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Virginia Horse Breeds

Everything to Know About Virginia’s Native Horse Breeds

As horse owners, it’s always exciting to learn about different breeds. Did you know that there are two horse and pony breeds that hail from our very own Commonwealth of Virginia?

Virginia Horse Breed Facts

First, here are some general facts about horses in Virginia:

  • As of the latest Virginia Equine Survey, there are approximately 215,000 equines in the state. This includes horses, ponies, mules, and donkeys.
  • Our total equine population ranks at #12 in the nation.
  • Virginia used to be a hotspot for Thoroughbred racing, but now, only about 5% of Virginia’s horse population is used for professional racing.
  • The most popular breed in Virginia is the Quarter Horse, followed closely by the Thoroughbred.

The Virginia Highlander

The Virginia Highlander is a little-known breed, with less than 100 registered horses in existence. It is small, almost pony-sized—less than 15 hands in height—and it is a gaited riding horse. This native horse breed was established combining several popular horse breeds effecting a horse with good temperment, stability and stamina.

Virginia Highlanders were developed by William Pugh between 1960 and 1990. Pugh chose his breeding stock carefully, selecting Arabians, Tennessee Walking Horses, Welsh ponies, Morgans, American Saddlebreds, and Hackneys to combine their traits in the best possible way. His goal was to create a small yet powerful horse breed that was gentle-natured and attractive with a smooth gait, perfect for small and inexperienced riders. When he reached his goal, Pugh started the Virginia Highlander Horse Association in 1991, beginning with two foundation stallions and twenty mares. One of the foundation stallions still survives to this day, showing how new this breed is.

The Virginia Highlander is unique in that the most common color is roan. Chestnuts, blacks, and whites also appear, with occasional pinto (piebald/scewbald) markings.

The Chincoteague Pony

The Chincoteague Pony, made popular by Marguerite Henry’s “Misty of Chincoteague,” is well-known throughout the United States. These ponies live mainly on Assateague and Chincoteague Islands, off the coast of Virginia and Maryland. The famous annual Pony Penning started way back in the 1700’s, and it draws many visitors to Virginia each year.

These stocky, short-legged, and round-bellied ponies are a true product of their environment. Unlike the carefully bred Virginia Highlander, the Chincoteague pony developed without the influence of human breeding. They are either descended from the horses of early settlers or they arrived on the island after a shipwreck. The date of their arrival on Assateague is unknown, but they have been living there for hundreds of years, untouched by humans for many of those years. Now, the herds are managed carefully by Chincoteague’s Fire Company, but they are still allowed to run wild.

One more fun fact about these creatures: Genetically speaking, Chincoteague ponies are horses, not ponies! They are classified as ponies because they’re small in size—usually 12 or 13 hands. Their small stature is due to the historical lack of food on Assateague Island.


Everything to Know About Virginia’s Native Horse Breeds

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