Thursday, July 30, 2009

Chincoteague Freman's Annual Pony Swim '09

Well I haven't posted much all summer because of work commitments, so I thought I'd get back on track. Yesterday was the Chincoteague Fireman's Annual Pony Swim and I was right there in the middle of it as usual. Last year was my first time since moving to the island and I thought I'd sit this year out but I couldn't ignore the excitement passing by my door!

An interesting thing is how I can tell if they have swum the ponies as you really don't know when it's going to happen unless you're listening to the radio. But...if you're living where I'm living, watch the water. When you see the boats flying by toward where they're going to swim them, you know you have probably a couple of hours because not only do they have to rest them in between swims but they have to rest them once they get them to Memorial Park before they run them down Main Street. If the boats are flying back toward Main Street, you know you've probably got another 45 minutes to an hour.

At 8:30, the boats were flying toward where they were going to swim them (from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island) so I knew I had a little bit of time but I was curious to see how the crowd was. They boast in the Eastern Shore News every single year about 30,000 people descending on this tiny island and that is so not true. I would give a rough guestimate at about 3,000 but I could be off maybe 1 or 2,000. And it probably wasn't even that many although...there were certainly a lot of people here.

At 8:30, though, the crowd was nothing. People were starting to bring out their chairs in preparation of the long wait until the ponies were run through.

And I guess you're wondering why they run the ponies through. Each year, the fireman's department raises money for the fire department for new trucks, etc., but auctioning off these ponies which, btw, is probably happening as I speak and I'm stuck on the computer. I might sneak a few minutes in and go take a few more pictures later.

So anyway, the tradition is...these "saltwater cowboys" gather the herd over on Assateague and swim them across the water onto Chincoteague Island where they rest at Memorial Park before running them down Beebe and onto Main Street for the crowd to ooh and ahh.

LOTS of tourists. Most have been here before if you take an informal poll and they just keep coming back.

After biking down Main to see what was happening at that point, I came on back to the condo to find my daughter waking up and fixing her daily Strawberry Toaster Strudel. She was hesitating going with me to watch the ponies run down Main toward the carnival ground where they are auctioning them off today because she feels it's inhumane (I'll blog about this tomorrow) but she said she was curious and off we went.

So we dig out the scooters and head on down Main and grab some pictures. Enjoy and I'll have a followup tomorrow...

This is part of the crowd. It was hot, babies were crying, kids were cranky....

And here they come!

The firemen, dubbed "Saltwater Cowboys," lead the ponies down Main Street.

Closer view of one of the Saltwater Cowboys as they try to keep the herd in a line and not trample onto the people standing to the side of the street to get a closer view (me!)...

More ponies!

And more ponies...

And more ponies...

I thought this little one was so cute!

This is how the carnival looked BEFORE the pony grew in size afterwards!

And...another picture of the carnival before the real crowd got there.

And here they are...those beautiful wild ponies ripped away from everything they ever knew and waiting to be auctioned off today.


Video footage of the ponies swimming from their home on Assateague to Memorial Park on Chincoteague where they will rest, then run through the streets, then on to the carnival grounds:


  1. Chincoteague is much bigger than I'd imagined. I simply know it as Dorothy's Island ;^)

    We don't have pony swims out here. Our version involves watching sunburned vacationers walking in the mall.

  2. Wow -I have never heard of this before. Must be so nice having a carnival which the entire community is part of too.
    Sounds a wonderful place to live!

  3. I'm not familiar with this either. Are these wild horses who are being brought to an auction and will they eventually become riding animals? Arizona gathers some of the wild burros that the old time gold miners abandoned when the mines closed and sell them every year. I think your horses would be more useful.

  4. Yeah I guess you could say that. People up north mainly come down with horse trailers, buy a pony and take them back home to be pets. Or so I hope. It just makes me shudder to think they have to leave this paradise.

    BTW, I got your email and will be replying shortly...;o)

  5. That's an amazing sight. I never heard of or saw such a thing. Thanks for sharing.

    Morgan Mandel

  6. Thanks for stopping by, Morgan! Amazing that not too many people have heard about it. I'll put up a post today with the rest of the pony pictures then on Saturday I hope to get a post up telling how this all started by an author named Marguerite Henry, years and years ago.


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