Over the Fence: Chincoteague Pony Swim

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Chincoteague Pony Swim

Getting to see the ponies swim at the annual Chincoteague Pony Swim is a dream that involves a bit of patience. When the day finally arrives and you’ve made your way to Chincoteague, across the bridge, down Main Street and (very the next morning) early all the way the a pier that looks across the channel, the muggy air hangs heavy hour after sunny hour with one question: when will the ponies swim? The insects whirl and buzz as the tide slaps the marsh mud on the western shore of the channel. Spectators wait on boats (or rafts), on piers and in the mud. When the tide stills, then it’s time. That’s slack tide, the magical moment between high and low tides. That’s when the ponies swim. Experienced pony swim-goers see the clues that the time is drawing near, like:

1. The saltwater cowboys, done rounding up the horses on the eastern side of the channel, cruise back to the eastern shore of the channel, along with their horses, on a barge. They unload straight into the marsh.

Chincoteague Pony Swim

2. The coast guard boat dangles a buoy into the water. Does it hang still or pull in or out with the tide? If it hangs still, they light a flare.

Chincoteague Pony Swim

3. The ponies have been waiting, too. Now they crowd together, nervous. The foals have no clue what’s about to happen.
From the boat where he was watching with friends, my son Quinn saw dolphins right before the swim! Check out photo #13 here – awesome. This photographer was standing on the dock with me but got MUCH better pictures with his huge zoom lens.


The swim itself only takes about 4 minutes.
Chincoteague Pony Swim
Chincoteague Pony Swim

Then the ponies climb up on the other side, frantically calling to each other, nervously ripping marsh grass and pawing through the mud. It’s emotional to watch. I sat on the peer crying behind my camera. Happy they made it. Sad the babies and the mama may have briefly lost each other for a few seconds. Sorry they were scared. Sorry for the stallions who feel they’ve lost control of their herds after the swim. Happy it’s over.
Chincoteague Pony Swim
Chincoteague Pony Swim

This foal decided to make a break for home, but was quickly rerouted by the saltwater cowboys who herd the horses.
Chincoteague Pony Swim

After a rest for about 45 minutes, the wet, muddy, charged-up but tired ponies head up Main Street in a parade that delivers them to a large corral at the carnival grounds
Chincoteague Pony Swim

This gorgeous stallion with the white muzzle still feeling defensive.
Chincoteague Pony Swim

This was my second time seeing the ponies swim (I blogged about it here and a story I wrote about the swim appeared in Horse Illustrated last year) — I hope it won’t be the last time I get to go and see the ponies swim!

For more information about the pony swim, check out the Chincoteague Island, Virginia Chamber of Commerce website.

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4 COMMENTS

  1. This swim was something I would daydream about, when I was younger. I collected all the Breyer horse statues, like Misty and her foal. Read and reread all the books about them. Someday, I just might have the money to go to see them, and maybe bring one home.

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