Marguerite Henry’s book Misty of Chicoteague is based on a real event that takes place annually at the end of July. Just like the children in her book, you too can attend the various events of Chincoteague’s Pony Penning week and even bid on a pony or support a charitable group bid on one.
Once a year the wild pony herd of Assateague Island must be culled to the government regulated 150 head of horse. The herd, which is cared for by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department, is rounded up and the next morning made to swim at slack tide across the channel to Chincoteague where they are penned and left to rest. After herd-need calculations the Department determines which new foals must be auctioned off, and the next day the auction takes place. Foals are not actually separated from their mothers, however, until the point when the stallions begin to push the new ponies out of the herd. So younger foals may be auctioned and remain with the herd until a later date. The money from the auction goes towards funding the volunteer fire department, year round vet care and aid for injured ponies, and a predetermined charitable cause in Chincoteague. On the third day, the ponies are walked back to the water where they are set free to swim back to Assateague until the next roundup.
Books to Read Beforehand:
The Misty series by Marguerite Henry
- Misty of Chincoteague (#1)
- Sea Star: Orphan of Chicoteague (#2)
- Stormy, Misty’s Foal (#3)
- Misty’s Twilight (#4)
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Day 1: Pony Swim
You’ll want to arrive at Veteran’s Memorial Park in the morning hours early to get a spot near the water to watch the pony swim. Another option is renting a boat to watch from the water. Parking nearby may be difficult/expensive, so if you can, walking or biking to the park may be easier. This is the most famous and most crowded event of the week. You’ll be waiting for slack tide, which is when the water in the channel is lowest and the ponies can cross from Assateague to Chinoteague easily. To ensure comfort while you wait, you will want to take water, bug spray, binoculars, and a chair or blanket to sit on.
Spend the afternoon in the downtown. The small movie theater will have daily showings of the Misty of Chincoteague film. Some locally owned ponies will be carted into the downtown so you can visit close up and pet ponies. If you’re lucky you may meet one of Misty’s descendants. All of the souvenir shops sell Penning Week and Misty related mementos.
In the evening attend the carnival at the Chincoteague Fairgrounds. Enjoy games, rides, music, and traditional carnival food as the sun sets.
Day 2: Pony Auction
The auction happens from about 8am-12pm at the Chincoteague Fairgrounds and there’s limited seating, so again you’ll want to get there early. If you’d like to bid on a pony, there are a few different ways you might do this. Ponies can range from $500-$1000+ Anyone can bid on a pony just by raising a hand, however, you must have pre-planned pony transport if you get one. If you’re not ready to commit to raising a pony, but would like to donate towards a bid, the Feather Fund purchases ponies each year for young applicants who have shown a desire to learn life lessons through ownership and care of a pony. Learn more about and donate to the Feather Fund here and see the auction FAQs here.
Spend the afternoon on Assateague Island in the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge (entrance $20). In the park there are hiking trails, a lighthouse, the visitor center, a beach, and bird and horse watching (except when the ponies are in Chincoteague). Take plenty of bug spray, the mosquito population is vicious. You may also want to stop for beach toys or bike rentals along Maddox Boulevard on your way.
Spend the evening back in Chincoteague along Maddox Boulevard. Have dinner at one of the restaurants, play mini golf, and then get dessert at one of the ice cream shops.
Day 3: Pony Release
The return swim is less popular, and therefore a less crowded event. If you’re lucky you may be able to find a closer viewing point on Pony Swim Lane than from the park, but again get there early. This event is worth watching because the ponies are excited to return home.
In the afternoon, visit the Chincoteague Island Museum ($4 entrance) where you can see the taxidermied hides of both Misty and her foal Stormy.
With the ponies back on the Island, the best way to see them is from the water. Reserve an evening boat ride ahead of time and take a guided sunset boat tour around Assateague. Your local guide will point out dolphins, birds, and individual ponies and their names and histories. Before you leave you’ll have an intimate knowledge of the Chincoteague Pony herd and understand the passion locals and visitors alike feel about this special band of horses.
Where To Stay
Miss Molly’s Inn Bed and Breakfast
Miss Molly’s Inn Bed and Breakfast is where Marguerite Henry stayed while writing Misty of Chincoteague. You can even stay in the Marguerite Henry room, though all the rooms are comfortable and cute. There is a screened-in back porch for relaxing as well and the Inn has beach toys and chairs, as well as bikes and trolley tokens available for visitor use.
Chincoteague is small and walkable, however it is just big enough that you may want a set of wheels to get around faster. The Chincoteague Trolley is available to get you between Chincoteague’s downtown and Maddox Boulevard. To visit Assateague beach, you may want a car, bike, or scooter. You can rent bikes and 4 wheelers along Maddox Boulevard.
Have you been to Chincoteague? Do you want to go? Have you seen wild horses anywhere else? Let’s discus in the comments below!
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