Made famous by the classic children’s novel “Misty of Chincoteague,” the annual roundup and swim of the horses that live on Assateague Island, off the Maryland and Virginia coasts, is a tradition. About 150 feral horses live on Assateague Island. Some say the ponies descended from survivors of shipwrecked Spanish galleons. Others, that the original ponies wandered away while grazing.
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Their only human contact is with The Saltwater Cowboys, a group of volunteers who monitor them. Each July, the ponies are gathered to make the five-minute swim across the channel between Assateague and Chincoteague Island, Virginia.
The following morning, the foals are auctioned, to maintain the herd at a size that can thrive on the island. The money raised supports the Volunteer Fire Department. This year’s event starts July 25-26 with the round-up. Visitors can watch from the National Wildlife Refuge access road. At dawn on July 27, the horses are led down the beach to a communal corral where they rest for a day. It’s beautiful, but be sure to reach the beach early.
The Pony Swim on July 29 attracts 40,000 people, all crowding the shoreline. A shuttle runs from the only parking area; again, early is the name of the game. The swim comes at slack tide, when there is no current, sometime between 7 and 11 a.m.
The auction on July 30 starts at 8 a.m. Prospective buyers must prove they can properly care for the pony before the sale is final. The following morning, the adult horses swim back across the channel for another year of grazing. Most hotels require several nights’ stay during Pony Penning Week.
The website www.chincoteague.com has a Pony Penning Guide.
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