The Annual Pony Swim
Trips to Alaska, Hawaii, and the Galapagos are on many a bucket list as “trips to make and places to see.” If you have not yet been, I’d like you to add the annual Pony Swim between Assateague and Chincoteague Islands, Virginia to your list.
This is the 90th year of Chincoteague’s annual Pony Swim taking place on Wednesday July 29, 2015. I remember first reading the novel Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry in middle school. The fictitious book was based on real people and real ponies that Henry met on her first trip to Chincoteague Island for the Pony Roundup and Swim.
The real Misty was born on July 20, 1946 at the Beebe Ranch on Chincoteague Island. Henry wanted to buy Misty to take home to Wayne, Illinois with her to be the model for her book. Clarence Beebe originally said no but reconsidered and sold her Misty on the promise that his grandchildren Maureen and Paul would appear in the book. Misty returned to Chincoteague in 1957 to have her foals and died on the Beebe Ranch October 16, 1972.
Misty’s hoof prints are in the cement in front of the Island Theater Chincoteague where the movie “Misty” premiered in 1961. Henry wrote Misty’s name into the concrete. A bronze statue of Misty is at the Robert Reed Waterfront Park and many of Misty’s direct descendants can be ridden and petted at the Chincoteague Pony Center.
There are so many activities and so much history to learn and enjoy on both Assateague and Chincoteague Islands beyond the big July events. “I love being on the island when it’s quiet and beautiful,” says Rhona, from Morristown, New Jersey who summers on Chincoteague. “I have to admit, there is something very magical about witnessing the round-up, swim and auction. Every year I say I am not going to buck the crowds but I just can’t stay away.”
Thousands of spectators come to watch the Saltwater Cowboys swim the pony herd from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island. Wild ponies have inhabited Assateague Island for centuries. Some people believe early settlers released the ponies on the Island, others say the ponies survived a shipwreck and swam to safety. They acclimated to the environment by eating dune and marsh grasses and drinking fresh water from ponds. The herd is kept to about 150 adult ponies with the annual foal auction.
Take out your bucket list and add this to it. If you can’t make it this year, make plans to do it next year. The roundup always takes place on the weekend before the swim, which always takes place on the last Wednesday in July and the auction follows on Thursday. It’s worth a trip from anywhere.
Watch this video.