I think it’s safe to say that it’s every little girl’s dream — including my own — to have a pony.
I settled for taking riding lessons and just generally enjoying the company of the majestic creatures. But for some lucky kids on Chincoteague Island in Virginia, that dream comes true each and every summer.
This is Assateague. The barrier island sits in both Virginia and Maryland. But that’s not what makes it so special.
It’s home to two giant herds of wild horses.
The legend suggests that the horses arrived on the island sometime in the 1700s when a Spanish galleon crashed off the coast.
Ever since, wild horses have made the island their home.
The horses eat the dune and marsh grasses and drink fresh water they find inland.
But what makes these horses truly special is what has happened annually for more than 90 years…
Saltwater cowboys round up a herd…
And guide them as they swim across the Assateague Channel to Chincoteague Island!
So…what’s the point?
Well, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company maintains the herd on Assateague Island. But the island’s resources and the grazing permit from the National Fish & Wildlife Service only allow them to keep 150 ponies. So each year, at the end of July, the fire company escorts the ponies across the channel, where thousands of spectators come to watch the event…and bid on the horses!
To control overpopulation and a healthy herd size, many of the foals are bought during the pony auction.
The money the fire department raises is used to provide veterinary care for the herd, food during harsh weather conditions, and hoof care.
Some ponies are designated as “buybacks,” which means that they are auctioned but are then returned to the island after the sale. They are named but get to live out their days wild and free!
Following the pony auction, the horses are guided back across the channel.
How cool is that?!
The Chincoteague Pony became its own official breed in 1994.
If you’d like to see this year’s swim, parade, and auction, you still have time to plan your trip! The saltwater cowboys begin to round up the herd on Saturday, July 23 and the swim is on Wednesday, July 27. I don’t know about you, but I’m seriously considering making the trek to see them!
Find out more about the festivities and the history here.