Tens of thousands of people filled viewing areas to witness the 90th annual Chincoteague Pony Swim on Wednesday.
About 150 ponies were mustered into the water as the tide slackened, allowing the animals to make the swim from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island.
The spectacle, made famous by Marguerite Henry’s children’s book, Misty of Chincoteague, is a highlight of a week-long carnival in Virginia, which is held every July.
Some of the young stock are sold to raise funds for the Chincoteague volunteer fire company before the remainder of the pones are returned to Assateague.
Misty of Chincoteague is based on a true story that tells of a young brother and sister that grew up on Chincoteague Island. They attended the pony swim event and purchased an Assateague wild pony they referred to as “Misty”.
Misty was unique in that she had the markings on her side of a map of the United States. Later in life, the pony lived with Henry while she wrote Misty of Chincoteague.
A Hollywood movie called Misty was made which featured the Chincoteague Pony Swim and many residents of Chincoteague Island appeared in the movie.
Many of the local firemen that “round up” the wild ponies for the swim have participated in the event most of their lives.
The event originated when the town of Chincoteague found itself in need of fire equipment in order to protect itself.
Several devastating fires had occurred during the early 1900s, and since Chincoteague Island was isolated from the mainland with no bridges, the town needed protection.
Today, most of the proceeds go to the fire deptartment for new equipment. The annual pony swim has now become a national treasure. Many visitors as well residents of Chincoteague return to the swim year after year to take part in the island tradition.
The swim and auction also helps manage the number of wild horses on Assateague and prevents them from adversely impacting the sensitive barrier island ecology.
Following tradition, the first colt or filly to come ashore is dubbed King or Queen Neptune, and given away to a lucky ticket-holder on the carnival grounds.