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Szymanski: Pony whose life was saved in May set to begin new life

Szymanski: Pony whose life was saved in May set to begin new life
Bay Princess with her foal on Chincoteague Island. (Lois Szymanski)

As I write this, it is the day before the Pony Penning Auction. I am here on Chincoteague Island with the nonprofit Feather Fund to help two more children purchase wild pony foals. We are walking around the pens, looking at all the ponies that came in during the roundup and trying to find their favorites when I see Bay Princess and her adorable buckskin pinto foal.

Staring at the foal, an overwhelming sense of gratitude floods over me. She is still OK, I think. She is thriving. When she was born, we had all wondered how this little one would do. I think back to the May trip we took to this island — the last time I saw the foal.

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My friend Darcy and I had decided to take the bus trek to the north end of the refuge. This wonderful tour offered by Friends of the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge takes us about 9 miles down the north service road and back again, through the area where most of the bands of ponies roam.

We were traveling the service road when we saw the buyback pony Bay Princess and her band grazing on the other side of the borough ditch. The bus driver stopped for us to take some photos and we commented about how young this mare was to have a foal. The mare grazed while her foal slept at her feet. She had to be bred at age 1 to already have this tiny foal as a 2-year-old, but they seemed to be doing OK. Still, we all worried.

Finally, the bus moved on. We continued down the road, stopping to photograph tri-colored herons, a giant snapping turtle, immature bald eagles, a Delmarva Fox Squirrel and several bands of ponies. We reached the end of the service road and the bus turned around. On the way back, we passed each band of ponies again. We had to stop for Legacy’s herd in the road, but the ponies moved out of the way and he bus lumbered back.

When we reached the herd with Bay Princess, the baby was nowhere in sight. A slight panic set in. Maybe she is in the weeds, I thought. But then, all the way around the bend and a quarter of a mile away we saw the filly. She had just awakened and then stood, searching for her mama. Her nickers rang out, but Bay Princess did not answer. While her foal had napped, the young mare had followed the herd, leaving her baby behind.

The bus stopped for us to photograph the baby, and its cries became more frantic. Then, when it noticed us, it started to follow the bus — in the wrong direction.

“Stop the bus,” we all yelled. “Please! The baby is following us. Back up, back up!”

Our nature interpreter asked the driver to back up and he did, stopping again. The baby doubled back to follow us, and then stopped, confused and still calling out. Then he did the unthinkable! He plunged into the water of the borough ditch and began to swim toward us.

“Back up! Back up,” everyone was yelling. The poor bus driver probably thought we were crazy, but he complied. I guess a busload of pony crazy women can be a lot to deal with. As soon as the driver started backing up again, the foal changed direction and went back to shore. He began to trot the route we were on, but on the opposite shore.

As we came closer to the big bend, Bay Princess finally heard the cries of her tiny foal and she came running. The two touched noses and the bus erupted into cheers. I don’t know about anyone else, but tears were running down my face. I wanted to hug the interpreter and the bus driver. Surely, they had saved a life.

We gazed at the two as Bay Princess turned to walk back to her band, the foal pressed to her side. My friend, Dawn, thought that a lecture was surely taking place.

Watching her over the chain link fence at the Chincoteague carnival grounds today, I realized how much the little foal had filled out over the past month. Hopefully, Bay Princess had been more vigilant after the experience that had burned itself into all our memories.

Bay Princess’s little foal will go into the auction ring, to be sold to a new and loving home. I am praying that this foal, and all the others to be sold at the 93rd annual Pony Penning auction will all go to wonderful homes.

Life on the refuge is rough. Between the mosquitoes, the scorching heat, the wind, stagnant water and surging tides this environment is more than most ponies should have to handle, although this tough little breed does it in style.

Here’s to you, little foal, and to all your herd mates, as they head out for a whole new big adventure. May you overcome every obstacle in your path and thrive.

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