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Szymanski: Always gratifying to see love of Chincoteague ponies come full circle

In the midst of a violent Atlantic storm, the Spanish galleon pitched, blindsided by wave after wave. Below deck, a small herd of horses cowered in the hold. They were in transit from Spain to Peru to work in the mines, but this single storm would change the course of history. As the ship smacked into a shoal and water poured into its bows, the stallion struck the stall door with his forehooves, splintering wood. The raging sea swept them from the ship and into the open ocean. Surrounded by debris, they swam. The stallion bellowed to his mares. Lightning flashed and the herd followed those flashes of light toward land, their hooves finding solid ground on Assateague Island.

When I was a young girl, I learned this theory of how the wild ponies came to live on the barrier island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia by reading Marguerite Henry’s 1947 award-winning book, “Misty of Chincoteague.” It’s funny how something you stumble on in your childhood can change your life forever, and how some things are destined to come full circle.

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Since that time over 50 years ago, I’ve fallen in love with the breed. We brought a Chincoteague Pony foal home from Pony Penning in 1995 for my daughter, Shannon. In 2004, I helped start the Feather Fund, a nonprofit that helps other kids bring home foals. And this week, I am busy getting ready to go away at the end of the month, and it is again, because of those ponies.

We are heading to the Horse World Expo in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, where my daughter will ride Sea Feather in the daily Chincoteague Pony Breed Demo. It’s another one of those full circle things. A handful of Feather Fund kids and a group of Chincoteague Pony friends are all participating in that daily demo. Our 2005 Feather Fund recipient, Summer Barrick, will be riding her second Chincoteague Pony, John Wayne, and 2016 Feather Fund recipient Laura Bagley will be riding her Feather Fund gelding, Tug. I’ve learned that it is not just about the horses we love. It’s about friendship, teamwork, and so much more.

Last February, Tipson Myers of Stoney Creek Chincoteagues in Hughesville, Pennsylvania invited us to share her booth at the Expo, giving The Feather Fund a space to set up a table and share information. Throughout the week, thousands of people stopped by that booth. One of them was 12-year old Graysen Milliman of New York and her mom, Wendy. As we chatted, it became clear that Graysen was not only in love with horses, but already infatuated with the breed. Graysen’s enthusiasm and her gentle touch when visiting with Sea Feather in the pen next to the booth touched me. That’s why I remembered her so well when she sent her application to the Feather Fund in the spring.

Graysen was the first applicant in 15 years to submit a video application. Along with other board members, I was mesmerized, watching her story unfold on the screen. We were impressed with how long she’d been in love with horses. This was documented with photos of her riding as a toddler and in continuing lessons as she grew. Her photos were overlaid with her voice on the video as she shared her story. It didn’t take long to decide that Graysen would be one of the three children we would gift ponies to in 2019.

Graysen took home her foal in July, a colt sired by Surfer Dude’s Riptide. Since then, she has been busy doing all the groundwork that is essential. She named her colt Riptide’s Red, White and Blue with a nickname of Patriot. They should not be ridden until they are 2 to 3 years old, but it is important to teach a foal all the basics early on — manners, how to lead, and how to stay calm in all sorts of situations. Patriot is learning fast under Graysen’s steady training program. He’s even learned to bow and to stand on a stool. He is doing so well, that she is planning to bring him to Horse World Expo. It is going to be wonderful to see this come full circle, too.

Over the past few weeks, Graysen has been practicing with other Chincoteague Pony owners at Tipson’s farm, including 2018 Feather Fund recipient, John Price and his gelding, Bandit. They are nailing down the routine they will do in the ring for the daily Chincoteague Pony Breed Demo. Every time John, or Graysen’s mom, or Tipson posts photos of their practice, I can’t help but smile. These kids are living out their dreams. They have bonded in friendship and are learning from their ponies and from each other. That’s the kind of full circle I love to see, with rewards all around.

When we get to the Harrisburg Farm Show Complex on Feb. 26, we will see our friends, and Feather Fund recipients Graysen, John, Laura and Summer with their Chincoteague Ponies. It is rewarding to see the difference we have made. I have no doubt that I will be smiling, grateful to see it all come full circle once more.

Lois Szymanski writes from Westminster. Her Life & Times column, The Great Big World, appears every first, third and fifth Sunday. Email her at loisszymanski@hotmail.com.

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