Each year, Pony Penning draws thousands of visitors to Chincoteague island. The 93rd annual Pony Penning week kicked off this past weekend, bringing tourists of all backgrounds and ages. The event benefits in the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company and has become a must-see event for island residents and visitors.
Each year, the week kicks off with a herding of the southern ponies—those who live on the southern end of Assateague Island—by Saltwater Cowboys. The cowboys round the ponies into the Southern Corral in the late afternoon, and the animals remain there for several days for spectators to see. After securing the southern herd, the Cowboys round the northern herd into the Northern Corral. Though these ponies are not accessible to the public, special bus tours are offered to go to the corral after the roundup.
On the Monday morning of Pony Penning week, the Saltwater Cowboys move the ponies from the Northern Corral out to the beachfront, then south along the Atlantic Ocean. Here, they join up with ponies from the Southern Corral. The Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge opens at 5:00AM that morning for visitors to view the ponies walking down the beach. After the display, visitors are encouraged to visit the recreational beach parking area for a brief cookout.
On Tuesday, the ponies are checked by a veterinarian. At this point, they can be viewed by the public. Then, on Wednesday, the Saltwater Cowboys swim the ponies from Assateague Island to Chincoteague—across the Assateague Channel and onto the eastern side of Chincoteague Island. Veterans Memorial Park is the main public viewing area, and there is generally a large screen with a live feed of the swim. The Town of Chincoteague provides a free Pony Shuttle service beginning at 4:00AM.
After the swim, the ponies rest for around 45 minutes. Then, the Saltwater Cowboys parade them down Main Street to the carnival grounds. A Pony auction is held on Thursday morning, serving as both a fundraiser and as a method of controlling the herd’s size. Then, on Friday, the adult ponies return to Assateague and live in the wild for another year.