December 17, 2004
COOKSON BEECHER Washington State Staff Writer
Wash. – A pony for Christmas. That’s a wish Santa Claus hears a lot
this time of year. And while some lucky children do wake up on
Christmas Day and discover that their wish has been granted, most
are not so fortunate.
Frederick gives Crackerjack, a 15-year-old Chincoteague
stallion, some attention. Frederick said that when
Crackerjack was born, she immediately noticed his long legs
and knew he’d be perfect for her farm’s breeding program.
One of her goals is to increase the height of the ponies to
their original stature. Crackerjack grew to be 14.2 hands,
and his genetics have helped Frederick achieve her goal.
Even so, many children – and adults – around the world get
to keep an eye on the Chincoteague mares and foals at a pony farm in
Western Washington, thanks to a live camcorder camera placed in the
mare and foal barn that constantly refreshes the scene.
Sometimes, viewers are lucky enough to see a foal being
born. Other times they can watch the ponies being trained, shod and
vet checked, all of which are done in front of the camera. Daily hay
feedings are another favorite.
During the holiday season, a Christmas tree and holiday
treats are set up in the barn for the ponies.
For Gale Park Frederick, owner of the farm, setting up the
live cam in the barn is just part of her personal philosophy in
raising and breeding the world-famous Chincoteague ponies.
“I believe they belong to everyone,” she said. “I love
knowing that people in so many different kinds of places can watch
them – even people in apartments in New York City.”
PonyCam, the first program of its kind, has proven to be
extremely popular. Accessible at www.pony-chincoteague.org, it gets
4.2 billion hits every two months from people in nine different
Chincoteague ponies first captured people’s hearts in 1947
when Marguerite Henry wrote “Misty of Chincoteague,” a children’s
classic. She followed that book with others, among them “Stormy,
Misty’s Foal,” and “Sea Star.”
In 1951, the Disney movie “Misty” brought the award-winning
story to the screen. Even today, Henry’s books and the Disney film
are favorites among horse lovers, young and old alike.
According to legend, the hardy ponies that live on the
islands of Chincoteague and Assateague, off the coast of Virginia
and Maryland, are descended from 17 ponies that swam ashore from a
Spanish galleon after it capsized off the coast in the 1600s.
The ponies, headed to Panama for the viceroy of Peru, were
going to be used in the gold mines.
Once onshore after the shipwreck, the ponies managed to stay
alive by eating coarse saltmarsh cordgrass, American beachgrass,
thorny greenbrier stems, bayberry twigs, seaweed and even poison
True survivors, they also learned to drink small amounts of
seawater when their sources of water froze in the winter or dried up
in the summer.
Not surprisingly, these harsh conditions stunted their
growth. But they also resulted in an extremely hardy breed.
In 1927, after the town of Chincoteague, Va., burned down,
the famous “pony round-up” was organized, and the money raised from
an auction of the foals helped build a large firehouse. The annual
auction continues to provide funds each year for the ponies’ upkeep.
On “Pony Penning Day,” which is held on the third Wednesday
in July each year, the Chincoteague volunteer firemen herd the
ponies off the Wildlife Refuge on Assateague Island at slack tide,
when the water is the calmest. Once the ponies have swum across the
channel to Virginia, they are gathered together and
sorted for the auction, which takes place the next day.
After the foals have been auctioned off, the stallions and
mares are herded back to the island, once again swimming across the
channel, where they resume their “wild, free lives.”
In Henry’s book “Misty,” two children manage to raise enough
money to buy “the Phantom,” one of the mares, and her foal, Misty.
Although their grandfather warns them that once a Chincoteague foal
has grown to be a horse, it cannot be tamed, they prove him wrong.
A strong love flows between the children and the mare, but a
stronger love is pulling at the mare – the love of her wild herd and
its stallion on the other side of the channel.
In a gesture that exemplifies the gift of giving, the boy
lets the mare loose.
As he and his sister watch, she swims across the channel to
the waiting herd.
A pure breed
Almost 30 years ago, Frederick and her three children went
to the yearly auction and bid on three foals – a colt and two
The sturdy, sweet-natured ponies won their hearts.
Eventually, Frederick decided to start breeding the ponies and
creating a pure line of Chincoteague ponies.
As part of that endeavor, she founded the National
Chincoteague Pony Association as an educational and agricultural
The goal was to improve and promote the breed and get it
recognized across the United States and around the world.
As the only known breeder of the ponies, which are now
recognized as a pure and rare breed, Frederick has managed to bring
the breed back to its true conformation and size. At her farm, she
has ponies ranging in size from 13 hands to 14.2 hands.
Each year she sells her foals to eager buyers. The
solid-colored ones sell for $4,000; the paint and pinto foals, for
$6,000. The farm’s waiting list extends to 2008.
Again, following the spirit of giving, Frederick has donated
a mare, Cinnamon, to the Ferndale FFA.
Each year, a student takes a turn caring for her and
bringing her back to the farm to get bred. The student can then keep
the foal or sell it for college money.
For Frederick, the pony farm entails a lot of work. But the
warm smile in her eyes when she talks about the easy-keeping,
sweet-natured ponies reveals that it’s a labor of love.
“It’s the babies,” she said, describing what gives her the
most pleasure. “You never know what colors they’ll be. It’s always a
For more information, go to Pony-Chincoteague.com.
Cookson Beecher is based in Sedro-Woolley, Wash. Her e-mail
address is firstname.lastname@example.org.