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Ocean City Area Features

Chincoteague Pony Swim

Off the coasts of Maryland and Virginia lies a 37-mile-long natural barrier island. Indians who first discovered this beautiful site called it “Assateague” which means “place across.”

Assateague Island is home to the famous horses that annually swim across the channel to Chincoteague, Virginia—and 2018 marks the 93rd anniversary of their saltwater crossing. For a few days in July, thousands of visitors will line the banks of a narrow channel to watch the annual drama of the pony swim.

As to the origin of the ponies, Marguerite Henry wrote in Misty of Chincoteague of a wrecked Spanish galleon, whereas other theories range from pirates to a wrecked English ship. Many historians, however, contend that the ponies are simply descendants of livestock turned loose on the island by early settlers.

The swim and auction, held each year on the last Wednesday and Thursday in July, are run by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which owns the herd of about 150 horses that live on the Virginia side of Assateague Island. There is also a Maryland herd that is owned by the National Park Service. In addition to the swim and auction, the Fire Company also hosts the Fireman’s Carnival throughout July, offering spectators continued entertainment following the conclusion of the swim.

The swim takes place on Wednesday, anywhere from 7am to 1pm, depending on tides, currents, and the readiness of the ponies. They are rounded up on Assateague by the fire company’s “Saltwater Cowboys” and swim across the narrowest part of the channel between rows of boats.

The swim is timed to coincide with “slack tide,” as crowds line the streets for their first close-up look at the ponies. The first colt to reach Chincoteague is raffled off as King or Queen Neptune on Wednesday; the remaining yearlings are auctioned the following day. On Friday, the other ponies return to Assateague.

If you go to Chincoteague, VA for the pony swim, you could be waiting in your viewing spot for a few hours, so bring plenty of water, snacks, and bug spray. You’ll likely be tromping through marsh mud along the shoreline so wear old, comfortable shoes.
Free parking is available at Chincoteague High School with shuttle buses running continuously. For more information, call the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce at 757-336-6161.

To get to Chincoteague, Virginia from Ocean City, Maryland, take Rte. 50 West, eventually turning left onto US-113 South. Continue south, turning left again onto MD 12 South. (This road becomes State Rte. 679 once you cross into Virginia.) Turn left onto VA-175 East which will take you directly onto Chincoteague Island.

To travel from Ocean City to Assateague Island, take Rte. 50 West over the Harry Kelley Bridge, make a left on Route 611 South, then travel 9 miles to the island. Call the Barrier Island Visitor Center at 410-641-1441.


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