Horse lovers of all ages remember fondly the children’s book Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. The beloved author based her story on the real ponies that live wild on the shores of Virginia. Each year the animals are rounded up to participate in an annual pony swim from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island so that the foals can be auctioned.

In past years, tens of thousands of spectators from around the world have traveled to Chincoteague Island to witness the swim. The last pony swim was in 2019, as due to the COVID-19 pandemic the event was cancelled in 2020 and 2021. But this July 27th the pony swim returns for its 97th year.

The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, who manages the event, posted on their Facebook page, “The pony auction…will be live, in person this year but we are also anticipating having it coincide with online bidding as well…Pony Penning week will be business as usual with the beach walk, the swim and the auction…We cannot hardly wait to see everyone, welcome everyone back, see the laughter and smiles on the kid’s faces and see everyone meet up with their old friends for the Chincoteague Homecoming Week, smell the fritters frying, tasting those good pony fries, seeing the whirl of the ferris wheel and just enjoying some good old fashioned, down home Chincoteague fun.”

According to the official guide of the event, the weekend before Wednesday’s Pony Swim, approximately 150 adult wild ponies and their foals are rounded up. There are different events each day as well as opportunities for interested buyers to view the foals. In years past there have been between 60 to 70 foals born each spring; more are expected this year.

The Wednesday swim takes place during “slack tide” which is only 30 minutes long and is described as a period between currents, making it the easiest time for the ponies to make their aquatic journey.

The auction is the next day, and its main purpose is to manage herd size, but also to raise much-needed funds for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, who in turn use some of the money to provide veterinary care for the ponies throughout the year.

Each year the Fire Company chooses a few ponies to be “buy backs,” which means even once “sold” they are returned to Assateague Island to live their life wild and free. Whoever purchases a buy back pony gets to name the foal before it’s returned to the island. These special ponies not only replenish the herd but have become some of the highest-priced ponies in the auction.

Other initiatives of the auction include the proceeds from one foal going to a regional charity, and each year the Feather Fund helps deserving children purchase ponies at the auction. The Feather Fund is a charity that was created to honor the memory of Carollynn Suplee, a woman who came to Chincoteague annually to help children buy ponies at the auction until she passed away from cancer in 2003.