An estimated 40,000 horse lovers applauded as 130 wild ponies swam across the Assateague Channel in the 86th annual Chincoteague Wild Pony Swim in Virginia. The ponies made the four minute journey, which is done during low-tide, to raise money for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which cares for the herd.
After an hour of picture taking and relaxing with fans, the ponies made their way to a carnival where they are auctioned. “Ponies that are not sold and those that are donated back to the fire department will roam free for another year on the national wildlife refuge on Assateague,” reported The Daily Mail.
Each year, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department purchases a grazing permit from the National Fish and Wildlife Service which allows the herd of approximately 150 wild ponies to live on Assateague Island.
The fire department controls the size of the herd with the annual auction and the proceeds from the sale of the animals enables the firefighters to buy the grazing permit and see that the ponies are cared for.
Firefighters called the Saltwater Cowboys, round up the pony herd every year for the event and safely escort the animals across the half-mile channel. The ponies are able to walk about half the distance because of the low-tide.
The wild ponies have inhabited Assateague Island for hundreds of years. History suggests they are the descendants of the survivors of a group from a Spanish galleon that wrecked off the coast of the island.
Each year thousands of spectators flock to watch the pony swim, enjoy the carnival and donate toward the care of the animals. In 2010, 59 ponies were sold or donated back to the fire department for a total of $77,275. The result of the fundraiser in 2009 was $94,100.
Photo from clotho98 via flickr.