Wanderlust Wednesday: Pony Penning Day in Chincoteague, VA

78th Annual Pony Penning Day

Chincoteague, Virginia

July 2003

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In elementary school, I had to read Marguerite Henry’s book, “Misty of Chincoteague” for a book report. Little did I know, it would ignite an extreme horse passion within me. The book is fiction, but based on real people and real horses. It’s about two kids from Chincoteague, Paul and Maureen Beebe, who wanted to buy and tame a wild pony on Assateague island named, “The Phantom.” Just some background: Chincoteague holds an annual event called “Pony Penning Day” in which cowboys roundup the wild ponies of Assateague island, swim them across the channel over to Chincoteague, and auction off some of the foals and yearlings. The auction benefits the Volunteer Firemen and it is done in order to keep the herd populations in check. After the auction and carnival, they swim the horses back over to Assateague where they live freely until the next round up. (You can read more about the event here)

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I still have the event poster hanging in my room!

So back to the book. Paul and Maureen worked many jobs to try to earn money to buy a pony of their own at the Pony Penning auction. One year, Paul is able to ride with the cowboys and he manages to round up the Phantom and her new foal Misty. Paul and Maureen buy the Phantom and Misty at the auction and spend the next years training the Phantom for a big race on the Island. I won’t spoil the outcome if you ever want to read it 😀

Needless to say, all I could think about was the wild ponies of Assateague and how cool it would be to see them once I finished the book.

Well, when I told my parents about the story, my dad looked into Pony Penning Day and thought it’d be a fun road trip!

So in the summer of 2003, we did just that.

(Sorry in advance for the lame picture quality, we only had film cameras then, so I had to sniper them from our scrapbook haha)

After a long journey in our truck, we finally made it! We brought our bikes so we could ride and explore the island without having to worry about our truck. Best decision ever!!

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Our first biking destination was to Assateague Island to visit the corrals where the ponies were being held before the swim. I remember being in utter heaven–surrounded by such gorgeous little wild ponies, inhaling the smell hay, seeing little foals frolicking and playing with their friends. It was so neat! My mom and I fell in love with the little gray foal the arrow is pointing to. I was trying to think of every way to fit him in our truck to take him home haha

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The next morning was the horse swim. It was rainy, but we didn’t care. We camped out in ponchos since 5am to get front row spots on the shore, but my camera couldn’t zoom very well, so just imagine little horse heads swimming across the channel where that arrow is haha!

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The drizzly weather didn’t stop the party–the cowboys then paraded all of the ponies through the streets of Chincoteague and down to the fairgrounds where the auction would be held. The auction was very lively and people crowded around to see the foals.

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We got kind of claustrophobic in the crowds, and since we weren’t doing any bidding (to my disappointment haha) we went to the Chincoteague Pony Centre to get some Misty souvenirs and then back to Assateague to do more exploring since the rain let up.

The water was COLD, so no swimming, but we did check out a cool lighthouse and I saw my first horseshoe crab that scarred me for life. Ask any one of my friends or family members and you’ll know I LOATHE horseshoe crabs more than anything. They are SO CREEPY!!!!!!!!!!!!! Spare yourself, don’t google it.

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Anyway…the next day the ponies were rounded up and destined to swim back to Assateague. We got some great seats this time around and really got to see the cowboys in action. Some of the ponies got a little feisty haha!

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It was SUCH a fun vacation–definitely one I will never forget. I think it was even more fun to look back through our old scrapbook and reminisce on the adventure. I can’t believe that was almost 11 years ago! Time warp. 😀

If you’re ever in Virginia and want to witness a cool tradition or see some beautiful wild ponies, check out Chincoteague! I guarantee you won’t be disappointed! 🙂

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