Pony Swim and Penning 2003

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Ponies in the water

We've heard for years how cool the Chincoteague Pony Swim and Pony Auction is.  We also heard how horribly crowded the town gets.  Many tales of people on the banks at 5:00 AM for a noon swim.  Seemed like a lot of trouble to maybe see nothing.

Pony SwimThe swim is held on the last Wednesday and Thursday each July.  The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department's Saltwater Cowboys swim the entire herd across the channel from Assateague Island to Chincoteague.  The swim is on Wednesday at the slacking of the tide.  That means the few minutes before the high tide reverses and starts flowing out or low tide reverses and starts flowing in.  That makes for less current for the ponies to swim through.

After the swim, the ponies are walked to the fair grounds and kept in the pens (hence Pony Penning).  Here theyFoal waits for the auction relax and await the auction.  The Chincoteague Pony auction is Thursday morning.  Not sure what time but early.  It draws a pretty good crowd.  The first year foals are up for auction.  The very young ones get picked up in September while the others leave that day for new homes.  The only exception are the small number that will remain on the island.  As I recall, these are called hold backs.  The buyer owns them but leaves them on Assateague.  Surprisingly these usually go for more money than the others.  Some years its possible to own a pony for $1,500.

On Friday, they swim some of the ponies back.  There are really two herds.  The northern herd lives further up Assateague Island but still in Virginia.  These are trucked back to save them such a long walk.  The southern herd swims back.  This seemed to be around 30 ponies.  Not as exciting as the Wednesday swim but pretty cool anyway.

Many people get up very early to stand on the banks in Chincoteague to watch.  There were also several boats anchored along the route of the swim.  Standing on the bank didn't seem like fun and some of those folks couldn't see as much, I don't think.  The boats were better and probably had bathrooms but many weren't all that close.  We wanted to improve on that.

Kayaks waiting for the poniesWe got kayaks a few years ago and decided that was the way to see the pony swim.  We signed up for a tour with Wildlife Expeditions (now Wildlife Excursions) for Wednesday.  We followed Jay Cherix out to a sand bar and waited.  This worked out well because we didn't know where to go and the sandbar was near Assateague Island.  We had an excellent view of the ponies.  It rained and complicated picture taking but we got a few.  When it was all over, Jay led us on a tour so we would get to the dock after the power boats left.  After some confusion, Wildlife Expeditions is still in business but is now Wildlife Excursions.

On Friday, we ventured out ourselves to exactly the same spot.  This time we could get out of the boats and get some good pictures.  It was even sunny and that helped.  The ponies were right in front of us and the view was wonderful.  All in all, it was a very good day.

The town was very crowded but started emptying after the Wednesday swim.  After the auction, a few more left.  By Friday, the crowd really wasn't bad.

If you think about going to the Pony Swim, you'll like it but do it in a boat.  Jay would lead you out too and is used to dealing with beginners.