Photo: Eastern Shore of Virginia Tourism Commission

Chincoteague Pony Swim Canceled for 1st Time in 78 Years

The world-famous pony swim that happens every July in Chincoteague, Virginia is officially canceled. It would have been the event’s 95th anniversary.

The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company’s president, Alex Tucker, announced Monday that its Board of Directors voted to cancel the 2020 celebration scheduled to start July 2, “after carefully analyzing the three Phases as set forth by Governor Northam for opening Virginia” amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Fireman’s Carnival & Pony Penning dates back to the 1920s, and the island tradition of penning wild ponies originated with livestock owners rounding up loose herds in the 1700s, according to the Chincoteague Chamber of Commerce.

“Please understand that this was not an easy decision to make, with the last pony penning being cancelled over 78 years ago during the second World War,” Tucker writes.

In lieu of the traditional pony auction and carnival to raise funds for the Volunteer Fire Company, the foals of the pony herd will be sold by way of online auction, at a date yet to be determined. Tucker says the event’s longtime auctioneer, Tim Jennings, will conduct the auction.

Since Monday’s announcement, the fire company has seen an outpouring of offers to donate. The fire company says the carnival and auction’s proceeds pay for its life-saving equipment. Anyone interested in donating can go to and click on the “donate” tab or send a check to PO BOX 691
Chincoteague Island, VA 23336.

The fire company urges pony swim fans to watch its Facebook page and website for updates on the online auction.

“We know how much this community loves this fire company and supports our carnival,” Tucker writes, “but with the restrictions put into the phases to prevent the spread of the corona virus, it was the only logical decision to make.”

-Meg Walburn Viviano