Chincoteague Pony Swim in the 1940s.

The Assateague Channel Pony Swim - Chincoteague Island, Virginia

The last week in July marks the annual pony round up on the island of Chincoteague, Virginia, where thousands of tourists descend upon the small town to witness the volunteer fire department swim the local population of wild ponies across the Assateague Channel.

Every year the department’s “saltwater cowboys” round up the island’s feral equines for a low-tide swim from Assateague to Chincoteague, where the ponies are herded down Main Street and corralled for a later auction. The first foal to make it to shore is crowned King or Queen Neptune and made the prize of the festival’s raffle drawing. The remaining ponies are later auctioned, either for personal ownership or as “buybacks,” in which case the pony will be returned to its island home for another year of feral roaming.

Keep reading for more about this week’s Chincoteague Pony Swim: Saltwater Cowboys and the Feral Descendants of Shipwrecked Ponies on Atlas Obscura…