In 2023, I booked a trip to Chincoteague Island, Virginia, in order to see the real setting where my favorite childhood horse book, Misty of Chincoteague, took place. My goal was to see the famous pony swim and attend the Pony Penning Auction, where foals are sold to the highest bidder.
If you're like me and you grew up reading Marguerite Henry books, you MUST take a trip to Chincoteague Island because I promise, it will not disappoint!
From a kayak in the channel between Chincoteague and Assateague Islands, I had a front-row seat when the nearly 150 ponies swim from shore to shore. Chestnuts and bays, pintos and palominos all followed the lead of the Saltwater Cowboys, the horseback riders who rounded the north and south herds up and ushered them across Pony Swim Lane. The whole procession of swimming ponies took about two minutes.
The Chincoteague Pony Swim
During the swim, I was taking videos and photographs. I wanted to drink in this event I knew about from my chlldhood reading of Misty of Chincoteague, Sea Star and Stormy, Misty's Foal--the trio of classics by Marguerite Henry. The wild ponies' breath sounded like purrs as they chugged along the tranquil water.
While researching for my book Marguerite, Misty and Me, I learned that when Wesley Dennis and Marguerite Henry were at the pony swim in 1946, gathering ideas for what would become Misty, the two both had cameras, but were so entranced by the magic of water spectacle, neither one snapped a single photo! I think that makes the storyline of Misty all the more impressive. Both Wesley and Marguerite captured the vivid moment in their minds!
When the ponies reach the shore of Chincoteague they are allowed to rest and graze before they are driven by the Saltwater Cowboys down Main Street to the Carnival Grounds.
The Pony Penning Auction
I traveled solo to Chincoteague Island to see Pony Penning, but I was never alone. Other attendees were super friendly, including the pig farmer from Ohio who sat next to me during the auction.
I learned more facts about pigs than I ever would have anticipated such as there is such a thing as a neutered male pig (I said to the man, "There are pig GELDINGS?!?!) He talked about the several different breeds of pigs that exists (I had no clue) and then he said our digestive system is very similar to a pigs (and that's why their dung smells atrocious).
Back to the auction bidding. . . hundreds of fans sat in lawn chairs and bid on the adorable foals. A woman I am now friends with, who I had not yet met bid on a gorgeous chestnut filly and won!
If you want to bid on your own Chincoteague pony, you can bid online or go in person. There are a few local horse trainers who will even start the foals, introducing them to domestic life. They help them adjust to regular hay, learn to accept a halter and lead. So if you want a foal but don't have experience with a feral horse, you can rely on the expertise of those who have the skills.
Pony Swim Back
After the auction, on Friday of Pony Penning Week, I paid for a seat to ride one of Daisey's Island Cruises boats to watch the wild ponies swim back from Chincoteague to Assateague. That was a thrill. The ponies were gleeful to return to their home. The Saltwater Cowboys didn't even need to herd them through the channel—the ponies Misty of Chincoteague made famous knew exactly where to go. When they arrived on Assateague, they cavorted and played and a few dropped to roll in the marsh grass. It was beautiful to behold.
I enjoyed every minute of my trip to Chincoteague and I know you will too. Please reach out if you have any questions, or want recommendations.
If you can't get enough of Misty of Chincoteague and Marguerite Henry, you will love Marguerite, Misty and Me: a Horse Girl's Hunt for the Hidden History of Marguerite Henry and her Chincoteague Pony.
And for more horse lover content, including a ton of blog posts on equestrian travel, visit saddleseekshorse.com.