By Kate White and Windy Mason
By 8 a.m. nearly all the chairs had been filled, along with all available bleacher seats. Hundreds of visitors from across the U.S. had settled in for the start of the 85th annual Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company’s Wild Pony Auction.
On this July 29, the auction, held at the Chincoteague Carnival grounds, would continue past noon and bring in $77,225.
During the evening hours after the widely attended swim the day before, people had posted signs and placed chairs under the pavilion to reserve their seating for this event. Some are said to have even camped out in anticipation of the auctioning off this year of 59 Chincoteague Wild Ponies.
Before the actual auction began, foals and colts were separated from their mothers strategically by the Salt Water Cowboys through the opening and closing of gates. A mother would be run all the way through the compound. As the foals followed, they were guided into another holding area through the opening of a gate in the middle of the fenced area. There were plenty of cries from pony mothers and children throughout this process. Some mothers tried to double back for their young only to be stopped by a Cowboy and a gate at the end. Their babies were about to be auctioned off and, in most cases, shipped off to new homes never to see Assateague Island or their mothers again.
While everything was being set up for the auction, people flocked to the corrals to look over their prospects. Others socialized, finding their seats just before the auction began with the sale of a colt for $500.
When unbroken ponies are brought into the auction ring, no ropes or harness is used. The nervous foals pulled and jerked away only to find themselves wrestled and held by volunteer wranglers, most of them sons of the Cowboys and firemen. These ponies are indeed wild and can be pretty feisty. This made for some very interesting moments throughout the morning. At one point, a filly brought its wardens down to the ground. People in the crowd could be heard saying, ‘That one’s too wild. We should wait for another one.’ This little lady sold for $375.
There were four buybacks sold at this year’s auction. Buybacks are ponies that are returned to their home on Assateague Island to continue to live and grow with the herd. The buyers can name their pony and are given a plaque. Buyback ponies are ones designated by pony officials as ones they want to help strengthen the herd.
The proceeds from one buyback were donated to the Hospice of the Eastern Shore by the fire company. This particular buyback pony was bought by Virginia Sappington for her 9 year-old granddaughter, Molly Dailey from Chase, Maryland.
There was some pretty fierce competition in the bidding with the highest sale going at $8,100 for a buyback filly named Paint, a purchase made by Sue Fitzgerald of Washington, D.C. Ms. Fitzgerald has attended the auction for the last five years with her now 14 year-old granddaughter, Megan. The lowest priced ponies, one being the filly mentioned earlier and one colt, went for $375.
The Feather Fund, a non-profit organization whose mission is to assist deserving children with the purchase and attendant costs associated with the buying and care of Chincoteague ponies, bought two ponies this year. Dream Catcher, a beautiful chestnut Tobiano colt with a big white lightning bolt on one shoulder and various other unique markings, was bought for $4,200. Dream Catcher now belongs to an 18-year-old girl, Hannah Pavlas of Snohomish, Washington. This is Ms. Pavlas’ first pony. Thetis, a little blue eyed overo colt sired by the famous Surfer Dude, was bought for $600 for Alexis Dowell of Georgia. When the winning bids were placed on these ponies, there were cheers, jumping around, hugs and tears of joy. These girls’ lifetime dreams have finally come true.
The only Palomino sold for $5,000 and would find its new home in Clinton, Maryland with 13 year-old Angie Mazzulo and family. A 3-month-old black colt marked with white, heart-shaped patches on its shoulder and hindquarters went to Laurie Walton of Chincoteague who had placed the winning bid of $4,200 for her friend, Peggy Jaegly of Centreville, Maryland. This pony is to be used in Ms. Jaegly’s career as a healing therapist.
In between selling ponies, other items were sold including a book written by author Jesse Ann Friend and signed by famous author, Marguerite Henry. Several other books, including the famous ‘Misty,’ written by Marguerite Henry herself were also sold during this year’s auction.
This year’s overall average leveled out to be $1,308 for each pony. The total sale of all 59 ponies brought in $77,225. Last year’s auction brought in $93,900 with the sale of 67 foals. Last year’s highest sale was $11, 700 with the lowest going for $500.
The money earned goes to the fire company who takes care of these ponies all year and is used for new firefighting equipment, maintenance and the needed vaccinations and veterinary care for their herds.