The 92nd Annual Pony Penning

Photo by Angie Crutchley — Story By Connie Morrison —
A red flare pierced the pale morning sky just before 7 a.m. to signal the beginning of the 92nd annual Pony Swim.

It was one of the earliest swims “in a long, long time,” said Denise Bowden, Chincoteague vice mayor and spokesperson for the volunteer fire company.

The early swim time was not a deterrent to morning crowds which enjoyed a respite from the usual searing heat as they waited for the spectacle. Two additions to this year’s swim: drones jockeyed for position overhead, while those who gathered to watch the swim at Veteran’s Memorial Park were treated to a Jumbotron broadcast of the event.

The swim is held on the last Wednesday of July. The Saltwater Cowboys awaited the flare to indicate slack tide — what NOAA defines as a time “when the water is completely unstressed and there is no movement either way in the tidal stream” — to ease the crossing of the approximately 150 ponies that swam the channel from Assateague Island to Chincoteague.

With encouragement of the cowboys, and mares nudging their foals into the water, the ponies began the approximately four-minute swim as they and their ancestors have reliably done the last 92 years, although there are accounts of roundups dating back well before the 1900s.

As pony noses above the water took shape and ponies neared the Chincoteague shore, a young boy whooped, “Yippee- yi-o-ki-yay! Here come the ponies!”

The first foal to make it across each year is named King Neptune or Queen Neptune and auctioned at the carnival.

This year a king took the crown, with the winning ticket drawn Wednesday night at the carnival from the 2,000 or so tickets sold.

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