celebrates 90 years
First there was Misty of Chincoteague, then there was Surfer Dude. And through it all, there was thenChincoteague Pony Swim: equal parts cultural celebration and functioning auction.
For the citizens of Chincoteague, the swim is part of a week of events honoring the island’s culture and heritage, and the ponies themselves. This year marks the swim’s 90th year, a milestone that comes as no surprise to organizers, who expect it will continue for years in the future.
“The swim, these ponies, they’re in our blood. It’s all we’ve known,” said Denise Bowden, who has organized the week’s events for 26 years in her position with Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. “The whole town is based on the ponies, really. The swim is something we’ve always had and always want to continue to have.”
The week’s schedule of events — which runs from July 25 through July 31 — includes the herd roundups, A fireman’s carnival takes place each night during the week.
Bowden said nothing specific is planned to honor the 90th anniversary. The real highlight of the auction, she said, is that this year’s ponies are the last generation sired by Surfer Dude, the prolific stud who died this spring.
Surfer Dude, a 23-year-old stallion, had amassed a following of loving fans who admired his appearance and gentle personality. With his long blond mane, beautiful blue eyes and attractive markings, he was the “manly man out on the beach,” Bowden said, and “everyone just took to him.”
“It becomes part of your family and heritage to be a ‘saltwater cowboy’ or ride in the round-up. People come back every year to participate, it’s a big family here on the island,” she said.
And that love of the ponies is not contained to the island’s residents, Bowden said, but stretches across the country and the world.
“These ponies are national treasures,” Bowden said. “Even though they are owned by the fire company, so many thousands of people out there love them, want the best care for them and follow them.”