Pony Penning is a 'homecoming' for Chincoteague locals

A video of the ponies being lead by the Saltwater Cowboys at Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Produced by Ralph Musthaler / Delmarva Now

CHINCOTEAGUE, Va. (Delmarva Now) -- For Chincoteague Island locals, one word comes to mind when discussing the week of Pony Penning: homecoming.

The annual event, held this year from July 22-28, brings in thousands to watch the Pony Swim and auction and attend the carnival. However, the event draws tourists and locals alike. Many have childhood stories that turn into adulthood stories. Grandparents can pass the tradition down to grandchildren.

Pony Penning is made possible through the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. An organization that is known for helping a community in emergency times also provides an event which brings the largest tourist draw to the island.

Town Manager Jim West calls Pony Penning a core celebration for Chincoteague. It allows locals to create traditions around the event and make it a family celebration, keeping it alive throughout multiple generations.

"It is a part of our heritage," he said.

He sees the CVFC as an important part of the island with its volunteerism. He said the fundraiser that is Pony Penning is also beneficial to them, along with, providing tradition to locals. 

Kathy Derrickson's husband is deceased, but Evans Derrickson was a dedicated CVFC firefighter during his lifetime. She called the firefighters a dedicated group of men who help create safety for their hometown.

"It's a lifesaver for all the buildings on (the island)," she said.

Kathy continues to enjoy the Pony Penning tradition with her grandchildren who come down for the event from Pennsylvania. She expects to attend again this year.

"To me, it's homecoming," she said.

FROM 2016: The 91st annual Pony Swim

Former Chincoteague Town Council Member Terry Howard had similar thoughts about how Pony Penning is a homecoming to locals. He said the event is good for families and you expect friends and family who have left the island to make their return.

"A lot of them every year come back for Pony Penning," he said.

Howard was a council member for 32 years and planning commissioner for 6 years prior. He and his twin brother were born and bred on the island. Howard remembers childhood memories with his brother watching the Pony Swim and passing it along to his daughter and grandson.

"It never gets old," he said. 

But, Pony Penning is more than a homecoming for residents, it's also a benefit from an economical standpoint.

"The Pony Swim is one of the biggest draws here," Howard said.

With hotel reservations, restaurant dining and souvenir sales, the former councilman sees everyone on the island benefiting somehow from the increase in tourism. He said before the event gained such a large following, the island relied on a seafood and chicken industry which is now nonexistent. 

He said the people of Chincoteague know how to face adversity and are versatile in finding ways to survive on the island. When visitors come for Pony Penning, Howard said he often hears their favorite part is interacting with the locals.

He said CVFC is essential for well-being on the island, but also putting on Pony Penning year after year.

"(The) fire company did draw a lot of people in," he said. 

West said the city is not passive during Pony Penning week, helping cope with the large crowds of people. He said they offer a shuttle service to help move people along during the events.

Derrickson said she thinks the local economy would tank without the pony tourist attraction.

"They come for the beach and the ponies," she said. 

Delmarva Now


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