At around ten years old I got the best Christmas gift any kid could ever ask for – my first horse. Well, technically she was just a hair too short to be called a horse. I loved her all the same. She and I would while away many a summer afternoon in the shade of an outcropping of trees that sprung up around a little stream carved out at the base of a leaking water tower near her stables. While she nibbled on sweet watercress, I’d read (and reread) the classic; Misty of Chincoteague.
The story of how Paul and Maureen longed to buy one of the ponies that swam across from Assateague Island, was pure romance to my preteen soul. It didn’t hurt that my pony was a Paint with a large white marking on her side. It was one of those bittersweet books that crawls into your heart and makes you somehow enjoy the sad parts as much as the triumph.
Far removed from that stream by the water tower – my horse long passed – I now live close enough for a day-trip to Assateague Island. Taking my family down there is a treat. The beaches are far less crowed than the rest on the Delmarva peninsula, nearly pristine and yes… there are still wild ponies.
The population of the herd is kept under control in part by the annual Pony Penning (now called the Pony Swim) which remains nearly the same as described in Marguerite Henry‘s classic. On the last Thursday of July the Volunteer Fire Department of Chincoteague, Virgina – aka the Saltwater Cowboys– drive the herd on a short swim from Assateague to Chincoteague at slack tide. Here the foals are separated from the herd.
The first foal to make the crossing will be named King or Queen Neptune and raffled off at the carnival that evening. The rest will be sold at auction, the adults returning to the island to live wild and free.
Here are some tips for viewing the Assateague Island Pony Pinning.
Information on the 2015 Chincoteague Pony Swim
Date: July 29th, 2015
Time: Slack Tide (usually between 7:00 am and 1:00 pm
Admission: To view the swim is free
Parking: (free) Chinoteague Combined School – 4586 Main Street, Chincoteague, VA 23336
Other activities on Chincoteague Island Saturday, July 25, 2015:
- 28th Annual Chincoteague Island Blueberry Festival (9:00 AM – 4:30 PM at the Chincoteague Center)
- 90th Annual Chincoteague Fireman’s Carnival (7pm – 11pm at the Carnival Grounds)
- ‘Misty of Chincoteague’ playing at the Island Theater (Check the Theater for show times)
Just as when I was that awkward book nerd who’s only friend was her not-quite-a-horse, I’ve mixed feelings about this tradition. In my ‘logical brain’ I understand the need to control the size of the herd. Can’t have them breeding and eating themselves out of a home. On the other hand, softhearted soul in me sees a certain cruelty in breaking ‘families’ apart.
For now I think we’ll stick to spending lazy summer days on Assateague Inland, enjoying the sun, searching for a new shell for the collection, and keeping an eye out for wild ponies.
Not that they’re that hard to spot….