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The Bellingham Herald

1155 N. State. St., Bellingham, WA 98225, Phone (360) 676-2600.

July 26th, 2002


Chincoteague legacy

HORSE SENSE: Gale Park Frederick gets a kiss from her stallion, Black Gold. RACHEL E. BAYNE HERALD PHOTOS

A four-day-old filly stands next to her mom, Bayside.

Famed ponies thrive in Whatcom County

Fiona Cohen, The Bellingham Herald

As Gale Park Frederick moves around her farm, the herd is always with her.

Mares sidle up to the fence, stallions knock on stable doors, and foals eye her curiously.

Even when she goes inside at night, she's still among the ponies. Camera links give her views into the stallions' barn and the maternity ward and training area.

"When I'm inside I can tell which horse just neighed because they have different voices."

Besides, this isn't an ordinary pony farm. The eight ponies and two foals here can be seen as an outpost of one of the most famous herds in the world: the wild ponies of Assateague Island.

A barrier island along the coast of Maryland and Virginia, Assateague has been home to wild ponies since the 1600s, when legend has it that some were shipwrecked. Generations on the island made the ponies a compact, shaggy breed renowned for their hardiness.

"There's an old saying that the Chincoteague pony could get fat on a cement slab."

These days many of the ponies come under the careful care of the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company.

To keep the herd from outgrowing the island, the company auctions off colts every year. At slack tide, saltwater cowboys drive the ponies through the shallows to Chincoteague Island, where some are sold.

Frederick's ponies are descendants of ponies bought in those auctions. She breeds them and sells them to buyers from Canada to California, selling five or six foals a year. She's lost track of how many generations have gone by since her family bought their first three ponies - two fillies and a stud colt - from the Chincoteague auction in the mid 1970s.

At the time she had a 46-acre farm in Maryland, and took an interest in the ponies because of Marguerite Henry's children's book "Misty of Chincoteague." The story of two children who adopt a Chincoteague foal inspired a Disney movie and three other books, including "Stormy, Misty's Foal."

The ponies won her over quickly.

"They're sweet. They're like puppy dogs. They please you. They kiss you," she says.

Frederick says that as she breeds the ponies, the paint markings that distinguished Misty and Stormy come up again and again.

"Every three years we get a Stormy and a Misty look-alike."

Whatcom County's soggy climate is not ideal for them. Frederick has to keep them on a dry lot, because if they get put out on grass for more than three hours a day, their feet get infected.

Still, with the rich diet of alfalfa grain, local hay and fresh feed they have at Gale Frederick's farm they thrive, growing taller than any of the island ponies. The tallest was 10 inches taller than any island pony.

And the horses are good for the garden.

"We have the best rose bushes in the county," Frederick says.

Her five acre property in the Squalicum Valley is a haven for animals. She has two dogs, three farm cats, two geese, a pair of old incontinent cats who reside in a "kitty palace" by the pond, a chicken who eats bugs and spiders from the yard, goldfish in the pond and 22 canaries.

It makes for a full life for Frederick.

"It's kind of strange, isn't it - kind of a little niche in life," she says.

Reach Fiona Cohen at fcohen@bellingh.gannett.com or 715-2276.

Copyright 2000, The Bellingham Herald. 1155 N. State. St., Bellingham, WA 98225, Phone (360) 676-2600.
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