At the annual Chincoteague Pony Swim and Pony Penning, Chincoteague ponies are auctioned off to raise funds for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. // (c) 2011 Chincoteague NWR / USFWS

At the annual Chincoteague Pony Swim and Pony Penning, Chincoteague ponies are auctioned off to raise funds for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. // (c) 2011 Chincoteague NWR / USFWSEvery year, the mighty community of Chincoteague, Virginia–population 2,947–rolls out the red carpet to welcome more than 40,000 visitors, who come to celebrate the island’s most famous non-resident, the Chincoteague ponies. These ponies, who actually make their home on neighboring Assateague Island, star in a colorful annual spectacle, the Chincoteague pony swim and pony penning.

At slack tide (the time between tides, when there is no current in the water), on the last Wednesday in July, Chincoteague’s “Saltwater Cowboys” herd the wild ponies (also known as the Assateague Horse) across the Assateague Channel over to Chincoteague Island, where the horses are then paraded, displayed and auctioned off to the public.

Although there’s been a pony penning in the area ever since the 1700s, the event in its current form was first held in 1925 to help raise funds for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, who were desperately in need of updated fire equipment. By 1947, the event had become so well known, that author Marguerite Henry published the endearing story, “Misty of Chincoteague,” which further catapulted the event to international attention.

Today, 89 years after the first event, the pony penning and pony swim is still organized by the  Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, during the final week in July.

At the annual Chincoteague Pony Swim and Pony Penning, Chincoteague ponies are auctioned off to raise funds for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. // (c) 2011 Chincoteague NWR / USFWS
At the annual Chincoteague Pony Swim and Pony Penning, Chincoteague ponies are auctioned off to raise funds for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. // (c) 2011 Chincoteague NWR / USFWS

Chincoteague Pony Swim Events

Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company Carnival
A daily carnival (closed on Sunday) runs from June 27 through Aug. 2 and features rides, games, food and a raffle. On July 4, a fireworks spectacular is added to the mix.

Beach Walk
Early birds can enjoy watching the “saltwater cowboys” herd the ponies along the beach between the south and north corrals. The event is held every year at 6 a.m. on the Monday before the pony swim.

Pony Swim
On the last Wednesday of July, the ponies swim en masse across the Assateague Channel between Assateague and Chincoteague islands. The time of the swim varies, depending on the tidal patterns, but usually happens in the early part of the day. The ponies gather in Chincoteague, where they are checked by a veterinarian, before they are paraded down Main Street.

Auction of Foals
Every year, between 50 and 100 ponies are auctioned off to the general public, at an average price that hovers between $1,300 and $2,500. Some ponies are designated as a “Buy Back Pony,” which guests can bid on and purchase. Upon receiving the winning bid, guests can name the pony, before they are returned to Assateague Island.

Swim Back
The day following the auction, the remaining ponies, and the buy back ponies are swum back to Assateague Island.

Visiting Tip

Not surprisingly, Chincoteague becomes exceptionally crowded during the pony swim, which may not be ideal for travelers who don’t like large crowds. Locals recommend that visitors consider coming at alternate times of the year. A visit in mid July, will by necessity will skip the main event, will provide plenty of opportunities for pony sightings, while still allowing guests to enjoy the festive air at the Chincoteague Carnival.

The area is home to both the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge as well as the Assateague Island National Seashore, both of which provide numerous recreational opportunities and pony sightings. Chincoteague NWR, one of the most-visited refuges in the United States, was established in 1943 to provide a habitat for migratory birds, and today offers sanctuary to a variety of waterfowl, wading birds, shorebirds and song birds. Assateague Island National Seashore, established in 1965, which encompasses Chincoteague NWR, is home to a wealth of habitats, including forests, marshes, beaches, shrub, grasslands, and sand dunes.

More Information

Dates

Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company Carnival
June 27 – Aug. 2, 2014

Chincoteague Pony Swim
July 28 – Aug. 1, 2014

The Details

Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce
www.chincoteaguechamber.com/pony-swim

Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge Ponies
www.fws.gov/refuge/Chincoteague/wildlife_and_habitat/ponies.html 

Assateague Island National Seashore Wild Horses
www.nps.gov/asis/naturescience/horses.htm

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