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The Day Bidding History Was Made

Prince, the record buy-back, runs in the corral after his vet check.
Prince, the record buy-back, runs in the corral after his vet check.

By Wild Pony Tales

Originally posted August 2007

It was a steamy morning on Chincoteague Island, the weatherman calling for a 93 degree day. A big crowd had gathered early this late July 2007 morning , excited about the yearly Chincoteague Pony Auction which would soon begin. Those planning to bid and those coming to watch had gotten there early to claim their seats.

Also getting up early had been members of the Chincoteague Fire Company who had a lot of work to do, setting up the auction site, preparing to keep records of the sales and most importantly, getting the bucking, excited ponies safely into and out of the auction ring.

In the early morning as the bidders got into their seats no one knew auction history would be made this day. As the auction moved along, a pony that many had been waiting for was brought into the ring. He was a white stallion. The bidding began.

Up to $5,000 it went, then on to $10,000 and the crowd grew quiet except for some gasping as the price edged upward. No matter how high the bidding went a higher bid was called out by a group of women sitting to the right of the auctioneer. The women, known as the Buyback-Babes, had their hearts set on this white stallion pony and they were not to be outbid. When they called out their last bid, $17,500, the auctioneer said "sold," and a sales record had been reached. The previous record for a pony at the auction was $10, 500 in 2001.

The three-month-old foal was to be named Prince, and the Buyback Babes had purchased another foal to be returned to the herd.

Anyone who has attended the auction knows of this group of women who try to purchase a pony every year to be released back into the wild. These women are from all across the nation. They pool their money together for one lucky pony. This was Prince's lucky year.

Prince enjoys the warm sun on the southern range of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge. This photo was taken March 29, 2012 by Robert Boswell. His band of mares was grazing nearby.

Dr. Charles Cameron, from Eastern Shore Animal Hospital, the official pony veterinarian, gave Prince and the others a clean bill of health so he could be released back into the wild after the April roundup. Dr. Cameron and his staff have been giving inoculations to the wild ponies of Chincoteague for 18 years. The ponies are treated for the diseases encephalitis, West Nile, rabies, and equine infectious anemia. They are also treated for worms and given a tetanus shot.

Before Dr. Cameron can treat the ponies they have to be rounded up from both the southern and northern ranges. These ponies are on the Virginia side of Assateague, not to be confused with the Maryland ponies.

This year's spring roundup began Friday afternoon (April 18) when the Saltwater Cowboys rounded up the southern herd, riding out on the range and shooing them along into a holding area off Woodland Trail. From there they are moved along to the big corral on Beach Road where they spend the night dining on hay and drinking fresh water from tubs.

Once in the corral, bands of ponies that belong to the stallions get mixed together and this often leads to conflict with the stallions who give off various signals of displeasure, with a little biting and kicking to make their points.

After a busy late afternoon on Friday, the cowboys had to be back on the job at 7 a.m., reporting to the much larger northern range for a full morning of riding.

Dr. Cameron's morning started early too, with breakfast with his medical team and the wildponytales staff at Bill's Restaurant. After breakfast, everyone headed for the corral where the southern heard was waiting. As Dr. Cameron backed his truck in and got set up, ponies were being separated into groups, by fire department officials.

When he was ready, fire officials ran the ponies into a chute, one by one. It was not a quiet scene. The ponies were kicking and whinnying, making an incredible array of noises. The ponies could not move around much once in the chute, giving Dr. Cameron's helpers a chance to pry open their jaws. In a quick action, Dr. Cameron then gives each one a squirt of medication through a long tube connected to a pump, a contraption called a drench.

While all this is going on, seven miles away the northern herd was on their way into their corral, awaiting their own fate with Dr. Cameron. It took a huge effort by the cowboys as they worked to get every pony in the corral. At midday Dr. Cameron arrived and he and his assistants went through the same steps over and over until over 100 ponies had been treated.

But it was Prince that got the most attention, Jean Bonde, a member of the Buy-Backs said. "His Misty coloring made him stand out."

The Buy-Backs knew they wanted to keep a colt when the Pony Association decided to keep males. They settled on Prince. The Buy-Backs only get to see their ponies at the three yearly roundups, but sometimes along Beach Road and from the tour bus run by the Chincoteague Natural History Association.

Prince was not released back into the wild until April 18, 2008. According to Bonde, Prince was kept over the winter at the carnival grounds along with several other foals. The fire department takes care of these foals during the winter months because they need time to grow stronger before released to the owners or back into the wild. Prince has now reached the age of about 15 months old and is living his life on Assateague Island.

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