Annual wild Pony Swim between islands lasts 18 minutes

Saltwater Cowboys lead a herd of ponies from the Northern Corral to the Southern Corral along the beach at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on Monday, July 24, 2017. Video by Bobby Rangel, 13News Now

CHINCOTEAGUE, Va. (Delmarva Now) -- As the sun rose over Chincoteague Island, the crowd clamored to claim a viewing spot for the island's famous Pony Swim

At 6:47 a.m., a flare lit up the sky signaling the start of the 92nd annual. The wild ponies of Assateague Island then swam across to Chincoteague Island. 

As the ponies heads bobbed in the water, the crowd cheered and hollered for the colts and fillies to make it ashore. Coming up on the island, the ponies searched for a good meeting spot with their foals. They earned a rest filled with plenty of grazing time afterward. 

The swim lasted for approximately 18 minutes with all the ponies across the channel by 7:05 a.m.

The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company puts on the annual event, the big highlight of Pony Penning week. Wild ponies swim across the Assateague Channel to touch down on Chincoteague Island with the help of the Saltwater Cowboys.

PHOTOS: Pony Penning 2017

The first pony to make landfall on Chincoteague is by tradition named the King or Queen Neptune.

Following Wednesday's swim, the Saltwater Cowboys corralled the ponies for a parade which finished on Main Street at the Carnival Grounds, where the ponies will stay until the auction Thursday, July 27, starting at 8 a.m. Some ponies will head home with buyers, but others will head back into the wild on Friday, during the swim back.

The Pony Swim can only occur during slack tide, when there is no current to allow for an easy swim. This year, slack tide hit early, with the flare signaling at 6:47 a.m. for the swim to begin.

"This is one of the earliest pony swims we've had in a long, long time," Denise Bowden, fire company spokesperson, told the crowd. 

However, the early morning didn't deter attendees, with many claiming a spot by about 5 a.m.

As guests waited, they could buy $1 raffle tickets for the chance to win the first pony to hit the shore, crowned King or Queen Neptune. The winner will be announced Wednesday night at the Carnival Grounds.

Many visitors hunted for the closest view, which meant wading through the muddy marshland.

"It was part of the experience," Kate Smith joked as she stood in the marsh waiting for the festivities to begin. 

Smith traveled to the Swim from Newark, Delaware to attend with a few friends. They were prepared with rain boots to reach a good spot. She said after friend, Noelle Voges, posted about the Pony Swim on Facebook, she and a few others agree it was worth the trip.

"It was kind of all something we wanted to do," Smith said.

For Jo Lienentine from Virginia Beach, Virginia, claiming a spot in the marsh is nothing new. She and her daughter found a shady spot under a dock off of Pony Swim Lane. This is their 17th year attending the Pony Swim. 

"it's always exciting," she said of why they keep coming back.

Lienetine always participates in the raffle, buying as many tickets as her daughter's age. This year, she purchased 36.

Rebecca Taylor and her 10-year-old daughter, Cate, also entered the raffle. The family from Richmond, Virginia, attended the swim for the first time.

Rebecca said it was something the family always wanted to do. Cate is a big fan of the Chincoteague ponies, and her eyes lit up at the possibility of her family winning the raffle.

"(I like) how beautiful and elegant they are," Cate said about why she likes ponies and horses.

For Rhode Island resident Jane Carr, the Pony Swim is a perfect way to celebrate nature's beauty and wildlife.

Carr attended the swim to help a friend check it off her bucket list, and it lived up to their expectations.

"We'll come back," she said.

Carr added the physical connection to nature offered by the Pony Swim is something she feels is fleeting. She watched families bring their young children, many of whom were inspired by the "Misty of Chincoteague" book, to turn a fantasy into reality.

"We're just really thankful there's still wild herds," she said. 

The event draws thousands of tourists each year and was memorialized in Marguerite Henry's novel "Misty of Chincoteague."

 

 

© Gannett Co., Inc. 2017. All Rights Reserved


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