Gov. Glenn Youngkin signed the legislation into law March 27.

“It’s just fabulous,” said Julie Williamson, an equestrian and member of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Equine Advisory Committee. “We’re the only people in the world who have these Chincoteague ponies, and I think it’s so cool that a 17-year-old made this happen … it makes me proud as a horse person.”

Each year, tens of thousands visit Chincoteague Island to witness the annual pony swim, where the herd swims from their home on Assateague Island across a channel to Chincoteague Island. Once at Chincoteague, they receive veterinary checkups, and some are sold at auction to control the herd population and raise funds for local fire departments and the animals’ care.

The legendary wild ponies earned international admiration after the popular children’s book Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry was published in 1947. The farm featured in the book, Beebe Ranch, recently was purchased by the Museum of Chincoteague Island to save it from development.

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