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For the first year as Chincoteague ponies made their annual swim across the Assateague Channel, they carried a new title: Virginia’s official state pony.

“We’re just delighted that the Commonwealth of Virginia recognizes the tremendous value of the Chincoteague pony,” said Evelyn Shotwell, Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce leader.

An unofficial symbol of the state for nearly a century, Chincoteague ponies are the descendants of horses brought to Chincoteague and its neighboring island Assateague in the late 1600s. Legend says their ancestors were shipwreck survivors who swam ashore.

Lawmakers passed a bill earlier this year making them the first official state pony and Gov. Glenn Youngkin is scheduled to ceremonially sign the legislation Thursday night amid the week’s festivities.

The ponies are spread over both Virginia and Maryland coastal areas, but the Virginia herds are managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department, who for nearly 100 years has put on the Pony Swim.

After the swim, the department auctions off foals to pare down the herds, whose size is controlled by a U.S. Fish and Wildlife permit.

“The Chincoteague ponies have been a very important part of the economic vitality of Chincoteague Island for many many years,” said Shotwell.

“(The pony swim and auction) is a huge fundraiser for the volunteer fire company, but it also provides employment for hundreds of local families.”

2022’s pony auction raised $450,000.

Chincoteague’s biggest economic driver is tourism, Shotwell said. She’s excited to be able to say the ponies are an official state symbol.

Chincoteague ponies were introduced to the wider American public by children’s author Marguerite Henry. Her 1947 book “Misty of Chincoteague” and subsequent pony stories made Chincoteague synonymous with its feral pony population.

Billy Beebe grew up with Misty, a real pony owned by his grandparents.

“It does mean a whole lot to a lot of people,” he said of the story. “Especially when they are coming up … you know, the parents buy the Misty book, they start reading it, and maybe fantasizing that they're Paul and Maureen.”