Chincoteague Island Pony Swim

What is one event in the summer that involves watching wild horses? If you are in the Assateague Island, Maryland or the Chincoteague Island, Virginia area in July it would be one of the pony swims. This year I was lucky enough to see it, even if it was from a great distance.

If you get there early enough you can park at the parking lot across from the Carnival Grounds. Otherwise you can park at the Chincoteague Municipal Center. There are shuttle buses that take you from the Municipal Center and stop at points south along the way to Memorial Park where viewing is free.

Leaving Assateague Island

Salt Water Cowboys leading the wild horses into the water from Assateague Island.

To say this was far away from where I was standing is an understatement. I had a zoom lens with 1.4 added on and these are heavily cropped. The pictures above and below this paragraph are the first leg of the swim. It is a short swim.

I brought my kayak, but did not get there early enough to find out where I could park and put into the water. No public access was marked for kayaks on the maps I was given.

2nd Leg of the Journey

Horses swimming the second leg of the swim ending on Chincoteague Island near Pony Swim Lane. As you can see booking a seat on a tour boat gives you the best view.

Obviously the best view in the house is from a boat. There are some charter boats that I understand you need to book well in advance. Private docks that were far away with a better view than Memorial Park required $200 fee and you had to sign up well in advance.

Resting on Chincoteague

The horses rested here for an hour or more.

After they make the swim they rest and cool down on marshland on Chincoteague Island next to Pony Swim Lane. There are places around where they corral them that you can view them up close before they move on.

Evidently this dock or pier you needed permission or you had to pay a fee to get on. I asked if I could, they said no. Some of these things I understand need to be booked long in advance.
Salt water cowboys kept the herd from getting too close to the fence.

Pony Parade

The police led the parade followed by evidently the governor of Virginia. I had no idea who he was until I asked two people standing next to me. I live in another state.

The parade started as they herd the horses down Pony Swim Lane. From there they turn onto Ridge Road going South then Beebe Road heading west. Then they make a turn north onto Main Street. After that they herd them to the Carnival Grounds north of Bunting Road. This was the parade route this year.

Some of the salt water cowboys in the lead.

These are wild horses. Do not get close. They will bite. A few times I saw horses try to make a run for it going off the road into people’s yards. The cowboys directed them back onto the road.

Local support

Carnival Grounds/ Auction Location

One of the young horses for sale.

The horses are brought to the Carnival Grounds. The day after the parade they were auctioned off. Horses that were not bought swim back Friday after the Pony Swim and auction.

The fire department sells food and tee shirts at the fairgrounds. I did not see any rides operating. It may have been due to Covid.

Movie

The movie theatre plays Misty.

There is a movie theatre north of the Carnival Grounds that plays Misty for free on some days the week of the Pony Swim. Misty of Chincoteague was a book written by Marguerite Henry. She also wrote other books about the horses. A film adaptation of the book was made in the 1960s. It was about a real horse bought from the local auction. At the movie premiere they put the horse footprints in front of the theatre. There is also a statue of Misty on Main Street south of the theatre on the west side of the street. I was told the production used many local people in the movie outside the main characters.

I recommend this event for most people. If you have children or grandchildren you could read the book by Marguerite Henry before you visit and see the movie while you are there. If you love animals this would be a chance for you to see many wild horses up close during the parade and auction. This long standing tradition is a bucket list type trip that many would enjoy. As with any event look online to see when it occurs next year and plan well in advance.

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