Over the Fence: Pony Penning Fun


A dear friend who lives overseas emailed me the other day, subject line: IMPORTANT DECISION! I couldn’t have clicked open that email any faster.

Turns out, the big decision was to bring her daughter back to the states this summer for a birthday surprise: a trip to the annual pony swim in Chincoteague. I dropped everything and started making phone calls. Motel! Boat rental! Check. Check. Check. We’re going to pony penning! That hot, summer last Wednesday in July will be here in no time.

Pony Swim

In 2013, I was lucky enough to go to the swim, on the job performing in-person “research” for a story that appeared in Horse Illustrated magazine in July 2014. I loved every minute of the days I spent on the island, especially the hours on the pier. I sat on the Chincoteague side of the channel, watching the salty tide ripple and sneak as I waited for the pony swim. (I blogged about it here.)

Pony Swim

Crowds filled the marsh that day — bobbing on kayaks and rafts, other standing or sitting in lawn chairs half-submerged in the channel water. Others avoided the sun in make-shift hammocks under the piers. Boats anchored in the channel formed a lane where the ponies would swim across.

Pony Swim
Pony Swim

At about 11:30 a.m., just as the Saltwater Cowboys signaled with red smoke that the ponies had been driven into the water, black clouds crowded the sky. Cold rain followed – an unusual weather pattern for the swim.

Pony Swim

The ponies swam fast, their heads barely above the high tide waters for the 5-minute swim across the churning gray water. Then storm moved out as fast as it had come in. By the time the ponies were clip-clopping and cavorting down Main Street in the parade to the carnival grounds, the sun was shining again. It was a magical time, and I can’t wait experience it again.

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  1. That foal in the first photograph is simply adorable! Some of the most beautiful ponies come from Assateague island 🙂

  2. Wonderful, as a small boy close to 80 years ago I lived on Chincoteague Island and had a neighbor who owned one of the ponies and would give me a ride on him.


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