Pony Penning took place in mid- to late summer, after the mares had foaled. The folks on Chincoteague boated or barged over the channel, and joined the villagers on Assateague in rounding up the livestock. The women cooked and baked all day; children first helped the ladies, and then went and played; the men went out on horseback, and on foot, and brought in all the horses and ponies they could find.
In the earliest years, branding wasn't done - the owner sliced, or nocked, his animal's ears in a specific pattern. If a foal was with a specific mare, they marked the foal the same as the mare. Each year, though, there were a few animals that had been missed previously. It was decided to tally up who owned the most horses and on down the line of numerical ownership. Those with the most horses got one more - and the rich became richer... But that was the equitable agreement amongst the islanders - and some could not afford a horse, nor did they wish to have one.
In the mid-1880s, with a new group of visitors to Chincoteague - those folks visiting for the salt air, fishing, and hunting - it was decided to add some more excitement to Pony Penning. It had been noted for years that the ponies entered both the Channel and the ocean to escape flies, and that they occasionally swam between the islands. And so, the Pony Swim began, across the narrowest part of the Assateague Channel between the two islands.
People came to see the sight; and a one day affair turned into a two day affair; then a three day affair. Now it's Pony Penning Week. This year, it officially began at 4 p.m. yesterday, when the Saltwater Cowboys began rounding up the four herds that run on the southern compartment of Assateague. Today, the northern herds will be rounded up. Monday, the dawn beach walk will take place. Tuesday all ponies will have their veterinarian check-up. Wednesday is the swim across the channel at slack tide. Thursday is the auction of foals. Friday is the swim back to Assateague at slack tide... It's a very busy time for every member of the Volunteer Fire Company, their families, and for anyone who lives on Chincoteague.
These are a few photos from yesterday's gathering of the southern herds.