CHINCOTEAGUE, Va. (USA TODAY) - A herd of about 150 wild ponies spends most days munching wild marsh grasses — and delighting visitors — on the barrier island of Assateague off Virginia's Eastern Shore. But once a year, the ponies take a field trip to neighboring Chincoteague Island in dramatic fashion: They swim there.
On Wednesday, the ponies took part in the 92nd annual Chincoteague Pony Swim, part of a week-long Pony Penning and Carnival. Every year a group known as the “Saltwater Cowboys” rounds up the wild ponies, herds them down the Atlantic beaches and swims them across a small channel to the town of Chincoteague, Va. Along the way, the ponies are checked by veterinarians to be sure they’re strong enough to make the swim. Those that cannot are taken by boat instead.
Once ashore on Chincoteague, the ponies parade through town to the carnival grounds, where the foals are auctioned off to raise money for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department, and to thin the herd enough that their island home can continue to sustain them. Each year, thousands of spectators come from all over the country to watch the swim and bid in the hopes of taking home one of the prized foals.