Grayson Highlands State Park, in southwestern Virginia, is home to over 100 wild ponies. I’ve heard about them for a few years and have wanted to visit; this fall, we finally were able to. What I wasn’t expecting was the stunning beauty of the park; layer upon layer of the amazing Blue Ridge mountains – simply breathtaking.
But – the ponies…
We started our hike in the Rhododendron field (which I definitely want to see in spring!), and within 5 minutes we saw our first pony, waiting for us at the gate. Okay – he was really there to eat the grasses, but it was a nice welcome.
We started the hike, and, was I surprised to come across a group of ponies after about 10 minutes! They were absolutely beautiful.
One in particular stood out. With his flowing mane of platinum-blond hair, swooping nonchalantly over his eyes, the park rangers have nicknamed him “Fabio.”
“Fabio had been the leader of one of the herds for years,” Sara Abbott, the park’s recreation program manager, told Smithsonian Magazine. “But then we noticed that the mares were no longer giving birth to young in that herd, so we concluded that Fabio isn’t able to do what he needs to do anymore.” “Despite Fabio’s recent shortcomings, the population of roughly 100 wild ponies that lives in the 200,000 acres of national forest and grasslands surrounding Virginia’s highest mountain are healthy and have been drawing crowds to this corner of the state for decades.”
The herds are regularly reproducing and have grown from the original group brought to the area in the 1940s.
The story of how these beautiful ponies came to the area is mirky, but the most commonly accepted one is told by the U.S. Forest Service, which manages the area. The agency states that a group of local ranchers wanted to breed small-statured horses that could survive life on the Appalachian Mountains, and bred a horse with a pony, resulting in the wild ponies living there today. Since that time, they have been used to graze and help maintain the grassy balds and parkland in this beautiful state park.
Every fall, some of the ponies are rounded up for health checks, and some are removed to go to auction – primarily males to prevent a baby boom. One male seems to be off-limits for auction – FABIO! Thanks to his popularity, Fabio is at Grayson Highlands to stay.
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