One of my favorite books as a little girl was Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry.
Nobody could capture the Phantom. She was the wildest mare on Assateague Island. They said she was like the wind, that the white “map” on her shoulders was her mark of freedom.
Paul and Maureen Beebe had their hearts set on owning her. They were itching to buy and tame her and worked hard to earn the money that she would cost. But the roundup men had tried to capture her, and for two years, she had escaped them.
Pony Penning Day holds a surprise for everyone, for Paul not only brings in the Phantom but her newborn colt as well. Can Paul and Maureen possibly earn enough to buy them both?
Oh, how I wished I could have been Paul and Maureen Beebe! Just like them, I would have saved my money to buy one of the wild horses caught on Pony Penning Day.
One summer, my horse-loving niece started reading the whole series of horse books penned by Marguerite Henry. Over lunch one day, we were discussing Misty of Chincoteague and how I always wished there was such a thing as Pony Penning Day.
“But Aunt Valli there is! Misty of Chincoteague is a true story.”
“Sorry, baby,” I replied. “Misty of Chincoteague is a work of fiction, not non-fiction.”
Quickly she ran away from the table and brought back her copy of the book opened to the first page. Loudly and confidently, she read the following:
“All incidents in this story are real. They did not happen in just the order they are recorded, but they all happened at one time or another on the little island of Chincoteague.”
“You see, it’s a true story!” She said with one hand on her hip. Could it be true that there is such a thing as Pony Penning Day? There was only one thing we could do!
“Let’s Google it,” I said, and a few moments later, the answer astonished me. It does exist!
For over 90 years, the Pony Swim has been celebrated just off the coast of Virginia lies two islands Assateague and Chincoteague. The last Wednesday and Thursday of July, the annual Pony Penning is held, and the goal is to move around 150 horses from Assateague to Chincoteague and then back again. Ten thousand spectators show up every year to see the pony swim and participate in the pony auction before they swim the ponies back to Assateague island.
The Pony Round-Up
Just like in the book, the weekend before the Pony Swim, the “Saltwater Cowboys” on horseback will begin to round up the approximately 150 wild ponies that live on Assateague Island. Over 50 ponies who reside on the southern end of Assateague Island will be herded into a southern corral. About 100 ponies reside a little further north on the Assateague Island and will be sent to a northern corral. The ponies can be viewed by the public in the southern corral, which is located on Assateague, just off the road that leads to the beach.
The Beach Walk
On Monday, at daybreak, the Saltwater Cowboys will move the ponies from the northern corral out to the beachfront, then south along the Atlantic Ocean, and join them with the ponies in the southern corral. To see the ponies make their way from the north corral to the south corral along the beach, be at the Assateague Beach by 6 a.m.
The Pony Swim
On Wednesday, the Saltwater Cowboys will swim the ponies from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island. The swim takes place at “slack tide,” which is about 30 minutes between tides when there is no current. This is the most natural time for the ponies to make the swim, and the time of slack tide varies each year. However, the swim generally takes place sometime between 7 am and 1 pm. The specific time will be announced at the carnival grounds the week of the swim.
The first foal to come ashore will be named King or Queen Neptune and will be given away in a raffle drawing at the carnival grounds later in the day.
After the swim, the ponies rest for about 45 minutes. Then the Saltwater Cowboys will “parade” the ponies down Main Street to the carnival grounds where the auction is held Thursday morning.
The purpose of the pony swim is to move the ponies from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island so that the foals can be auctioned off. The auction serves two purposes. First, the sale helps to control the overall size of the herd, keeping it from growing too large. Secondly, the auction is a fundraiser for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company.
The Pony Swim Back
On Friday, the adult ponies will make the return swim to Assateague Island, where they will live in the wild for another year. To read more about the Ponies and the Pony Swim, have a look here.
This year the event starts on July 20th with the Pony Swim on July 23rd. I don’t know about you, but I think it’s time for a little Road Trip! And all thanks to my niece, who is such a great educator. Of course, she’ll be traveling with me. Let the book adventure begin.
Photos can be found on the Chincoteague Visitors Page.
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