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Ever since I read a book called Misty of Chincoteague as a child, I've wanted to see the Wild Chincoteague Ponies, on the Eastern shore of the United States. I believe there are two herds on Assateague Island, which includes land in both Maryland and Virginia.

We're finally planning a trip, and I'm very excited! We'll only have a few days, and are trying to pick the best time and place for viewing.

Once a year thousands of people come from all over the world to see something called the Pony Swim. We don't really like crowds, and tend to stay away from things like that, preferring to go to tourist areas during the off-season. If it interests that many people, though, it's definitely worth learning more about the event.

What exactly is the Pony Swim, and what will we see if we go during that time?

EDIT:

This is a March 2019 edit in response to Rory Alsop's answer about the Pony Swim being very crowded. We decided to forego the big event and instead went to the Chincoteague (Virginia) side in May of 2018. It was in the 70s F, very comfortable. There were other tourists, but very few, and very friendly. We saw some ponies from a distance, and some closer to the road. They were happily grazing out there, as they have for hundreds of years! It was magnificent!

For handicapped people, one of the main paths is wooden with benches to stop and sit. It's perfect for wheelchairs, which is important to us.

The ponies have regular vet-checks, and any that aren't fully thriving are brought to a safe area in town, where people can touch and feed them. That was a real highlight for us! I recommend it to anyone who wants a hug from an authentic Chincoteague pony!

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The Chincoteague Pony Swim is an annual event where around 150 adult ponies and their foals from the North and South parts of the island are rounded up and swim at slack tide from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island.

From assategueisland.com (highlights mine),

The Pony Swim is usually broadcast live by the "Good Morning America" show. The Wild Pony Swim is visited by over 40,000 excited spectators. They watch approximately 150 Assateague Ponies make the historic swim. Since Marguerite Henry's famous children's novel "Misty of Chincoteague," millions of visitors with an interest in wild ponies and other wildlife travel to Chincoteague and Assateague to see the islands that Misty and the other wild ponies have made famous.

The South Herd is rounded up first on the Saturday, then on the following day the larger North Herd is rounded up. On the Monday they have the Beach Walk where both herds are joined. Tuesday is for veterinary checks, and the final Wednesday in July (this year Wednesday the 27th) is the actual swim. There is also the auction on the Thursday, and then the return swim on Friday.

On Assateague Island's website, they recommend if you don't like crowds and want to see the ponies, "Go any other time during the summer...see them best on the nature tour."

If you do decide to go to the Pony Swim, chincoteague.com says:

The best way to see the pony swim up close is on a Charter Boat. However, spots on these boats for the pony swim are in very high demand, so be sure to reserve your spot at least several months in advance.

So for this year, your best bet if you go on the day is that you will be in the crowds on the shoreline, which sounds like you wouldn't enjoy it so much

  • Great answer, thanks! Though it sounds fun, we'll definitely stay away from that event! It seems like it would be hard to see much around all those people anyway. Your links are very informative, and led me to some good information about areas and times of year to maximize pony viewing, so we're going to plan according to that. – Sue Saddest Farewell TGO GL Jun 23 '16 at 19:35
  • I had vaguely heard of it, from some review of the book, so your question inspired me to do some research. Some good youtube videos of it - that also made me think I wouldn't want to be there in the crowds – Rory Alsop Jun 23 '16 at 19:40

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