Hoof beats pounding across the sand: this is the sound of ponies living freely on Assateague Island, which lies on the Maryland and Virginia border. Maryland leaves its Assateague ponies in peace and preserves them, but Virginia manages its Chincoteague ponies disparately. However free and wild the ponies may seem, they are property of the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department (VFD). The selling of these ponies began in 1925; the VFD fully acquired the herd in 1947 (Holden). One of the most tragic aspects of the auction is that the most trafficable ponies are less than a year old; buyers prefer to sunder the foals from their mothers at the clang of the auctioneer's gavel rather than waiting for the foals to reach the proper age for
…show more content…
During this week, the undomesticated ponies are corralled into pens on Sunday, where they remain until Wednesday. Then, ‘saltwater cowboys’ (members of the VFD) drive these wild ponies to swim through the quarter-mile channel to Chincoteague Island. After that, they journey through Main Street with 40,000 people yelling and jostling around them, to make it to where the auction begins that Thursday. The ponies who do not sell must do this process in reverse, then repeat it again the following year. This has been going on for eighty-eight years (Holden). The stress these ponies undergo during this time is incredible. They are unable to comprehend what they are made to do and are scared and confused at the sudden commotion surrounding them. Moving them from an uninhabited island to the central attraction at the heart of town is a dramatic change, leaving them surrounded by unfamiliarity. This is worsened when the auction abruptly separates herd-mates from one another, and the unwanted ponies must return to the island without their children and friends.
As this tradition of auctioning ponies continues, prices rise to inordinate amounts. The town's leaders believe this is due to finite amount of ponies available, and their official classification as an exotic breed (Holden). With these factors, costs peaked in 2007 with the average of $2,442.47 per foal, and the high bid of $17,500.00, leading to the extraordinary total of $178,300.00 by selling