The Wild Ponies of Assateague:
A Tale of Two
by Louisa Amirault
...Continued from Page
then that my husband put down the child carrier (yes, he did this long day
with a 27 pound child on his back) and ran off to find an ATM. Here is
some IMPORTANT ADVICE: Bring Cash! A good number of places on
Chincoteague, including the carnival, do not take credit or debit cards.
To get food or water at the carnival, you need cash. ATM’s are sparce on the island, and they aren’t always in service,
as my husband discovered. Oh well, no water for us.
it back just in time to see the ponies come cantering in. The
Saltwater Cowboys were yelling and hooting, as they cracked their whips.
They herded the excited equines into the pens and were swallowed by the crowd.
Everyone wanted photos with the cowboys. Even my baby was acting
star struck, trying to reach out of her backpack and touch them.
I let the family sleep in
on Thursday morning, because Wednesday was so exhausting. The
auction was starting at 8 am, so I didn’t waste time with food or a
shower. I quietly whispered to my husband that I was going to rent a bike
and go down to the auction by myself. However, at 6:45 am, the rental shop
was not yet open. I headed down the road on foot, figuring that I’d try
the next bike rental place. Well, that wasn’t open either. Alrighty
then, I’ll just walk. I have legs. I pulled out a little crumpled map
from my pocketbook and tried to find my way.
a few minutes late, due to a wrong turn. Here is another IMPORTANT TIP:
Try to reserve special seating if you want to see the auction. I couldn’t
see a thing! Luckily, I had a video camera with a screen, and was able to
get a “periscope view”. I held my camera over my head and angled the
screen down. As I looked around, I saw other people doing the same
the foals auctioned off were about 3-4 months old, but some were as young
as a month. The young foals, though able to be auctioned, had to
remain with their dams until fall. I didn’t realize they had
fall pick-ups…this was tempting. No, no more horses. My
husband would kill me. I want that palomino filly! She is
perfect! I’ll bet she goes for at least 2K. Nope, she went for
were selling for about $1300 each. Some of the plain foals went for
as little as $850,
while the black and white paints were going for about $3,000. However,
once you factor in the selling prices of the buy-back foals, the average
sale was $2,431.
buy-back foal is a foal that the Chincoteague Volunteer Firemen's
Association has hand-picked to go back to Assateague to populate the
herd. Anyone who bids on a buy-back foal, does so with the understanding
that the foal will be returned to the island where it will stay for the
rest of its life. A buy-back foal can never be auctioned off.
The foal will remain the property of the Chincoteague Volunteer
Firefighters, and the bid is basically a donation. Most years, the
buy-backs are fillies. This year, the herd needed stallions.
2001, a group of women from around the country, called the Buy-Back Babes,
have been putting their money together to bid on these buy-back foals.
Keeping the heard strong is their mission. This is the first year that
they were able to bid on stallions, which was exciting for them. The
Buy-Back Babes made history at this auction, when they purchased a young
stallion for $17,500! The crowd was in awe. Until now, the most ever
paid for a Chincoteague Pony was $10,000, back in 2001.
from Washington, who was actively bidding against the Buy-Back Babes, also
surpassed the 2001 record when she bought a foal for $11,200. It was the
last buy-back of the day. Allowing a foal to remain on Assateague for
life is very important to buy-back bidders, and they enjoy being able to
take part in the island’s history.
Seventy-one foals were auctioned off this year, totaling $177,250 for the
fire company. Even though there were fewer sales this year, nearly
$10,000 more was generated from the auction.
Not wanting to walk an hour back to the hotel, I called my husband to come
pick me up. I needed blueberry pancakes, and I needed them bad. We had
some breakfast and did some shopping on Main Street. We needed to get
souvenirs for our parents before leaving the next day.
Street has a nice statue of Misty, the famous pony from the book, Misty of
Chincoteague. I wanted my daughter to sit for a picture in front of the
Misty statue, but she was distracted by someone in a large, purple horse
costume. His name was Walter, The Purple Pony, and he was doing a book
signing at the nearby library. A man (the author?) was reading
Walter's book out loud to
the children. We had to join in. They gave us free copies of his book
and an autograph too. My husband suggested that we cross the street to
visit the t-shirt shop Walter hailed from, The Purple Pony. The Purple
Pony did their own printing, and the shirts were much softer than the
standard merchandise that we found at all the other gift shops. My little
one reached into a bin of purple stuffed ponies and started hugging her
selection. Two shirts for myself: $29.98. One stuffed Walter: $14.95. A
happy child on vacation: priceless!
swim and hot-tub soak back at the Refuge Inn, we talked about adding another night onto our
stay. I didn’t think it was a good idea, because I was getting more
attached to the island each day. I knew I had
to make myself stick to the original plan before leaving was even harder.
morning, we checked out and headed back to the fairgrounds to say goodbye to the ponies
that were left in the heard. Someone told us that we had just missed a
bunch of ponies swimming home to Assateague. However, all the buy-back and fall pick-up foals were
still at the fairgrounds with their dams. Before my eyes, they were all released into the
empty paddock in front of me. If you’ve ever seen a foal kicking up his
or her heels and jumping all over his dam, you know how much fun it is to
watch. Now, picture about 20 foals all running around and jumping on each other. That was so much fun!
first time, I could see them clearly without having to stand on my toes or
reach my camera over my head. A few were noticeably clean from their
Wednesday swim. Most were still nursing, so they didn’t have the big
bloated bellies that the rest of the herd had from eating the salty marsh
grass. They were beautiful. There was a very spirited paint with two
blue eyes with undying energy. He had a bandage on his ankle from an
injury he sustained during the swim. Clearly it wasn't an issue for
him. Another that caught my eye was a quiet bay paint with the
marking of a horse head on his shoulder…it looked like a self portrait.
the island was depressing. “Just follow the Trip-Tik,” I told my
husband. It didn’t matter where we stopped on the way back. I wasn’t
looking forward to going home at all. It wasn’t until I saw a sign for
Sonic in Delaware, that I perked up. Wow, they really do exist! My
Chocolate Cream Pie Shake and my husband’s Cookie Dough Blast lived up to
our expectations. That Sonic better still be there next year, because we
are coming back to Chincoteague and Assateague!
and Assateague Links if you are planning to visit:
of Commerce (chincoteague.net)
Island National Seashore
Assateague State Park
The Town of
The Refuge Inn