There are few places in the world where you can see the beauty of wild ponies in a natural environment. Grayson Highlands State Park in southwestern Virginia is one of those places. Not as well-known as the ponies on Assateague Island or even the Cape Lookout National Seashore, the herd at this picturesque park is one of the east coast's hidden gems for horse lovers. Located within the Jefferson National Forest, Grayson Highlands is almost 5,000 acres of pristine wildlife. Families and outdoor enthusiasts plan their trips for the chance to hike Virginia's two highest mountains, stare in wonder at breathtaking views, conquer the Appalachian trail, and most importantly, get a glimpse of wildly beautiful feral ponies.
The Herd's History
According to the Commonwealth of Virginia website, the wild ponies at Grayson Highlands State Park were first introduced to the land in 1974. The park needed a solution to stop reforestation of the highland balds, and the ponies served their purpose. Some say, however, that there have been wild equines on the Appalachian Mountains since the 1940s. The story is that local ranchers wanted to breed ponies that could survive on their own in the wild. Regardless of how or when the herd originated, the ponies at Grayson Highlands have been attracting visitors for decades.
Wild and Free
Now with around 150 ponies, the herd lives mostly on their own. The Wilburn Ridge Pony Association was founded in 1975 to support the herd and prevent overpopulation. The pony protection group monitors the herd but only intervenes when necessary. To ensure the herd doesn't grow too large and suffer due to overpopulation, they also host an auction every fall. They round up select yearlings and make them available to the public. Some ponies sell for $40, and the highest selling pony of 2019 went for $1,075. All of the money earned goes toward the herd's veterinary care and the Rugby Volunteer Rescue Squad and Fire Department.
The annual auction attracts hundreds of visitors to the park's fall festival, but these ponies are popular all year-round. Hikers on the Appalachian trail often see segments of the herd grazing directly on the trails. And while the horses can roam incredible distances in one day, they're not hard to find. Adventurers getting ready to summit Mt. Rogers get regular glimpses of the ponies, and campers can spend hours silently watching the horses interact.
Out of all of the wild ponies in the herd, a stallion named Fabio is a wide-spread favorite. With his gorgeous mane of long, platinum blonde hair, he definitely lives up to his namesake. Fabio has been a leader of one of the herds for years. He's sired several offspring, and one of his youngest foals, an adorable gray paint, was the top-selling pony at the 2019 auction. It seems no one can get enough of this gorgeous wild pony!
You can see the park and search for Fabio and the other beautiful ponies all-year-round. And while most of the ponies seem accustomed to humans, park officials remind visitors to keep their distance. Human food makes the ponies sick, and they can also bite and kick if they feel threatened.
Have you seen the wild ponies at Grayson Highland State Park? Show us your pics in the comments!
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Featured image via Facebook/The Feral Ponies of Grayson Highlands and Mount Rogers