Chincoteague Ponies & Saltwater Cowboys: The Inspiration Behind the SEABOARD

Origins of the Chincoteague Ponies

For over 90 years on Virginia's Chincoteague Island, the last week in July has been reserved for Pony Penning and Saltwater Cowboys.

While it is still a little murky as to exactly how the wild ponies came to inhabit Assateague Island (which they have done so for hundreds of years), there appears to be evidence which suggests that today's ponies are the descendants of the survivors of a Spanish galleon which wrecked off the coast of Assateague.

During this time, it was very common for ships to be transporting ponies to the Colonies or South America. At the same time, shipwrecks were also a very real hazard of the job, especially given the sandbars found along the coast.   

Add this together and it makes it very likely that ponies originally arrived to Assateague as a result of a shipwreck.

Whether or not this origin story is fiction, the annual festival of the Pony Penning is not.

Pony Penning

Pony Penning first started as a way for livestock owners to claim, brand, break and harness their loose herds. By the 1700's it had become an annual community event, complete with the standard festival celebrations of drinking, eating and plenty of revelry to go around.

Starting first on Assateague Island (the earliest known description of Pony Penning was published in 1835) before also being carried out on Chincoteague Island, the penning tradition continued on both islands for years. By 1885 they were held on Assateague one day and Chincoteague the next.

Being such a spectacle to behold, word about the penning festival spread. Finally, in 1909, official dates were set as the last Wednesday and Thursday of July were designated for the event. 

The Saltwater Cowboys

The Town of Chincoteague was struck by a series of fires that ravaged the town. In the aftermath, the local inhabitants realized that in order to help prevent future disasters, they desperately needed to invest in upgrading their fire fighting equipment. This realization gave birth to the Saltwater Cowboys.

In 1925 the town authorized the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company to hold a carnival during Pony Penning to raise funds. During the event, colts were sold off to help fund the fire company. Furthermore, the carnival turned out to be a huge success.

In fact, the Chincoteague Volunteer Firemen's Carnival was so successful that it became part of the annual tradition. Finally, in 1947, the fire company began to build its own herd by purchasing ponies from local owners. They moved the herd to Assateague where the government allowed publicly owned, not private, herds to graze on the newly established Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.

Today, these "Saltwater Cowboys" herd the horses across the narrowest part of Assateague Channel at low tide. Upon completion of the pony swim, they are given time to rest while also being examined by veterinarians. Once they are well-rested, the ponies are herded through town to a corral at the Carnival Grounds. This is where the annual auction takes place. 

The Pony Auction serves multiple roles. It is still used as a source of revenue for the fire company, but it also serves as a way to reduce the number of ponies in the herd. In order to allow the ponies to graze on the refuge, the herd cannot consist of more than 150 ponies.

SEABOARD Inspiration

 The SEABOARD: Inspired by the Chincoteague Ponies & the Saltwater Cowboys

The SEABOARD: Inspired by the Chincoteague Ponies & the Saltwater Cowboys

The spirit of the Chincoteague ponies is imbued into our SEABOARD design. The detail found in pattern of the heel counter evokes a reminder the wild spirit of the ponies, a wildness that no saddle can tame.

Drawing inspiration from the classic East Coast landscape, the powerful meeting point of land and water, the SEABOARD lives at the intersection of Tradition and Modernity. 

Handcrafted in Italy using the world's most comfortable soles and complete with a cork insole, the SEABOARD in Beachgrass Brown Italian Nubuck is a shoe worthy of the tradition bred into the Chincoteague ponies

Rory