This year marked the 90th year of this unique Delmarva tradition, held each summer in the oceanfront town of Chincoteague on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. The wild ponies that live in the national wildlife refuge there are managed by the local Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, who conduct a yearly roundup and auction off younger stock to both maintain healthy herd numbers and raise money. (Continued below...)
For Pony Penning, a group of men from the fire company, known as the Saltwater Cowboys, mount their own horses and gather up the ponies on the island and herd them to a marshy area across a small stretch of water from the town. They let the ponies rest there and wait for a slack tide, when it's safest to swim across. A boat waits on standby to carry any foals or ponies who may have trouble swimming. Once across, the ponies are herded through the street to the Carnival Grounds in the Town of Chincoteague, where they will await auction. Once the auction is over, the remaining ponies will be herded back to the refuge.
The event was made famous by the book Misty of Chincoteague, which was written by Marguerite Henry in 1947 and was later turned into a movie. Today, it draws thousands of spectators to the island to see the wild ponies make the swim. It is one of our favorites too, and we enjoy taking it all in from the vantage point of our kayaks.