Chincoteague’s pony swim canceled for second time due to coronavirus

Citing too much uncertainty and lack of time to prepare, officials cancel the swim and carnival, but announce the auction of foals will be done online

The famous Chincoteague pony swim has been canceled for the second time because of coronavirus.

The annual event, called “Pony Penning,” is a way to control the population of horses who live on Assateague Island, a 37-mile long barrier island located off the  Delmarva Peninsula. The northern two-thirds of the island is in Maryland while the southern third is in Virginia.

Each July, feral ponies are rounded up and swim from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island.

The herd belongs to the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department. Each year the group, assisted by experienced volunteers called Saltwater Cowboys, round up the ponies and drive them across the channel to Chincoteague Island. The ponies swim across the channel during “slack tide” when there are no strong currents. 

Once on Chincoteague, the ponies are kept in pens on carnival grounds and select foals are auctioned off as a fundraiser for the fire department. The swim and auction are highlights of a days-long community celebration that regularly attracts between 40,000 and 50,000 visitors. After the auction, the remainder of the herd is driven back across the channel to Assateague. 

Pony penning began in 1924 and was made famous by Marguerite Henry’s “Misty of Chincoteague.” It has only been canceled three other times—in 1942 and 1943 because of World War II, and in 2020 because of COVID-19. 

In announcing this year’s cancellation, the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department posted the following message on their Facebook page:

After much deliberation the fire company regrets to announce the cancellation of the 2021 carnival/pony penning activities. By now we would already be more than half way through the planning phases and preparing for upcoming events.

Given the current orders from the Governor of Virginia we would not be able to have these events and not knowing when or if restrictions would be lifted in time to open.

It takes much time and many man hours to prepare for carnival, not to mention the amount of money it takes to get open not knowing if we would be under the same restrictions. Bottom line, too many unknowns to take a chance.

We will be doing the pony auction like last year, online. We will be selling shirts like last year, online.

…This has been a rough year for everyone. So many people have suffered unimaginable losses but I’m so confident that we all will bounce back in 2022 and that it will be the best year ever!!!

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