The ponies live on Assateague Island which both Maryland and Virginia claim. There is a fence separating the island at the state boundary. Chincoteague Island lies totally in Virginia.
No one knows for sure how the ponies came to live on Assateague Island though there are two theories. Most people believe that the ponies are descendants of survivors who swam ashore from a sinking Spanish galleon ship which sunk off the coast of Virginia. Others believe that they were brought here by farmers and released so the farmers wouldn’t have to pay a livestock tax on them.
Next week, the pony swim, made famous in the book, will occur. This event has been taking place since 1925. The purpose of the swim is to thin out the herds on Assateague Island by controlling the overall size of the herd, keeping it from growing too large as well as being a fundraiser for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department as they auction off the ponies.
On July 20th and 21st, approximately 150 ponies on the Virginia side of Assateague Island will be herded into two corrals on the island – the Northern Corral and the Southern Corral. The next day, on July 22nd, the northern ponies will be walked along the beach in a southerly direction to meet the southern herd. The swim will take place on July 24th during the slack tide – which is the period between tides when there is no tide. Timing it for the slack tide makes it an easier swim for the young ponies, which are born during spring or early summer, and they are safe from any strong currents. They will be swimming from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island which is about a three minute swim for the ponies. The exact time of the swim will be announced the day before.
After the swim, the ponies are given an opportunity to rest before they are paraded Main Street to the carnival grounds. The next day, July 25th the foals will be auctioned off. This event gets really crowded so come prepared whether just to observe or to purchase one of the ponies. Again, bring sunscreen, wear a hat, bring plenty of fluids as it gets hot during July, and bring a folding chair as the bleachers fill up quickly.
The next day, Friday, July 26th, the adult ponies will swim back to Assateague Island where they will have another year to live in the wild.
Assateague Island is worth visiting. There is camping on the island as well as motels in nearby Ocean City, Maryland as well as on Chincoteague Island. Fall is a particularly beautiful time for the island. There are many birds to observe and water fowl. Kayakers flock to this area. One caveat: bring bug spray and if you camp, camp by the shoreline so the breeze will blow away the bugs. When in Chincoteague, stop by the Misty of Chincoteague statue and take a photo.