86th Annual Wild Pony Swim (Video)


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.

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Photo from clotho98 via flickr.


Charlie Parkinson

Nice, cute, love them.........annual auction? They'd better be checking up with the people auctioning and make sure they are going to give those horses the proper care, compassion, love and respect that they have the right as living, breathing, thinking, intelligent animals to get.....and not being trained to be exploited in some stupid horse race or get trotted around in shows or worse, used in horse riding classes, only to get thrown away later in life as they get older and they don't have the same mobility.......

KrassiAWAY B.
Krasimira B6 years ago

Very interesting tradition.

colleen p.
colleen p6 years ago

fine, let the ponies starve.
do you people know, natural plant eaters migrate?
like elk? and they have nobody to help them.

if they drown , then a bear gets an easy meal.

Mike M.
Mike M.6 years ago

I'm not sure why people choose to bash the BLM when this story is about domestic ponies. The ones the BLM chases and has problems with are an invasive species and does far more harm then good. If you watch the video you can even see the ponies don't even flinch when touched. They are very used to human contact.

Ernie Miller
william Miller6 years ago

WHy do they force the ponied to swim? is it for the amusment of the people or is there a real need? I think it is good that they are paying for the permit for them to be allud to stay where they belong and trying to keep controol on the herd size but this swim some how remindes me of some sort of circus for the amusment of the locals.

colleen p.
colleen p6 years ago

wild ponies are still a domestic speices. you would never call a dalmation a coyote, now would you?

Lilithe Magdalene


Siusaidh C.
Susan C6 years ago

If I was anywhere in the area, I would for sure attend.

Kim J.
Kimberly J6 years ago

Linda P. All of the ponies make the swim just fine. They do it at low tide so the ponies can walk at least 1/2 way. The salt water cowboys are in boats along side the ponies & if one of them has problems, several cowboys get in the water to help. This is not like the BLM using helicopters to round up the wild mustangs. These ponies are very well cared for. Once they reach the shore, they pose for photos & rest for an hour before the auction begins. Ponies that aren't sold or are donated back to the herd remain on Chincoteague for a minimum of 24 hours to make sure they're fully rested before being swum back to Assateague. In all the years this swim has happened, not one pony has been injured or killed. A few humans have been kicked & had their feet stepped on, but the fire department & Chincoteague residents love those ponies & would never do anything to hurt them. All of the money raised from the auction goes to caring for the ponies.

The BLM could learn a huge lesson from the Chincoteague fire department about how to take care of wild horses.

Helle H.
Helle H6 years ago

Great idea. The horses seemed to enjoy the swim and didn't seem to eager to get out of the water again-