By Zackrey Hoverson
Hands flying up, the auctioneer talking so fast it sounds like gibberish and little foals whinnying, trying to escape their wranglers. These are some of the things that stay in your memory after attending the Chincoteague Pony Auction.
The purpose of the auction is to raise money for the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department, and to maintain the size of the herd that lives year-round on nearby Assateague Island. A grazing permit issued by the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge allows about 150 adult ponies to stay there.
On Thursday, July 29, 2011, 69 foals were auctioned off , bringing in $99,500 for the fire company.
The annual auction begins at 8 a.m. But by 6 a.m., almost and nearly all the good spots are reserved with fold out chairs, many put out the night before. Even the bleachers have towels and names taped on them reserving seats for prospective bidders and visitors. With each passing minute the auction ring and surrounding area come to life.
While the soft drink vendors are setting up behind the seats, and various officials begin arriving, the Salt Water Cowboys and volunteers are beginning their work. The foals to be auctioned off to new owners have to be separated from their mothers. The cowboys are old hands at this operation. To the rear of the auction ring is a row of pens with a long runway in front. The ponies are herded into the runway and when a foal comes along a gate is opened. The mother usually runs on ahead while her foal is shooed into the open gate. This process is repeated until all the foals are separated from the mares who are then let out into the big corral where they and all the other ponies have spent the night.
Bidders who have not gotten their eye on the pony they want are allowed up close enough to see the little ones as they come by.
The actual auction is run with a simple routine that can often have hilarious moments of foals trying to be independent. Inside the fenced in auction ring the foals are held onto by wranglers who try to move the little ones around the ring so bidders can get a good look. The wranglers are cowboys and volunteer fire company members, some middle school age sons of fire officials.
As the foals are moved around, four spotters stand at different posts around the ring, anxiously looking for any wave of a hand that could indicate a bid. The amount of each bid is passed on to the auctioneer, on a high up platform in the middle of the ring who goes on n his cadence, trying to get a higher bid.
During the serious business of bidding the audience is kept in a lively state by the protesting foals who try to escape their handlers. One foal just laid down and came up with a wranger's leg across her back, and needed extra help to get her around the ring.
Early in the auction several buy back ponies came up for sale. A buy back is a pony that can be purchased and named but is released back into the herd to maintain a healthy herd size. Each year the fire company designates a charity to get the proceeds from a buy back. This year it was the Ronald McDonald House.
The highest bid was $6,700 for a buy back. This foal was purchased by a group known as the Buy Back Babes. The reasoning for spending so much on this particular buy back was explained by the BBB spokesperson, Jean Bonde. She said, “The foal is the fourth generation of the lineage that the BBB's had bought throughout the years.” The purchased foal was named Splash of Freckles after its mother, Freckles, a pony the buy backs purchased back in 2006. This isn't the first time that the BBB's made the highest bid at the pony auction. Back in 2007, the BBB's set the all time record by purchasing Prince, a stallion for $17,500.
Another recurring group at the auction is the Feather Fund. The Feather Fund is a non-profit organization that assists a few children chosen by the Feather Fund board in purchasing a pony. This year 15 year old Lindsay Gieson of Johnstown, Pa. bought a pony with the aid of the Feather Fund for $2,000. Several others also purchased ponies with help from the Feather Fund.
Every foal is sold at the auction. But those deemed too young to leave their moms by their veterinarian, Dr. Charlie Cameron, will remain at the carnival grounds with their moms until the spring roundup.
Zackrey Hoverson, a senior at Nandua High School, has been a staff writer and photographer for Wild Pony Tales for five years.