Sun is officially out as thousands gather to watch the Chincoteague ponies glide across the Assateague Channel for the 97th annual Chincoteague Island Pony Swim on Wednesday, July 27.
“There’s the sunshine everyone’s been praying for,” said the announcer, who added that the swim start time was likely to be around 9:30 a.m.
“Please bring your patience. Did y’all bring your patience?” said the announcer. “Hang tight and enjoy the morning.”
Pony fever reaches an all-time high each year as Pony Penning week kicks off. Hordes of onlookers will make the trek to “rekindle, reconnect, and recharge with family and friends” during the island’s celebration.
Pony Penning 2022 returns to its full glory a two year COVID-19 in-person hiatus. The nearly 100-year tradition includes the Pony Swim on Wednesday and Pony Auction on Thursday. The auction is the biggest annual fundraiser for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which manages the wild pony herd on Assateague Island.
On Wednesday, charter boats and kayaks filled with spectators will 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 a large Jumbotron located at Veterans Memorial Park to help with viewing.
Find out which pony will be named King or Queen Neptune (the first to make landfall) by following along with Delmarva Now. This live report will update throughout the day, following the Pony Swim, rest period and parade.
The first foal to come ashore is named King or Queen Neptune. This year, King Neptune is No. 19, a black-and-white pony.
He will be given away in a raffle drawing at the carnival grounds later in the day.
The red flare was set off at 9:04 a.m. signaling the start of the swim.
“They’re on the move, coming around the marsh line,” said announcer.
By about 9:12 a.m. ponies could be seen in the water from the marsh full of onlookers who were eagerly anticipating their arrival.
Gov. Youngkin addressed those gathered for the Pony Swim early Wednesday morning, praising the nearly 100-year tradition.
“Let’s just make sure that we cheer for them, because this is tough swim for all of them.” He thanked everyone for coming, saying “Virginia is for pony lovers,” playing off the state motto.
Chincoteague ponies can be the foundation of a friendship for those young and old.
Twins Marie and Layla Nelson, 6, of Baltimore met Eleanor “Ellie” Onisick, 7, of Philadelphia while waiting for the swim.
Their respective grandparents Diana Call, 60, and Dave Mease, 65, accompanied the girls and said they were fast friends, bonding over the ponies.
The twins want to buy a pony, and are desperately clinging to their purchased tickets.
“I’ll keep it in my room!” exclaimed one twin.
“Uh, it’s gonna stink,” said the other.
Mease has been to the Pony Swim about 10 times. He and his wife recently bought a house nearby to bring their grandchildren.
Call was to the event one other time, 30 years ago, when her parents brought her and her two daughters. Now, she’s happy to do the same with her husband and granddaughters.
Grace Johnson and Veruca Schweiger, both 10, of Wilmington, Delaware, are members of the Wilmington Hobby Horse Club.
First-timers to the Pony Swim, Grace said she has read her 1940 edition of “Misty of Chincoteague” book “over and over.”
Jason Graves, 47, and Donna Graves, 52, traveled across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge-Tunnel for the first time to the Pony Swim even though they’re from Virginia Beach.
According to the couple, they’ve been to North Carolina to see the wild ponies of Coralla, but felt that it was finally time to attend the big event that’s held, practically, right in their own backyard.
Donna said doesn’t mind the mud at all.
“I got my shirt dirty,” she said, showing off the muddy-stained T-shirt tied around her waist. “I did it on purpose,” she joked.
The Brandy and Doug Farrell had planned to come to Pony Penning in 2020, but their trip from Canada was deferred to now. COVID-19 hit that year, closing the boarder, and the in-person event was canceled until this year.
Brandy Farrell, 55, has been a “horse girl” her whole life. She read the Misty books when she was 8 or 9.
“Ever since I was a kid and read the books, it was like a fantasy. You know, you dream when you’re a kid. I’ve always wanted to come here,” said Brandy Farrell.
The sun’s starting to shine.
“There’s the sunshine everyone’s been praying for,” the announcer said just before 7:30 a.m.
And a 9:30 a.m. swim time is anticipated at slack tide.
Jeff and Lisa Bogaczyk of Wisconsin have been coming to Pony Penning for 30 years, but, not wanting to fight the crowds, haven’t been to the Pony Swim in 25 years.
Wanting to give 10-year-old Gili Kuert of Minnesota, the full experience, the Bogaczyk and Kuert families went with the tide of visitors to see the swim. Gili is most excited to see the ponies Riptide and Chief after her parents too her to the vet check earlier in the week to see the Chincoteague ponies.
Of Riptide, father Jon Kuert, 48, said “Who is this guy? Must be a legend!”
By 7 a.m. the crowd was growing, becoming more congested along the edge of the water. There are muddy feet galore.
Dana Bennett, 49, is originally from mainland Virginia. Now living in North Carolina, she brought her two daughters, Kali, 18, and Megan, 21, to Pony Swim.
“We normally sit over at the park, over on the ground and watch it on the big Jumbotron. We’re trying to get up close and personal this year so we decided to come here, put on our boots, and stand in the marsh,” said Dana Bennett.
It is the family’s third time to Pony Penning, and their companion Nicole Mitchell’s first.
“I loved them,” Mitchell, 18, of North Carolina, said of Marguerite Henry’s Misty books. “I read the first book, then read everything else she wrote, then looked up the Pony Swim.”
For two New York children, a surprise car trip brings to life the island of Chincoteague that Mya Conroy learned about in school.
Sister Ava, 14, and her watched “Misty” the movie during the car ride as mom, Kiera Conroy, 40, teased what was to come at their final destination.
What’s newA new Chincoteague food truck
“Miraculously, Saturday, I see that they’re doing the Pony Swim on Wednesday. We drove this morning, 10 hours,” said Kiera Conroy, already planning a return trip.
Four sisters had been up since 4 a.m. Wednesday and catching the sun rise.
“We’ve been dreaming about this since we read ‘Misty’ as little kids. About two years ago, maybe, we started really talking about it and decided we’re going to do this. About six months ago, we bought our airline tickets and booked our hotel,” said Mona Hamblen, 64.
The Hamblen, along with Barb Jensen, 66; Debbie Porter, 68; and Patti McCarthy, 61, had attended Monday’s pony Beach Walk. McCarthy is from Montana, while the others are from Oregon.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOWChincoteague Pony Swim and Auction returns for its 97th year
Weather in Chincoteague
A slight chance of showers, with thunderstorms also possible after 2 p.m. Wednesday, according to the National Weather Service. It will be partly sunny, with a high near 87. West wind 6 to 8 mph. Chance of precipitation is 20%.
What is slack water or slack tide?
The Pony Swim takes place at the earliest morning slack tide, expected between 8:30 a.m. and 10:30 a.m. this year. Slack tide is the time when the tide is neither coming in or going out, making it easier for the ponies to swim. Slack tide lasts for about 30 minutes.