It’s that time of year for the pilgrimage of wild ponies from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island—July 27th marks the 97th year of Chincoteague’s annual Pony Swim.

Just over a dozen years have passed since my wife and I hosted our first (of five) international exchange students.  During their year with us they attended a local high school to experience the educational system in the United States.  Outside of school we wanted to provide many opportunities for them to experience the wonderful, historical state of Virginia.  No visit here would be complete without visiting Chincoteague Island.  One year, a female student from Germany and I made our way onto the Eastern Shore.  Immediately she fell in love with its shores, quaint little towns, and nature at its best.

As we drove over the bridge to the island itself, she was so excited.  We walked into many of the shops of the city, had a wonderful lunch and a visit to the Island Creamery before driving on over to climb the 175 steps to the top of the Assateague Lighthouse.  Aside from the view of Assateague and Chincoteague islands and the beaches of the Atlantic Ocean, we were thrilled beyond words at the sight of an American bald eagle in flight.

We spent the next few hours simply driving around Chincoteague looking at some of the wonderful homes.  As an additional surprise for her, I had booked a late afternoon boat tour of the islands.  During one point of our tour, the boat encountered a guest captain who guided us through the waters: a dolphin.  This beautiful mammal was close enough for us to touch and seemed to find pleasure entertaining us with its majestic leaps out of water.  What an amazing time!  The ultimate highlight was observing the wild ponies just inland from our boat.  There was a beauty about them I can’t describe. So calm. So natural.  So beautiful.

We are now at the time of year that is so special to the residents of Chincoteague Island, VA.  The last full week in July marks a homecoming for the island dwellers, former residents, and guests from around the world.  It’s Pony Penning time!  A time that you must experience for yourself. Aside from their celebrity status as free spirits who roam some of Virginia’s most picturesque coastline, saltwater cowboys assist in the great island shift. The week’s event has treats for all ages including the Chincoteague Volunteer Firemen’s Carnival on July 22–23, and July 25–30 from 7 to 11 pm, ending with a bang of fireworks on the 30th.

Details and updates at

Join us from the shores of Veterans Memorial Park and Pony Swim Lane to watch this year’s main event.  A brief outline of activities you do not want to miss:

  • The 34th Annual Chincoteague Island Blueberry Festival  July 21–23. (Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce and Certified Visitor Center – 6733 Maddox Boulevard)
  • Saturday, July 23, 8:00 am—South Herd roundup
  • Sunday, July 24, 6:00 am—North Herd roundup
  • Monday, July 25, 6:00 am—the traditional Beach Walk on Assateague Island
  • Wednesday, July 27 (at the earliest morning slack tide—window between 8:30 and 10:30 am)—Annual pony swim
  • Thursday, July 28, 8:00 am—Auctioning of foals at the Carnival Grounds, 3648 Main Street
  • Friday, July 29 (time to be announced)Return of the South Herd adult ponies to Assateague Island
  • Saturday, July 30celebrate the conclusion of the carnival with a huge fireworks display

~Rick Polston

Photos courtesy of Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce