Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Pony Penning...realizing a childhood dream Part 1



I confess...I was a horse crazy child. I also always had my nose stuck in a book. So it is no surprise that one of my absolute favorite books as a child was the classic Misty of Chincoteague by Marguerite Henry. If you have a kid who loves animals, or loves to read, and they haven't read this book, shame on you! They need a copy yesterday. (if I hadn't been a veterinarian I probably should have been a children's librarian...I love children's books!). I actually had two copies, the hardcover "good" copy that I kept in good condition, complete with full color, beautiful paintings by the great Wesley Dennis; and my paperback copy which was very "well loved" (read tattered) and probably survived at least several dozen readings. I of course had all the other Misty books as well. One vivid memory from my childhood was taking my Christmas money to the after Christmas sales downtown at Shillitos (subsequently Lazarus and now Macy's) to their book department and buying "A Pictorial Life Story of Misty" which was a beautiful, full color, hardcover book with pictures of Misty and her babies that told the true story of her life. Of course, I couldn't wait to start reading it so I pleaded a need for a bathroom break while my parents continued shopping and locked myself in a stall to browse through my new treasure. I opened it near the end and the first picture I saw was a picture of Misty...STUFFED in a museum in Chincoteague! I was absolutely devastated- Misty was DEAD! I remember sitting in the bathroom crying my eyes out.


Every year, along with multiple wish lists that started "a horse" for every Christmas and birthday, I lobbied hard for our summer vacation to be to Chincoteague for Pony Penning. My parents, killjoys that they were, preferred to sit on the beach in Florida. No doubt this had a lot to do with them NOT auctioning off ponies at the Florida beaches so they didn't have to listen to me whining. One summer I even saved all the clippings when I mowed the lawn, stowed them in giant trash bags, and lugged them back behind the garden shed over the hill way at the back of the yard near the woods. My plan was to convince my parents to go to Pony Penning, WIN the colt that was raffled off so they would have no excuse not to let me keep it, and have it live in the shed and eat the leftover grass clippings- after all, when my parents started objecting on the basis of feed bills I reasoned it would be good to have that base covered already. This little project came crashing to a halt when my mother discovered that she had no trash bags left and coerced the truth out of me. Do you know how bad grass clippings in trash bags smell after a few weeks in the summer sun? Somehow they were not impressed with my industriousness. So no pony, and no pony penning for me...ever...in my whole childhood. Sniff.

A few years ago, at our Tuesday night potluck and agility practice, we got on the subject of Pony Penning. As I mentioned in another post, my friend MaryAnn owns the farm at which we practice, which is actually a good sized boarding stable. She also until last year when she retired owned the coolest tack store in the area (the Tack Trunk in Lebanon, if you need horse supplies or a REALLY good selection of horsey oriented gifts) and was at one time very involved with eventing and riding (until she started spending more time showing her dogs). We started talking about how we had always dreamed of seeing Pony Penning and had never gotten there. "Well", said MaryAnn, "Why don't we just go?". Wow. I had never actually thought of that. I guess we WERE grownups and there was nothing stopping us. So ok! We planned our trip- not an easy task when you are a solo veterinarian; getting away for a full week in the height of summer is definitely a challenge and a rare pleasure, but I was determined- I owed it to my childhood self.


Of course, having graduated from horse crazy kid to certifiably dog show addicted adult, we couldn't take a whole week's vacation and not include a show! So we planned to drive to Maryland; show at an agility trial over the weekend, then go to Dewey Beach in Delaware where MaryAnn had a relative who was willing to let us use their condo and the dogs were allowed on the beach. From there, we would drive down to Chincoteague for the day to see Pony Penning, as well as visiting the northern end of the Island in Maryland and seeing the wild ponies on the beach there. One of MaryAnn's employees from the tack shop, Gidget, would meet us in Delaware with her little terrier Jasper and enjoy the beach and pony penning with us.


I picked MaryAnn up at her place in my van and we managed to fit all our stuff, three of her shelties, and my Andy all in (this was the summer when I had just lost Levi and before I had Cory). Of course, being somewhat of a sentimental fool, I HAD to bring along my Breyer model of Misty that my grandmother had given me for Christmas somewhere around third grade. How could I finally make it to Chincoteague and leave her behind? She was getting pretty elderly and had survived some of my earlier surgical attempts to repair her broken legs (those of you who collected Breyers as children know that when you make them "gallop" and clunk their feet on the floor, those hooves tend to snap off...luckily Misty's rehab had been mostly successful!). So I got some of those gummy dots you use to stick pictures in scrapbooks and we put them on the bottoms of Misty's hooves and stuck her to the dashboard as our mascot for the trip. Of course I also brought all my Misty books AND my three (THREE!) personally signed and written notes from Marguerite Henry who had answered my fan mail when I was a child. Yes, I was a weird kid. And apparently a somewhat abnormal adult since I still had all this stuff.




Above is a picture of Andy and his harem poolside at the condo in Delaware. We had a great weekend at the agility trials in Maryland and then headed for Dewey Beach. The dogs were able to be on the beach in the mornings and the evenings and they enjoyed it immensely. Andy was not crazy about getting wet, but he took the job of chasing the waves back out into the ocean very seriously. It was very hard work- no sooner did you chase them out and come back for a breather than here they came in again! Once in a while he would get caught and be up to his shoulders in water much to his disgust. The best part about the beach though was that you could bark to your heart's content and no one cared because it was drowned out by the crashing of the waves.


But back to Pony Penning...for those of you who did not have the pleasure of growing up with Misty stories I will recap briefly for you. Years ago, legend has it that a Spanish galleon transporting ponies to work in the mines went off course and was shipwrecked off the coast of Virginia. The ponies swam ashore on Assateague, one of the barrier islands and remained wild there for generations. Assateague is now a wildlife preserve, while the adjacent island, Chincoteague, is inhabited by humans many of whom make their living in the oyster industry. Every year in July, the volunteer firemen round up the ponies, swim them across the channel from Assateague to Chincoteague, and drive them through the streets of town to the fairgrounds. A weeklong festival culminates in the swim and the colts are auctioned off with the proceeds going to the volunteer fire department. This helps to keep the population under control. The northern end of Assateague is part of the state of Maryland, not Virginia, and has its own population of pony herds which are not included in the roundup.

So Maryann, Gidget and I set out for Chincoteague leaving the dogs behind at the condo for the day. We stopped for lunch on the way and found a great chicken restaurant with an outdoor patio complete with gliders with canopies and swamp misters. We could have sat there all day, but we had ponies to see!



Of course, we had a little fun with the name of the restaurant as well!





So first stop was the Assateague wildlife preserve on the north end of the island in Maryland. We should have allocated more time to spend here as it was absolutely beautiful. The campgrounds were right on the beach and the ponies wandered through the campsites. There were signs all over asking you not to pet or interfere with the ponies, but they didn't give you too much choice- they were quite tame and we found them in several instances standing around watching campers cook and looking for handouts.












As you can see, the pony wasn't at all bothered by Gidget's presence, except that she didn't bring him anything to eat. The wildlife preserve was beautiful; if we had had more time we could have rented a canoe and gone out in the bay, which was quite shallow; there were tons of shorebirds to see as well. If I ever go back I think I will plan to spend most of the trip here.

But pony penning was calling and we were back in the car and off to Chincoteague which was absolutely jam packed with cars and tourists in town for the festivities.
To be continued...

1 comment:

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