88th Annual Chincoteague Pony Swim and Auction Take Place This Week
On the last Thursday in July, the sound echoes through town before the scene is even visible. “And here we have a three month old mare… can I get a thousand, do we have a thousand,” rings out the voice of the auctioneer.
The scene, located right on Main Street in Chincoteague Island, Virginia, in the midst of town, is at the fireman’s carnival grounds; and at center stage thousands of people congregate on bleachers, or sit on lawn chairs—some are even perched high up in trees, all to see the main attraction, the Chincoteague Pony Auction. It’s been this way since 1925, when the volunteer fire department, realizing it needed to raise funds following two devastating town fires, started the annual event, now in its 88th year. The pony auction raises 100% of the fire department’s annual budget. It also helps to control the herd population, determined to be optimal at 150.
The pony auction follows a week of events beginning with the pony round up. The Saltwater Cowboys, an enviable bunch—it’s an invite only group—whose task is to gather the ponies on Assateague Island, parade them down the beach, then swim them over to Chincoteague Island during slack tide on the last Wednesday of July, is a tradition that harkens back to the days of the old west. Yet this time, there’s plenty of water and those infamous, if not at least slightly amphibious, ponies.
On auction day the sound of the auctioneer’s voice mingles with the “Yeeeps!” heard from the bidders on the bleachers, and the neighs from the horses in the corral, seeming to speak in response. While the fowls are kept behind the auction area, waiting their turn in the ring, the adult horses are sequestered in a large corral on the grounds. It’s an unbelievable site, roughly 150 horses in one place, a veritable sea of browns, blacks, and mottled shades of shiny coats, and flowing manes. The young stallions are the ones you hear, often rising up attempting to secure their status in the herd. Crowds gather and speak to the horses; some reach out, and are surprised when the horses are friendly. It’s a rare moment when a creature of the wild meets one of captivity, and it’s nothing short of awe inspiring.
Chincoteague Island, Virginia is a town where water and land seem to interweave seamlessly, where practically from any vantage point, you can witness the sun reflecting off of Chincoteague Bay. On the primary drag through town are quaint retail shops, restaurants, boat docks, primary residences, quite a few fishing shacks, and the carnival grounds where all the action of the pony auction takes place. It’s a place where modern amenities and contemporary business exist, but almost as an aside to what is there at the core, a town both respectful and celebratory to its history.
It’s this last full week in July each year that this little town on the water truly comes alive. The Chincoteague Pony Swim and Auction are quintessential Eastern Shore traditions that must be experienced in person, at least once.
If You Go:
Chincoteague Island, Virginia
The Pony Swim:
• Wednesday July 24th
• At slack tide – anytime between 7am – 1pm (get there early)
The Pony Auction:
• Thursday July 25th
• Beginning at 8am at the carnival grounds
For a full list of events, times, and directions, visit here.