CHINCOTEAGUE, Va. (AP) — The famed ponies of Chincoteague and Assateague made their annual swim Wednesday, but they had to brave some bad weather.
Thousands of visitors watched as about 130 ponies crossed the channel from Assateague Island to Chincoteague beneath the downpour of a sudden thunderstorm. Local news media reported that the storm, combined with a full moon and a high tide, made the swim especially challenging.
“We had no idea whatsoever about this storm,” Denise Bowden, vice president of the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department, told The Washington Post. “It just seemed like it came out of nowhere,” she added.
Delmarvanow.com reported that blinding rain, loud thunder and bolts of lightning prompted the swim organizers to ask spectators to lower their umbrellas and climb down from trees.
The ponies’ five-minute crossing of the Assateague Channel began around about 11:30 a.m. as they were herded toward Chincoteague Island by the Saltwater Cowboys, many of whom are local firefighters.
The swim is timed to take place between high and low tides. This year, Saltwater Cowboy Tom Clements said, the ponies faced a very high tide.
“This is as high as I’ve ever seen,” said Clements, who has been guiding the ponies through their swim since the 1970s.
The annual crossing was made famous by Marguerite Henry’s 1947 novel “Misty of Chincoteague.” Each year the wild ponies are auctioned to raise money for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which cares for the Virginia herd.
Ponies that are not sold and those that are donated back to the fire department will roam free for another year on the national wildlife refuge on Assateague.
(Copyright 2013 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)