Friday, July 30, 2010

Chincoteague Island ponies once again rounded up

Along the wind-swept sand dunes of Virginia's barrier island of Assateague in the Atlantic Ocean, the wild ponies roam as they have for hundreds of years. On Wednesday, however, they were being herded up for the annual swim across the channel to Chincoteague.

In 1925, Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department decided to round up the ponies and auction off some to help buy badly needed fire equipment. At the same time, it would help control the size of the herd on the fragile barrier island environment. The event, in conjunction with the firemen's carnival, was so successful that it became an annual event, reguarly drawing 40,000 spectators to watch the 150-175 ponies plunge in for the five-minute swim across Assateague Channel.

On Wednesday the tradition continued sometime between 10:30 and noon when the "slack" tide will make it easiest for young foals born in the spring to ford the channel. The first colt to make it to shore after the swim was tagged to be given away to a lucky winner at the carnival.

The event gained international attention in 1947 when local resident Marguerite Henry wrote the famous children's novel, "Misty of Chincoteague," a true story of a young brother and sister who grew up on Chincotague and raised money by selling clams so they could purchase "Misty," a young colt with markings on her side resembling a map of the United States.

Millions of visitors have since visited the area to see the ponies and the islands. The movie, "Misty," brought even more attention to the pony swim, an event that continues to be popular with tourists, residents of the island, and receives national television coverage.

The event is always held the fourth Wednesday in July.

Cross-posted at The Washington Examiner

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