The ponies are so cool! I wish I could witness this some day! ~Declan
The 88th Annual Assateague Chincoteague Pony Swim and Carnival today
Wednesday, July 24, 2013 by Susan L Ruth As posted on The Washington Times
The swim, which received national attention from the 1947 book by Marguerite Henry “Misty of Chincoteague,” has taken place on the last consecutive Wednesday and Thursday in July since 1925.
The Saltwater Cowboys round up the free roaming herd that lives on nearby Assateague Island and put them in holding pens a few days before the scheduled swim.
Wild ponies have lived on
Assateague Island for hundreds of years.
It was previously believed that the ponies were descendants of horses released on the island by early settlers, but new evidence suggests that they actually trace their origin to horses which survived a wreck of a Spanish galleon off the coast of
Assateague and swam for shore.
There were a remarkable number of shipwrecks off the island coast due to storm and fog that blocked the lighthouse beacons used for navigation causing the ships to go off coarse and hitting sandbars along the coast.
The large number of shipwrecks, along with the fact that it was very common for ships to transport ponies to the Colonies or
South America, make it likely that the ponies came to Assateague from a shipwreck.
Penning began as a way for livestock owners to claim, brand, break and harness their loose herds. By the 1700s it had become an annual event, complete with drinking, eating and plenty of revelry by the entire community. The earliest known description of Pony Penning was published in 1835. The practice was then already an “ancient” custom held in June on
Assateague Island. Penning on Chincoteague Island is not mentioned until the mid-1800s, and it believed to have been begun by two islanders who owned large herds that grazed on Chincoteague.
The penning continued on both islands for years. By 1885 they were held on Assateague one day and Chincoteague the next. Assateague also had a Sheep Penning, which is believed to be a custom even older than the others. Word of the events began to spread, and hotels and boarding houses were booked for the festivities. In 1909, the last Wednesday and Thursday of July were set as the official dates for the yearly events. As Pony Penning increased in popularity, Assateague’s Sheep Penning wound down and was discontinued by 1914.
The carnival was such a success that not only did the funds allowed the department to modernize its equipment but the firefighters began to build its own herd of ponies.
The herd was moved to Assateague where the government allowed publicly owned, not private, herds to graze on the newly established Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
The swim occurs at the narrowest portion of the channel during slack tide when there is no movement in the water and takes about five minutes.
The first foal ashore will be crowned King or Queen Neptune and will be raffled off at the Chincoteague Volunteer Fireman’s Carnival.
After a brief rest, the cowboys parade the ponies to the carnival grounds, where colts and fillies will be auctioned the following morning.
Auction proceeds are given to the fire company, which owns and maintains the herd of 150 ponies. The company uses the funds to purchase new equipment and veterinary care for the ponies.
“There are about 10,000 to 15,000 people who come and watch the parade,” said Denise Bowden, public relations officer for the fire company.
At 11 a.m. Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, the movie “Misty” will be shown for free at the Island Theater on
The fireman’s carnival will begin to sell its famous oyster sandwiches, clam fritters and more after the Wednesday swim and Thursday auction. The games and rides open at 7 p.m. each day this week. The first pony ashore during the swim will be raffled Wednesday evening.
Some have criticized the annual swim as inhumane to the horses.
After 1990 when some of the horses died of unknown causes, a veterinarian was brought on full time to care for the ponies and to keep them in good health. He also helps the horses who appear to be having difficulty with the crossing.
Officials say that the drive is a necessity because helps keep the herd to a manageable, island-acceptable population size while bringing money into the local municipality.
“If they were left to their own, they would expand naturally and their habitat would be damaged,” John Schroer, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge manager said. “Other wildlife on the island would suffer, too.”
The ponies that weren’t sold, about half the herd, will parade back to the water on Friday morning and swim back at a time to be announced. There aren’t as many spectators and the scene is a bit calmer.