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Capital Press
Agriculture Weekly
PO Box 2048 Salem, OR 97308 * 1-800-882-6789

December 2004


Friday, December 17, 2004

Transcontinental legend

By COOKSON BEECHER Washington State Staff Writer


Frederick gives Crackerjack, a 15-year-old Chincoteague stallion, some attention. Frederick said that when Crackerjack was born, she immediately noticed his long legs and knew he’d be perfect for her farm’s breeding program. One of her goals is to increase the height of the ponies to their original stature. Crackerjack grew to be 14.2 hands, and his genetics have helped Frederick achieve her goal.
BELLINGHAM, Wash. – A pony for Christmas. That’s a wish Santa Claus hears a lot this time of year. And while some lucky children do wake up on Christmas Day and discover that their wish has been granted, most are not so fortunate.

Even so, many children – and adults – around the world get to keep an eye on the Chincoteague mares and foals at a pony farm in Western Washington, thanks to a live camcorder camera placed in the mare and foal barn that constantly refreshes the scene.

Sometimes, viewers are lucky enough to see a foal being born. Other times they can watch the ponies being trained, shod and vet checked, all of which are done in front of the camera. Daily hay feedings are another favorite.

During the holiday season, a Christmas tree and holiday treats are set up in the barn for the ponies.

For Gale Park Frederick, owner of the farm, setting up the live cam in the barn is just part of her personal philosophy in raising and breeding the world-famous Chincoteague ponies.

“I believe they belong to everyone,” she said. “I love knowing that people in so many different kinds of places can watch them – even people in apartments in New York City.”

PonyCam, the first program of its kind, has proven to be extremely popular. Accessible at, it gets 4.2 billion hits every two months from people in nine different countries.

Pony love

Chincoteague ponies first captured people’s hearts in 1947 when Marguerite Henry wrote “Misty of Chincoteague,” a children’s classic. She followed that book with others, among them “Stormy, Misty’s Foal,” and “Sea Star.”

In 1951, the Disney movie “Misty” brought the award-winning story to the screen. Even today, Henry’s books and the Disney film are favorites among horse lovers, young and old alike.

According to legend, the hardy ponies that live on the islands of Chincoteague and Assateague, off the coast of Virginia and Maryland, are descended from 17 ponies that swam ashore from a Spanish galleon after it capsized off the coast in the 1600s.

The ponies, headed to Panama for the viceroy of Peru, were going to be used in the gold mines.

Once onshore after the shipwreck, the ponies managed to stay alive by eating coarse saltmarsh cordgrass, American beachgrass, thorny greenbrier stems, bayberry twigs, seaweed and even poison ivy.

True survivors, they also learned to drink small amounts of seawater when their sources of water froze in the winter or dried up in the summer.

Not surprisingly, these harsh conditions stunted their growth. But they also resulted in an extremely hardy breed.

In 1927, after the town of Chincoteague, Va., burned down, the famous “pony round-up” was organized, and the money raised from an auction of the foals helped build a large firehouse. The annual auction continues to provide funds each year for the ponies’ upkeep.

On “Pony Penning Day,” which is held on the third Wednesday in July each year, the Chincoteague volunteer firemen herd the ponies off the Wildlife Refuge on Assateague Island at slack tide, when the water is the calmest. Once the ponies have swum across the channel to Virginia, they are gathered together and

sorted for the auction, which takes place the next day.

After the foals have been auctioned off, the stallions and mares are herded back to the island, once again swimming across the channel, where they resume their “wild, free lives.”

In Henry’s book “Misty,” two children manage to raise enough money to buy “the Phantom,” one of the mares, and her foal, Misty. Although their grandfather warns them that once a Chincoteague foal has grown to be a horse, it cannot be tamed, they prove him wrong.

A strong love flows between the children and the mare, but a stronger love is pulling at the mare – the love of her wild herd and its stallion on the other side of the channel.

In a gesture that exemplifies the gift of giving, the boy lets the mare loose.

As he and his sister watch, she swims across the channel to the waiting herd.

A pure breed

Almost 30 years ago, Frederick and her three children went to the yearly auction and bid on three foals – a colt and two fillies.

The sturdy, sweet-natured ponies won their hearts. Eventually, Frederick decided to start breeding the ponies and creating a pure line of Chincoteague ponies.

As part of that endeavor, she founded the National Chincoteague Pony Association as an educational and agricultural nonprofit organization.

The goal was to improve and promote the breed and get it recognized across the United States and around the world.

As the only known breeder of the ponies, which are now recognized as a pure and rare breed, Frederick has managed to bring the breed back to its true conformation and size. At her farm, she has ponies ranging in size from 13 hands to 14.2 hands.

Each year she sells her foals to eager buyers. The solid-colored ones sell for $4,000; the paint and pinto foals, for $6,000. The farm’s waiting list extends to 2008.

Again, following the spirit of giving, Frederick has donated a mare, Cinnamon, to the Ferndale FFA.

Each year, a student takes a turn caring for her and bringing her back to the farm to get bred. The student can then keep the foal or sell it for college money.

For Frederick, the pony farm entails a lot of work. But the warm smile in her eyes when she talks about the easy-keeping, sweet-natured ponies reveals that it’s a labor of love.

“It’s the babies,” she said, describing what gives her the most pleasure. “You never know what colors they’ll be. It’s always a surprise.”

For more information, go to

Cookson Beecher is based in Sedro-Woolley, Wash. Her e-mail address is

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