I've been thinking about … ponies.
As you read this over your morning coffee, I will be in Chincoteague, Virginia, buying ponies — two this year.
The Feather Fund is a Special Purpose Fund of the Community Foundation of Carroll County and has does this every year since 2004. The fund was started by Ed Supplee and Lois Szymanski, husband and friend of Carollynn Supplee, respectively.
It was Ed and Carollynn's custom to visit the Pony Penning in Virginia each year and buy one of the "Buyback Ponies," those ponies chosen by the Chincoteague Fire Department for breeding stock. One year the Supplees got there too late to get one of the buybacks and decided, on the spot and cheered on by the crowd, to make the pony dreams of two little girls come true. Those two little girls were the daughters of Lois Szymanski and their story was the inspiration for Szymanski's wonderful children's book "Sea Feather."
When Carollynn Supplee succumbed to the brain cancer she fought so valiantly for many years, her husband and friend started The Feather Fund in her honor to make other children's pony dreams come true. There is now a dedicated group of people led by Lois Szymanski and her daughter Shannon who raise money, review the applications that come in from all over the country to be sure all criteria are met and make the annual trek to Chincoteague with the current year's winners.
Applicants must be at least 10 years of age, be an experienced horse person, have parental permission, a place to shelter the pony, write an essay on why they want the pony, have some money saved and be able to attend the Pony Penning. The winners study the ponies to be auctioned off with the help of our committee and are encouraged to choose three ponies to bid on. There is a limit on how much we can spend but we don't really have a number in mind until we see how the bidding goes. In the past few years prices have been reasonable but we have seen ponies bid up to tens of thousands of dollars, way out of our range.
Applications may be found on the Feather Fund website (www.featherfund.net) or on the website of the Community Foundation of Carroll County (www.carrollcommunityfoundation.org). We have sent ponies to many states up and down the Eastern seaboard and as far west as Oklahoma and Washington state. We have quite a number of Chincoteague ponies right here in Carroll County. You may have seen them in the Miracle on Main Street Parade in Westminster.
Chincoteague, during its two-week fire department carnival, is like stepping back in time. My first time there in 2004 brought back memories of the Champlain Valley Fair of my childhood. There is an excitement and innocence to the place and the event that is touching. It is a sleepy little waterfront town most of the year but it really comes alive during Pony Penning. If you don't rent a house or make hotel reservations in January or February you run the risk of not finding accommodations within a 40-minute drive of the town. We learned that the hard way.
People come from all over the world to see the ponies swim from Assateague Island to Chincoteague in the early dawn hours and the parade through town overseen by the Saltwater Cowboys — firefighters who care for the herd all year long. The auction is very exciting and raises money for what has to be the best-equipped fire company in the world. You might want to put a visit to Chincoteague on your bucket list.
Editor's note: Lois Szymanski is a columnist and paid contributor to the Times.
Audrey Cimino is executive director of The Community Foundation of Carroll County. She writes from Westminster.