It’s time for all things pony on Chincoteague Island.
For one week starting Saturday, July 23, pony fever will rise on Chincoteague as thousands are again expected to make the trek to “rekindle, reconnect, and recharge with family and friends” during the island’s annual celebration.
The Pony Penning week returns in full glory after two years of COVID-enforced hiatus.
The 97-year Chincoteague tradition includes the Pony Swim on Wednesday and the Pony Auction on Thursday, the biggest annual fundraiser for Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company that manages the pony herd on Assateague Island.
Thousands will line the shores of Veterans Memorial Park and Pony Swim Lane to watch the ponies make their annual pilgrimage from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island on Wednesday, July 27.
Charter boats and kayaks filled with onlookers line the Assateague Channel creating a pathway for the ponies as they make their yearly swim from shore to shore. The town of Chincoteague will provide enhanced viewing of the event on a large Jumbotron located at Veterans Memorial Park.
Festivities begin with the South Herd roundup on Saturday, July 23, at 8 a.m. The North Herd will be rounded up on Sunday, July 24, at 6 a.m.
The two herds join up for the traditional Beach Walk on Assateague Island at 6 a.m on Monday. The annual swim on Wednesday takes place at the earliest morning slack tide, expected between 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. this year.
The auction of foals takes place on Thursday, July 28, at 8 a.m. at the Carnival Grounds at 3648 Main St.
The auction, which has been held online only for the past two years, will be in-person but also feature a virtual component, so register beforehand if you plan to bid online.
Although COVID prevented an in-person auction for the past two years, it did not dampen the enthusiasm of pony lovers. For the second year in a row in 2021, the auction netted record $400,000-plus in proceeds.
The auction this year also offers a “once in a lifetime opportunity” to bid on and possibly take home the saddle that Maureen Beebe herself owned and used.
Maureen’s daughters are establishing a scholarship fund in memory of their mother and “100% of the sale of this saddle will go directly to the Maureen Beebe Hursh Scholarship Fund,” according to Denise Bowden, public relations officer of the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company.
The week’s events culminate with the return swim to Assateague Island on Friday morning.
The Chincoteague Volunteer Fireman’s Carnival will be open July 22-23 and July 25-30 from 7-11 p.m., featuring rides, games, raffles, and Eastern Shore food including oyster and clam fritters.
The last night of the carnival will be celebrated with a huge Fireworks display on July 30.
While the ponies are the obvious stars of the weeklong celebrations on Chincoteague, the island has a bunch of other fun activities lined up for visitors.
Come early to enjoy the 34th annual Chincoteague Island Blueberry Festival on July 21-23.
The week will also feature Buckaroo Bingo, free showings of “Misty of Chincoteague,” Chincoteague Cultural Alliance Family Fun Day, “Virginia is for Adventurers” Scavenger Hunt, Music at the Dock, storytelling and a farmers and artisans market.
Visit www.chincoteaguechamber.com/pony-penning and the chamber’s Facebook page for any updates, shuttle map, and information including where to park if you are coming in for the day, helpful hints and a full schedule of events. Shuttle buses will start running at 5 a.m.
Pony Penning Highlights
Southern Herd Roundup
Saturday, July 23: Saltwater Cowboys will begin to round up about 50 adult ponies and their foals on the southern end of Assateague Island into the South Corral Saturday afternoon beginning at about 4:30 p.m. The South Corral is located on Assateague, in front of the Woodland Trail parking lot, just off the road that leads to the beach. The South Corral is accessible to the public. Park in the Woodland Trail parking lot, or along the beach road.
Northern Herd Roundup
Sunday, July 24: About 100 adult ponies and their foals on the Assateague Island will be herded into the North Corral beginning at about 7:30 a.m.
The North Corral is not accessible to the public during the roundup, butafter the round up is complete, it is possible to view the ponies by taking about a 3-mile hike (one-way) or combination of 2-mile bike ride plus 1-mile hike. The North Corral is located several miles up the Service Road.
Special bus tours are sometimes offered to go the Northern Corral after the roundup. If bus tours to the North Corral are offered, passengers are usually able to get off the bus to view and photograph the ponies in the corral. Space is limited and tickets sell out quickly. Call 757-336-3696 to inquire about the bus tours.
The Beach Walk
Monday, July 25: Saltwater Cowboys will move the ponies from the Northern Corral out to the beachfront, then south along the Atlantic Ocean, and join them with the ponies in the Southern Corral.
The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge will open at 5 a.m. To view the ponies walking down the beach, drive to the beachfront and park in the recreational beach parking area. Bring snacks, water, bug spray and cameras to enjoy this special event.
Bicyclists and hikers can use Swan Cove Trail to access the beach.
Pony Vet Checks
Tuesday, July 26: All ponies will be checked by a vet and can be viewed by the public in the Southern Corral on Assateague. Park in the Woodland Trail Parking Lot to access the Southern Corral.
Wednesday, July 27: The ponies will swim across the Assateague Channel and come ashore on the east side of Chincoteague Island.
The main public viewing area is Veterans Memorial Park at 7427 Memorial Park Drive.
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A large screen will be located in Veterans Memorial Park with a live feed of the swim. You will be able to see the swim on the screen. No seating is provided.
The town provides a free Pony Swim Shuttle service, beginning at 4 a.m. The Pony Shuttle runs between various locations on Chincoteague Island and Veterans Memorial Park.
All visitors coming in just for the day are encouraged to go to Chincoteague Municipal Center at 6155 Community Drive and take the free shuttle. Special needs parking is available at the Chincoteague Municipal Center only.
The swim takes place at “slack tide,” and the specific time will be announced at the carnival grounds the week of the swim.
The first foal to come ashore will be named King or Queen Neptune and will be given away in a raffle drawing at the carnival grounds later in the day. Tickets are sold each night at the carnival and amongst the crowd while waiting for the swim to occur. You must have a ticket and you must be present to win.
After the swim, the ponies rest for about 45 minutes. Then the Saltwater Cowboys will “parade” the ponies down Main Street, to the carnival grounds where the auction will be held Thursday morning.
Thursday, July 28: The auction, which starts at 8 a.m., serves two purposes. First, the auction helps to control the overall size of the herd, keeping it from growing too large. Secondly, the auction is a fundraiser for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company.
Each year the fire company designates a select few ponies as “buy backs.” A buy back pony is a foal that is designated by the fire company to return to Assateague Island to live out its life there. The winner of a Buy Back Pony will get to name the Pony before it is returned to Assateague.
Proceeds from the sale of one foal annually goes to a regional charity.
Each year the Feather Fund helps deserving children purchase ponies at the auction. The Feather Fund is a charity that was created to honor the memory of Carollynn Suplee, a woman who came to Chincoteague annually to help children buy ponies at the auction until she passed away from cancer in 2003. To learn more visit www.featherfund.org.
The Swim Back
Friday, July 29: The adult ponies will make the return swim to Assateague Island where they will live in the wild for another year.