Getting Up Early with the Ponies


By Cyndel Brunell

Clop, clop, clop. The constant beat of a horse going through your mind while you wait anxiously for the ponies to come in. You look around for any little head or moving color that will tell you the northern herd of the Chincoteague ponies is headed for the corral. You over hear a radio they're a mile out and you look down a long road. The action is coming your way. It is the spring roundup of the famous Chincoteague ponies.

The day started early for us. I got up with my nanny's cats jumping on my bed. They are friendly but annoying. Then my Mom came and picked my brother, sister and me up and I went to the parking lot at Bullfeathers to wait for Mr. Boswell to get there. This is our regular meeting place when we are headed over to Assateague to gather material for our website, www.wildponytales.com. Mr. Boswell is my journalism teacher at Nandua Middle. For those viewers not from this area, we live on the mainland, about 20 miles south of Chincoteague.

After Mr. Boswell showed up we left to pick up Lizzy. This is Elizabeth Fread, a 9th grader at Nandua High who is our editor in chief. With Lizzy in the car on this very early Saturday we headed up to Royal Farms to get coffee and some breakfast to wake us up.

On the way to Assateague we talked about the day and how it would unfold. We started to check out our cell phones, cameras, cleared memory cards and made sure we had all our batteries and extra compact flash cards with us. We had a five mile walk coming up, out to the northern, most distant corral the ponies would be driven into. The smaller, southern herd of ponies had been brought into the holding pen on Beach Road Friday evening. But the northern herd is much more secluded, kept away from the public, far into the wilderness. No cars, bikes or scooters are allowed, except official Chincoteague Fire Company vehicles or pickups pulling horse trailers for the cowboys who ride in the roundup. These ponies can be seen by taking the tour bus from the information center and from boats that cruse Assateague shores, but there is no other way. Most of the million-plus yearly visitors to Assateague don't even know these ponies exist until they make the swim during Pony Penning.

We had packed for the walk - bottles of water, extra warm clothing, snacks, and rain gear. The only thing we did not need to take on this cool Saturday was bug spray. In the heat of the summer to come, the mosquitoes, flies and ticks are quite plentiful.

We made sure we had not forgotten anything, got out and started the long walk. We were easily distracted by the littlest chirp and hoot. Right when we were about to enter the gate at the corral we saw a deer we had thought to be a fawn at the time, but it turned out to be a Sika elk so we got pictures of that.

On our way we saw a Delmarva fox squirrel, on the endangered list, one of the island's inhabitants that the Fish and Wildlife Service is trying to bring back in bigger numbers. We saw birds and more deer.

I was tiring out and so was Lizzy. When we saw those trucks and trailers around the bend we got so excited we walked a little faster. We ran to the first truck and trailer. We looked at each one, guessing how many ponies each would hold. When we got to the cow tracks, or road grate that keeps the ponies from crossing, we greeted some of the Buyback Babes, a group of ladies from all over who put their money together to buy a pony each year at the auction that is put back into the herd. This group is the subject of an upcoming story for wildponytales. Next we sat down and ate some snacks.

Then we were told by an official that everyone would need to be behind the fence. That was not a rule last time but we still got great pictures and it was so amazing watching the ponies and cowboys come in. The foals ranged from what looked to be newborn to older ones, born since the July auction.

There was one stallion that was so pretty but he had an attitude problem. He was going up to other stallions and biting and kicking and looking as if he owned the place. The stallions are used to having their "bands" of mares all to themselves in the wild of the island, but once in the corral it is a different matter. The bands become mixed together and the stallions don't like it a bit. Once in the corral, the ponies got hay to eat and waited for their vet to arrive.

This is my first time at a roundup. I am a horse lover, former horse owner and hopefully a future horse owner. I sketch them, read about them, write about them and dream about them. I can easily understand why the cowboys are so drawn to the work they do. After seeing them up close, I realize they have a much harder job than I thought and the ponies are lucky to have these men on horseback looking out for them. As Mr. Boswell so often tells us, there are a thousand stories to tell about these world famous cowboys who come from all over to ride together over the rough territory that is the Assateague home of the Chincoteague ponies.

It is so exciting to be so close to the ponies that are seen around the world on television, in magazines and newspapers, about which books have been written, with "Misty" being the most famous of all.

It is getting kind of late and the nor'easter is blowing in. I put my rain gear over the equipment so it wouldn't get ruined and we begin to pack up.

All the cowboys are cooling out their horses by walking them around and lots of the trucks and trailers have left. It is drizzling rain, time to head back. After one truck passes us, Mr. Walter Marks, a cowboy for 26 years and the father of one of my classmates, Tyler, offers us a ride. He doesn't have to ask twice and had it not been for him we would have been caught in a down pour.

Soon we were back in Mr. Boswell's car with him insisting we find a restroom and get something to eat. Lizzy and I won this debate though, and got him to take us the southern herd holding pen where Dr. Charlie Cameron is hard at work. One by one, the ponies are run into a chute where he gives them a squirt of worm medicine and takes blood through a needle for testing. The wild ponies do not welcome Dr. Cameron. They rear up, knocking into the wooden stanchion; they kick and try to take a nip out of his assistants who try to settle them down. It is a slow process and by mid afternoon, Dr. Cameron still has the northern herd of 100 plus ponies waiting for him.

We decide to head for the mainland. Back at Mr. Boswell's it is time for more work. Our CF cards are full so we transfer all our photos into laptops and make a backup.

Then it is back on the road to our own homes. We are all tired, but we had an exciting day that I will never forget.

The writer is a 9th grade student who has since moved from Accomack County. She was associate editor of the website, www.wildponytales.info.

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