Horse Latitudes

Chincoteague’s Pony Penning draws tens of thousands of spectators every year.

Chincoteague’s annual pony swim may be one of Virginia’s oldest traditons, but it’s a 1947 novel by children’s book writer Marguerite Henry that made the event internationally famous. Misty of Chincoteague, the award-winning story of the Beebee family’s efforts to tame two wild ponies, has become a classic. 

In her book, Henry describes the origins of the pony penning. The horses, she writes, are descendants of the survivors of a Spanish galleon that wrecked off the coast of Assateague Island. By the 1700s, pony penning, which began as a way to break and harness loose herds, had become an annual spectacle. The modern-day event dates back to 1925, when the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company held a benefit during the penning. This year, on July 25, tens of thousands will watch saltwater cowboys swim 150 ponies from Assateague Island to Chincoteague.

“We call it homecoming week because the people who grew up here and moved away always come home at pony penning time,” says Denise Bowden, a fire company spokeswoman. “For us, seeing the visitors who come back year after year to support our event and have helped keep this tradition alive for 93 years speaks volumes about the event itself.” Chincoteague.com

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