By Robert Boswell
Publisher, Wild Pony Tales
Part of the job of running the Chincoteague Pony Rescue calls for detective work.
When she finishes feeding, watering, checking for any sign of sickness and giving medical care to those ponies who arrive in poor condition, Debbie Ober sits at her computer and goes searching for anything she can find on the Rescues in her pastures.
She is up to 10 rescued Chincoteague ponies now. Five were bought at the famous auction held each July, two of them this past Pony Penning, an event that draws thousands to Chincoteague Island each summer. Another Rescue pony is coming in next week. Debbie has 11 ponies of her own.
Debbie and husband, Tom, had rescued other breeds over the years, but decided to focus on Chincoteagues in 2000. By 2008 they had made the move to only Chincoteagues. Since the publication in November of the Wild Pony Tales story in the Eastern Shore News, Chincoteague Beacon, Horse Force Monthly, the Caroline Review and elsewhere the Ober farm in Ridgely, Maryland has become a beehive of activity.
A website, www.chincoteagueponyrescue.org is now up and running. There is constant posting to the Rescue Facebook page which is up to 445 Friends. With overlap Debbie's personal page has 1,300 Friends. Paperwork had to be complete for filing both Maryland non-profit status as well as the federal non-profit application. There are frequent trips for feed, hay, bedding and medical supplies.
Usually a rescued pony coming to the Obers or leaving for adoption means hooking up their trailer and providing transportation, sometimes far away.
And then there is the constant vigil for donations. "We have received donations from many pony friends, family members and the Buy Back Babes," said Debbie. "We also received a donation from the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company in early December. We are running a hay drive as we speak to earn funds for continued hay for the rescue ponies" Debbie adds, "Again, any help would be appreciated and welcomed."
It takes approximately $1,500 per year per pony for feed and hay including veterinary care (vaccines and worming), farrier, etc. "So right now, it takes about $30,000 per year for 21 ponies, which is our current number, including our older retirement ponies, rehabs and ponies ready for adoption," said Debbie. Inquiries about donations or adoptions can be made by going to the Rescue website or by emailing Debbie at email@example.com. Her cell is 410-829-3026 and messages may be left on her Facebook page. The mailing address is P.O. Box 125, Ridgely, MD 21660.
Fees for adoption usually run $600 to $800, depending on the cost incurred to acquire the pony and to pay for health issues. "We don’t add any additional charge for feed, hay or months of care, which is usually required," said Debbie. It can require a great effort to make sure any pony adopted out is in fact a Chincoteague pony.
"It is important to verify the lineage of each rescue for several reasons," said Debbie. "First, to make sure it is an island-bred pony. Secondly, some of the pony people are looking for certain bloodlines and will be more apt to adopt if we know who the sire and dam is."
So the detective work begins.
"If the pony comes with registration papers or purchase receipt from the auction, I don't have much time invested at all," said Debbie. "I have several ways of tracking ponies without the documentation, I have several websites with pony information that I look at. Also, I refer to my personal photo's taken since 1998 or post the pony's photo on Facebook so that other pony peeps or BBB's can check their records. This way takes hours and sometimes days to research."
Debbie and Tom said they have no access to fire company records. We were told that the records were lost or misplaced several years ago. That is all I can get on that. The Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company owns the herds that live on Assateague Island and cares for them year round, including a medical check at each of three roundups. the spring roundup this year is scheduled for April 13 and 14.
"I understand that some of the buyers have received a "certificate of authenticity" stating that they own a real Chincoteague Pony, but there is not a listing of the sire, dam, etc. like the papers received in past years. I personally have sent in registrations only to have my envelope returned."
Debbie continues, "I was told that the CVFC is working on rectifying this. I now have 14 sets of registration papers to send in, but have decided to hand carry them. Breeders want registered ponies with papers," Debbie said. "They can go to any auction and buy a"grade" pinto pony for $50, so why pay up to $2,500 to buy a"pure island pony."
Two of the four ponies saved from the "kill" barn in Pennsylvania, Ginger and Captain, have been nursed back to good health and have been adopted into new homes. Ginger found a forever home in Virginia. She will be used as an ambassador for the breed and shown at the Pony Centre on Chincoteague. Ginger has started her under saddle training so that she will be ready to ride this summer.
Captain found his forever home in Virginia, soon to move to N.C. His adoptive family is retiring and building a new house, barn and pasture for Captain and his "little sister" Sunny Dee, a 2011 Filly purchased at the auction on Chincoteague. He is doing great and loves all of the attention from his new family.
All of the Ober's detective work is for verification. She has a network set up to watch out for Chincoteague's in trouble. "I am still checking weekly on several websites for rescue ponies, said Debbie. " The brokers post weekly and I have a few Facebook friends that will send me notes if they see a pony on their local Craigslist or in their papers. One of the brokers is now sending me direct messages if they get a Chincoteague Pony in their barn, which means the word about our rescue is getting out there. Occasionally I have friends attend the local auctions and they will call me if a pony goes through and is unsold.
The Obers stress they do not want to be a dumping ground for people who no longer want their ponies. "We want to rescue those Chincoteague Ponies in neglected, abusive and auction situations, get them to safety and then into forever homes," said Tom.
Here is the rundown on rescued ponies are ready for adoption.
Sevanna - 2005 Sun Bleached Black Mare – Her grandsires were General Lee and Hurricane, both now deceased. Bought from kill buyers in early December 2011. She also had strangles and had 30 days quarantine. She is sound but has multiple old scars on her legs due to wire cuts. Also has scaring on her back due to harness chaffing (poor fitting equipment or too long in harness).
Allie- 2011 Bay Pinto Filly – By Miracle Man - purchased at the 2011 Pony Penning auction – Owner relinquished due to expense of monthly board.
Breeze - 2008 Buckskin mare - Sick on arrival when she was 5 months old - severe parasite infestation. Healthy after 6 months of veterinary care. She is a purebred Chincoteague, one generation off island. Breeze is available for adoption.
Dancer- 2010 Chestnut Mare by Cezanne - Privately purchased in 2011 - Owner relinquished due to moving. She had 7 horses and could only take two.
Sandman - Sandman's mother was a "free" pony, already bred with Sandman. We took her knowing she was in foal and wanted them both to have a good home until we could get them adopted. Sandman is a Chestnut colt by Cezanne, born here on the farm in April 2011 and is available for adoption
Clipper - a small bay gelding, one of the three original rescued from the "kill" barn in Pennsylvania in September. Clipper arrived at the Ober farm
with no hair from under his jaw to his chin with pus oozing from a dozen sores. He was unable to stand but is in good health now. Clipper is a registered Chincoteague pony, bought at the July 2001 wild pony auction. His sire is Gunner Moon, a well known Island stallion.
Blair - a pony that Debbie took because she was already bred. She is a 2007 Chestnut mare. She is in the adoption program. She is a companion pony only (no riding) due to a leg injury before she came to the farm. She stumbles occasionally on the left hind leg due to the injury.
Some rescued ponies are considered in their forever home on the Ober farm.
One is Moon Shine, a 2011 Bay Pinto Colt sired by the stallion Wild Bill, purchased at the 2011 Pony Penning auction. The owner relinquished and donated the foal to the rescue due to health problems and a move out of state. "The owner asked us to use him to teach others, especially children, about caring for the ponies so that they don't end up in an abuse or auction situation. He is not available for adoption."
Another is Tornado, one of the Island most famous stallions. "A buckskin pinto stallion born in 1988, he was king of his band for two decades," said Debbie. "Though he inhabited the same island and roamed the sandy beaches of Assateague made famous by "Misty of Chincoteague," Tornado become a legend of his own. "He has sired many foals over the years and is one of the most photographed stallions on the island," said Debbie. He was removed from the herd after being injured.
Tornado is the sire of Prince, bought by the Buyback Babes in 2007 for $17,500, the most ever paid for a Chincoteague pony.