Swimming Ponies!

Read about the famous Chincoteague Pony Swim. The annual event is an effort to control the area's feral pony population.

Watch Famous Ponies Swim in Chincoteague Island's Yearly Event.

Published August 3, 2016

Riptide the chocolate-colored pony arches his neck and paws at the swampy marsh. As the other ponies let out soft whinnies, he snorts and moves his ears forward. He’s ready for an ocean swim!

Riptide is one of about 200 horses getting ready to splash around in the 91st annual Chincoteague Pony Swim. As thousands of people gather to watch the event, these wild ponies from Assateague Island—off of Virginia’s coast—swim about 200 yards to neighboring Chincoteague Island. First, “saltwater cowboys” round up the herds of wild horses, then bring them to the beach the morning before the swim. Soon the horses wade into the ocean, eventually getting deep enough so that only their brown, black, white, and palomino heads poke out of the water.

Horses are naturally strong swimmers, and this group reaches the Chincoteague shore in about 10 minutes. The first young horse, called a foal, to reach the land is crowned “King Neptune.” Many of the horses start munching on the marsh grass, and some lay down to rest.

After the event, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company sells about 50 of the foals to people who take them to riding stables and ranches. The money that goes from the sale helps buy equipment for the firefighters, who also help take care of the wild ponies. They bring in vets when a horse looks ill or injured, break up ice in harsh winters, and sometimes provide hay. “Otherwise we limit our interaction with them,” fire chief Bobby Lappin says. “That way they can survive on the beach as wild ponies.”

Riptide and the other adult ponies, along with seven foals, were herded back across the water to Assateague Island. There they’ll run free again for most of the year—until it’s time to hit the ocean again for another summer swim.

Text from "Inside the Famous Chincoteague Pony Swim" by Kristin Hugo