See the Chincoteague Wild Horses
Plentiful wildlife, colorful birds, and herds of wild horses -- that's what makes Chincoteague, Virginia unique. Chincoteague Island is a great jumping off point for a visit to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on Assateague Island, home to the wild Chincoteague Ponies. From Chincoteague Island you can spend your vacation exploring scenic beaches, hiking, swimming, boating and even go pony riding. If you visit at the end of July you can attend the Annual Pony Swim and Auction.
Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge on Assateague Island is a bird watcher's paradise located in Virginia and Maryland. It was established in 1943 as a refuge for birds (primarily snow geese), but today it is home to many species of birds and wildlife. The Chincoteague Ponies are another resident of the refuge. These ponies live here through an agreement between the refuge and their owners, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company.
There are a few theories as to how the ponies came to Assateague Island, some are pretty fantastic and others are more plausible. Some believe that the Chincoteague Ponies are descendants of survivors from shipwrecks on the shoals and offshore bars along the shore of Assateague Island. Others think that the ponies are descended from a herd that the pirate Black Beard gave to one of his wives who lived on the island. A third idea, which seems the most likely, is that the ponies are descended from ponies brought by Eastern Shore planters in the 17th century.
The ponies that live on the island now are wild. There are two herds on the island. One herd lives on the Maryland side of the island and is owned by the National Park Service, the other herd is the Virginia herd owned by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. The two herds are separated by a fence, which divides the island along the state line.
Every year the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company and Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce host the Annual Fireman's Carnival Pony Swim and Auction. The carnival opens at the beginning of July, the Pony Swim is held on the last Wednesday of July, and the Auction is held on the last Thursday of July. The ponies swim home to Assateague Island on the last Friday of July. The proceeds from the auction sales benefit the ambulance and fire services of the town.
Each year the ponies are herded to Assateague Beach where they swim across Assateague Channel to Chincoteague Memorial Park. You have the opportunity to watch the ponies being herded to Assateague Beach, and you can watch them swim the channel on Wednesday morning. After they swim, they rest for a bit and are then herded to the carnival grounds. Another tradition during these festivities is the giving away of the first colt to swim ashore. This pony is given the title of King or Queen Neptune and you have the opportunity to purchase a ticket to win the colt. The next day the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company auctions some of the young ponies. Throughout these events, the carnival continues with many attractions. On Friday the ponies are herded back to Assateague Channel where they swim home to the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
Chincoteague Island is a beautiful resort spot. In addition to being close to the wildlife refuge, the island has many of its own charms. You can spend your vacation on Chincoteague Island camping or you can find a nice vacation rental. If you would like a break from exploring the beaches, marshes and forests of the wildlife refuge, visit the local shops on Chincoteague Island. Scenic Chincoteague has many opportunities to hike, bike, boat, or go crabbing or claming. The town also offers pony rides on real Chincoteague Ponies.
Next year, plan a trip to Chincoteague Island and the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. Visit at the end of July, so you can experience all of the fun and history of the traditions that celebrate the Chincoteague Ponies. You will have a fun and adventure-filled vacation, learning about the natural wonders to be found at the refuge and admiring one of America's treasures, the Chincoteague Wild Ponies.