Ponies bring $63,000 and some tears


CHINCOTEAGUE, Va.-- Sixty-two Chincoteague foals and five yearlings found new homes yesterday in the island's annual pony auction, putting $63,000 in the bank for the town's volunteer fire department.

"It's my first horse ever," said 13-year-old Whitney Burgess of Gulfport, Fla., wiping away tears after the auction ended just before noon. "That's why I was crying."

Miss Burgess took home a bay colt for $650, well below the day's average of $900 per pony.

A filly brought the day's highest price, $3,000, paid by Octavia Rappaport of Goshen, N.Y., who was getting a gift for her stepfather. Ms. Rappaport attended last year's sale and bought a colt. She said her stepfather tried to buy it from her but she wouldn't sell.

"So my mom and I got together this year to give him his own," she said after the bidding. "I haven't named her yet -- that's for my stepfather to do."

Buyers for the foals, part of a wild herd that ranges on Assateague Island, came from all over. One pony will stay on Chincoteague with 13-year-old Candace Burton; two others will go to Sunland, Calif., a town in the Los Angeles area.

"It's going to live with two horses and two goats!" said Bonnie Werner, a veterinarian standing in line to get the complimentary feed bucket and starter kit provided by the American Horse Protection Association. "I've wanted one for 25 years!"

As she spoke, her husband, Alexander Werner, also a veterinarian, walked up. "Do they have room for two?" he asked, referring to the shipper Ms. Werner had hired to transport her purchase. "They better -- I just bought a colt for $750!"

The Werners were among many who had a day of spontaneous purchases recorded on credit card slips (the fire department takes MasterCard, Visa, travelers checks and cash but no personal checks). But for others, yesterday's auction topped months of planning and saving.

"I saved up for her for the most part," said 14-year-old Heron Boyce of Dames Quarter, just across the peninsula. "But my dad chipped in."

The boy's $750 brown filly represented months of hard work, he said.

"I made boxes and I packed oysters," he said. "I also boxed bunker [a type of fish] and did odd jobs at my dad's seafood company."

His other pets include 11 hamsters, three birds, two gerbils, one chinchilla, three Labrador retrievers, five cats, one rat, one black snake and two iguanas.

Why does he want a horse?

"I wanted a companion to play with and ride with and I think it would be a real good pet," he said.

The bidding was steady and at times intense. Jokes from auctioneer Bernie Pleasants helped keep the momentum going.

As each pony came down the short ramp between the pen and the auction ring, Joe "Doc" Dougherty would raise either a pink face towel or a blue one to signal the foal's gender.

"It's a little boy towel or a little girl towel!" joked Mr. Dougherty, a Chadds Ford, Pa., resident who also owns a home on Chincoteague. "I just run up underneath the ramp and look up to see what the pony is!"

Large bids brought cheers from the crowd seated on the bleachers and around the ring. After each foal was sold, buyers crossed the ring to pay for their purchase. Foals were loaded one by one into horse trailers after being checked over by veterinarian Charles Cameron.

"They brought in more money this year," said firefighter Denise Bowden. Last year's total was $58,800, and the highest price paid last year was $1,600, just over half of this year's high.

The auction began in 1924, and this year was its 69th. The two-day event was popularized in Marguerite Henry's "Misty of Chincoteague."

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