Ponies make trip worth watching

July 24, 2005|By KRISTIN WILSON

Chincoteague Island, Va. - On Wednesday, July 27, Chincoteague Island residents - along with about 40,000 spectators - will continue an 80-year tradition, watching hundreds of horses swim from the island of Assateague to the shores of Chincoteague.

It is an event founded in the early 20th century by concerned citizens hoping to fund a fledgling fire department. But it has morphed into one of the biggest tourist draws for the 10-square-mile island, acting as the bread and butter for the Virginia island community.

"It's like Christmas," says Evelyn Shotwell, office manager of the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce. "It's the biggest week of our entire year. It's homecoming for a lot of people."


The island of Chincoteague and its annual pony swim was made famous in part by Marguerite Henry's classic children's book, "Misty of Chincoteague," which documents the life story of a real Chincoteague pony.

Every year children and their families make pilgrimages to Chincoteague to see where Misty lived and to try their luck taking home a pony of their own.

"So many children have read that story, and this is where it took place," Shotwell says. "I think a lot of it is 9- to 12-year-old children who say, 'We want to see the ponies. We read about this in school.'"

The wild Chincoteague ponies spend most of the year on nearby Assateague Island's wildlife preserve. The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Co. owns the ponies and is the sole benefactor from the annual pony sale. Money raised goes toward the purchase and maintenance of firefighting equipment and to the care of Chincoteague ponies.

On Thursday, July 28, the public auction of Chincoteague foals kicks off at 8 a.m. Anywhere from 70 to 90 foals are sold each year for average prices of $1,600 to more than $2,000. The auction has raised between $120,000 and $175,000 annually for the fire department.

While the annual pony swim and pony auction only last two days, dozens of different events are planned for the entire week.

"You will find something everywhere you turn," Shotwell says.

The 80th Annual Volunteer Fireman's Carnival opens at 7 p.m. nightly Monday, July 25, through Saturday, July 30. A blueberry festival, wild west show and parades are planned, Shotwell says. "There are all kinds of different small things that are going on," she says.

Early-morning arrival required for swim

The estimated time of the pony swim will not be announced until Tuesday, July 26, says Evelyn Shotwell, office manager of the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce. Historically the swim has started between 7 a.m. and 11 a.m. depending on the tide. Swim organizers must wait for the morning slack tide, when the water is not coming in or going out before the ponies can take to the water.

For people who want to watch the 10-minute, 200-yard, pony swim "they do advise you to be on the island by 5 a.m.," Shotwell says.

Parking for the swim event can be found throughout the island for a fee, however, the best place to park is the Chincoteague High School parking lot (4586 Main St.), Shotwell says. Parking at the high school is free.

If you go ...

WHAT: Chincoteague Pony Swim and Auction

WHEN: Wednesday, July 27, and Thursday, July 28

WHERE: Chincoteague Island, Virginia

COST: Varied, depending on the event

DIRECTIONS: Chincoteague Island is located off the coast of

Virginia near Wattsville, about four and a half hours driving time from Hagerstown.

Take Interstate 70 east toward Frederick to exit 87A. Merge onto U.S. 29 south toward Columbia/

Washington, D.C. Take exit 22 (on the left), merging onto Md. 100 east. Take exit 13A, merging onto Interstate 97 south.

Merge onto U.S. 50 east. Continue to follow U.S. 50 east toward Ocean City. Turn left onto Md. 404 east. Stay straight to go onto Seashore Highway (Del. 404). Turn slightly right onto U.S. 13 south. Follow U.S. 13 south toward Norfolk, Va. Turn left onto Va. 175, the only road onto and off of the island.

MORE: For more information, call the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce at 1-757-336-6161 or go to

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