Yesterday I went back to Assateague Island, and on my way out I saw some ponies! When I saw a long line of cars pulled over and a crowd gathered on the opposite side of the road it was easy to guess why.
It was exciting to see so many. There were even a few little ones. They were pretty close to the road, but not quite close enough for the zoom on my camera to get a good picture.
These ponies are part of the herd of 150 wild ponies on the Virginia side of the island, where they are commonly called Chincoteague ponies. This is half of the total population, with the other half on the Maryland side (where they are known as Assateague horses). The two herds are managed by two different authorities. In Maryland, the National Park Service regards them as a wild species and generally does not intervene except to provide contraceptives to keep their numbers at about 150.
In Virginia, the ponies are owned and managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. They receive a check-up from a veterinarian twice a year, and are kept in good health because every year some ponies are auctioned off during the Chincoteague Island Pony Swim and Carnival. Each year, the herd swims across the Assateague Channel to the mainland, and some ponies are sold. The auction helps control the population as well as help fund the fire department. The first Swim was in 1925, and the today tradition is described as a “national treasure” by AssateagueIsland.com. The website says that roughly 40,000 people attend the event, which is usually broadcast by Good Morning America. This year’s Pony Swim is scheduled for July 30.