The Chincoteague herds are owned and managed by the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company. They have a U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service permit to keep around 150 adult ponies on the Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge.
This means that most of the foals born each year are sold to private homes through an auction, with the rest sent back to the refuge through a buyback program. All funds made from the sale go to support the Fire Company and help pay for the herd’s yearly care.
Foals who are determined mature enough by the on site veterinarians can be taken home by the winning bidder after the auction. Younger foals are sent back to the refuge until their designated Fall pickup time.
Once the foals are in their new homes, I hear they adjust quickly to domestic life and make fabulous ponies for kids and adults. New owners even have the opportunity to register their ponies with the International Chincoteague Pony Association & Registry.
The morning of the auction, I expected to see a lot more drama between mares and foals, but everyone was relatively calm. The babies would sometimes get feisty when led into the auction area, but keep in mind, these are unhandled wild foals! They actually did quite well, considering all the activity and excitement around this event.
Rebekah and Bonnie had saved seats at the auction just as soon as they arrived in Chincoteague. I figured I would shoot from our seats or try to move around a bit for a good vantage point (which wasn’t at all possible due to the density of the crowds!) I honestly wasn’t sure what the situation would be, so I tried not to stress about it and go with the flow.
But then I got a Facebook message from Betsy Moore. She and her family have been involved in the penning for over 35 years. She knew I was in Chincoteague and asked if I wanted to be INSIDE the auction pen during the auction – HECK YEAH! Thanks to Betsy, I got a front-row seat for all the action!
The auction itself was filled with excitement! 71 foals were auctioned off, and over $450,000 was raised for the fire department. The average price of a foal was $6792. And no, I wasn’t tempted to bid. I’m raising my own wild pony at the moment and have my hands full! 😂
8 foals were designated as “Buybacks” this year. This means the foals will stay on the refuge for life and remain the property of the Fire Company. The winning bidder is awarded the opportunity to name the foal. The numbers for these go very high, with the highest buyback this year going for $43,000!
Names are very important to the herd and those who follow them. There is even an online database called the Chincoteague Pony Pedigree Database that keeps track of the ponies’ names and bloodlines.
After the auction, they trailer the north herd back to their stomping grounds, and Betsy messaged again asking if I wanted to ride in the back of one of the trucks and photograph them being released. HECK YEAH again! Betsy is seriously the sweetest – we are now officially friends!