America’s famous swimming ponies make their annual trek across ocean channel

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CHINCOTEAGUE, VA - JULY 29:  Wild ponies are herded into the Assateague Channel during the annual pony swim event from Assateague Island to Chincoteague on July 29, 2015 in Chincoteague, Virginia. Wild ponies were rounded up on the national wildlife refuge and herded across the channel to be auctioned off by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company during the 90th annual event. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Wild ponies are herded into the Assateague Channel during the annual pony swim event from Assateague Island to Chincoteague on July 29, 2015 in Chincoteague, Virginia. Wild ponies were rounded up on the national wildlife refuge and herded across the channel to be auctioned off by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company during the 90th annual event. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Thousands of spectators gathered today to watch the annual pony swim, now in its 90th year, from Assateague Island to Chincoteague Island on Virginia’s eastern shore.

The ponies are descendants of ancestors that came to Assateague more than 300 years ago and live on Assateague Island, according to the National Park Service. Each July, a volunteer group called the “Saltwater Cowboys” shepherds the ponies to Chincoteague Island for an auction to benefit the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, which cares for the herd year-round. The auction is set for tomorrow. On Friday, the rest of the herd will return to Assateague.

Marguerite Henry’s 1947 novel “Misty of Chincoteague” celebrated the rite. It also has a practical purpose: to limit the pony population on Assateague, which is limited to 150, according to a National Park Service rule.

See more images from the pony swim below.

CHINCOTEAGUE, VA - JULY 29:  Wild ponies come ashore from the Assateague Channel during the annual pony swim event from Assateague Island to Chincoteague on July 29, 2015 in Chincoteague, Virginia. After crossing from the national wildlife refuge, some are auctioned off by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company during the 90th annual event.  Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Wild ponies come ashore from the Assateague Channel during the annual pony swim event from Assateague Island to Chincoteague. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

CHINCOTEAGUE, VA - JULY 29:  Spectators pet wild ponies after they swam across Assateague Channel during the annual pony swim event from Assateague Island to Chincoteague on July 29, 2015 in Chincoteague, Virginia. After crossing from the national wildlife refuge, some ponies are auctioned off by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company during the 90th annual event. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Spectators pet wild ponies after they swam across Assateague Channel. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

CHINCOTEAGUE, VA - JULY 29:  Seven-year-old Carlin Makibbin of Ocean City, Maryland, kisses a wild pony after ponies swam across the Assateague Channel during the annual pony swim event from Assateague Island to Chincoteague on July 29, 2015 in Chincoteague, Virginia. After crossing from the national wildlife refuge, some ponies are auctioned off by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company during the 90th annual event. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

Seven-year-old Carlin Makibbin of Ocean City, Maryland, kisses a wild pony after ponies swam across the Assateague Channel. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

CHINCOTEAGUE, VA - JULY 29:  Wild ponies are herded toward the carnival grounds after they swam across Assateague Channel during the annual pony swim event from Assateague Island to Chincoteague on July 29, 2015 in Chincoteague, Virginia. After crossing from the national wildlife refuge, some are auctioned off by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company during the 90th annual event.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Wild ponies are herded toward the carnival grounds, where they will be auctioned on Thursday. after they swam across Assateague Channel. Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images

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