Each summer, the world famous Chincoteague Island pony swim captivates locals and visitors alike.

The charming little fishing village of Chincoteague (pronounced Shink-o-teeg) on Virginia’s eastern shore normally has a population of some 3,000. But on this one day every summer, the town swells with more than 10 times that many visitors. Braving the heat, humidity and insects, they come to see an event that has long enchanted horse lovers.

The annual swim of wild ponies across the Assateague Channel dates back almost 90 years. The Chincoteague Pony, also known as the Assateague horse, is a breed of pony that lives wild on Assateague Island, federal land off the coasts of Maryland and Virginia.

Seaside cowboys shepherd the animals off the island in order to maintain the herd at about 150—the number of ponies the sandy habitat can safely support.

The practice of rounding up ponies and removing some of them to the mainland began around 1835. In 1909, the town settled on the last Wednesday of July as the official day for the event, which had become a festival day. At first the ponies crossed the channel by boat, but in 1925, they began swimming across. The ponies cross at slack tide, a period of about 30 minutes when there’s no current. (Read a first-hand account of the 2014 swim in Country Magazine)

The animals are then admired and sent to a coral to rest. The day after the swim, the fire company sells the foals at auction to horse lovers impassioned by the mystique of the wild breed. The proceeds support local charities and raises operating funds for the fire department.

Several legends are told regarding the origins of the Chincoteague, with the most popular being that they descend from survivors of wrecked Spanish galleons off the Virginia coast. It is more likely that they descend from stock released on the island by 17th-century colonists looking to escape livestock laws and taxes on the mainland, according to footnotes at Wikipedia.

(READ the full story, with more photos, in Country Magazine)

Photo by Pat and Chuck Blackley of Staunton, VA – Click to Enlarge (cropped by Good News Network)


Leave a Reply