Though my bucket has never been terribly long, one item that was on it for decades was the Chincoteague Pony Swim.
Point of reference, I live about 3 hours from Chincoteague Island. So, it's not a terribly difficult trip. Yet, each year I’d see the news coverage after the fact, and kick myself for yet again forgetting about it.
That is, until last summer. For once, I wasn’t working and even better, was constantly trying to think of activities to occupy my days. Thankfully it dawned on me—early enough to act on it—that the Pony Swim was imminent! I snagged one of the last available hotel rooms on Chincoteague Island and talked my friend Kandi into a road trip.
Kandi was a true character. She would talk with anyone and everyone as if they were long lost friends. When we checked into our hotel, she sweet talked (in her own sarcastic and crass way) the hotel manager into getting up at 3:30 am to drive us to Pony Swim Lane. When the manager let on that she didn’t know exactly where Pony Swim Lane was, Kandi started in on the hotel maid, a Chincoteague native. And because Kandi was Kandi, they both happily agreed.
The next morning, after a 7-minute laugh-filled drive, they dropped us off and we wandered into the dark, toward the water. Unlike the hoards who came after us, we arrived before the fire department closed off access to the pier at the end of Pony Swim Lane. A good thing, as neither of us had thought to wear appropriate muddy-marsh-trekking footwear.
The pier deposited us on a high spot of land, in the middle of the marsh, about 6 feet behind a wooden slat sand fence. It was full on dark, so we had no idea where we were or if we would be able to see anything from our vantage point. Luckily, the area around us filled in with more experienced onlookers and they explained that the ponies would be held right in front of us, in the marsh just beyond the slatted fence. And they'd be there for about an hour after their swim. We really couldn’t have picked a better spot had we known what we were doing.
For several hours we stood and chatted with our new friends, watching the sun come up as boats, kayaks, and canoes maneuvered into Assateague Channel. When the sun was high enough to start casting a glow on the sea grass in front of us, the saltwater cowboys took their places, and the Coast Guard shot off a red flare signaling the start of slack tide. The ponies were finally headed our way! A short few minutes later, chests heaving from their workout, they all gathered in the marshy area just in front of us. We spent the next hour enthralled as they recovered, regrouped, and dodged several sets of sparring stallions. It was quite the spectacle.
Eventually, the cowboys rounded them all up, herded them down Pony Swim Lane, and they were off on their parade to Main Street. And we were left trying to figure out how to get back across the marsh without losing our shoes. It was over and it wasn’t even 7:30 am.
I’m extra grateful that I managed to get my act together to put a check mark next to this bucket list item. I didn’t know it at the time, but it would be one of the last trips I’d take with Kandi. A gem of an almost last hurrah after 26 years of crazy memories and laughter.
The 2018 pony swim takes place this week, so I'm missing Kandi a little more than usual. If I know her, she’ll be riding astride one of the ponies as they make their way across the channel this week. And this time, she won’t need to charm anyone into giving her a ride.
I’m posting some of my favorite close-up shots from the 2017 pony swim on Instagram this week, so be sure to check out my feed! You’ll find me at @annecorcoranphotography.
Several of my pictures from last year’s Chincoteague Pony Swim are available for sale, along with many of my other favorite shots.