Tuesday, May 4, 2010

The Feather Fund

Many of us are acquainted with the wonderful Marguerite Henry books, including Misty of Chincoteague, about the yearly round up of ponies from Assateague Island. And I imagine many of you dreamed of owning a pony like Misty at one point in your lives.


I'd like to introduce you to The Feather Fund, an organization that makes such dreams possible for deserving young girls and boys that might not otherwise be able to afford one.

Pony-penning still takes place each year, with the herds being rounded up and swam across the channel by a group of volunteer firemen/cowboys. The resulting auction of the foals serves two purposes, to keep the herds at a reasonable number and to finance the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department. The Chincoteague ponies are now so popular, and the auction has become so famous that prices often rise into the thousands of dollars for each foal, more than even a hardworking youngster could save on her own.

Enter The Feather Fund - a charitable organization whose fundraising activities help a child or youngster with the cost of acquiring a pony. Formed to carry on the work of Carollynn Suplee, whose original good deed started the whole process in 1995, each year a committee helps several children bid on, and obtain a colt or filly of their dreams.

Carrie Olson and Chincoteague Sweetie

What a wonderful idea! Because the responsibility of owning and caring for a horse or pony is good for the soul and character of any young human, agreed? To learn more about The Feather Fund or the round-up of Chincoteague Ponies, here are some sites to visit:

The Feather Fund http://featherfund.org/

Official Pony Penning page and Auction info http://www.chincoteaguechamber.com/pony-events/ev-pony.html

History of the Chincoteague Pony Swim http://www.chincoteague.com/pony/ponies.html
How many of you grew up with Marguerite Henry's books, or dreamed of owning a Chincoteague pony of your own?


Susan said...

Oh yeah, the copies of Misty and Stormy were well-read in our household,as well as other Margeurite Henry books. It sounds like a great charity.

Susan said...

oops, meant Marguerite Henry.

Laura Crum said...

Those ponies are just too cute. And yeah, I read those books. Nonetheless, I've got a question. Why in the world buy a high priced Chincoteague pony, when other equally deserving critters are sold to slaughter for lack of a home? I saw a very cute pony who had packed many little girls up for adoption at a rescue site. And why on earth buy an unbroken pony(weanling) for a child who can't afford a pony? There will be years of boarding and (expensive) training before the child can ride the critter. And it may not turn out to be suitable for a child's riding horse. Why not buy a good older kid's pony who needs a home? Cheaper, better for the child, a real blessing for the pony. I think Marguerite Henry might approve of this approach.

summersmom said...

Laura, as I read this post, I was thinking the same exact thing! How about that fund help those of us who are older and have wanted a little Misty or Stormy of our own? LOL
Its always been my dream to buy one but it seems like I'll never get there, especially since the prices have skyrocketed.

Anonymous said...

There are many reasons to purchase a Chincoteague foal. The first is that this breed is unlike any other in that the ponies are like big dogs, consistently loving and kind. While I support saving auction ponies the truth is that you never know what you are getting. Another reason is that the child gets to pick their own pony and be part of the bidding process, making it more their own. But the most important reason is that raising a foal from start to finish is a long term process that builds confidence, love and a good work ethic in children who have a need to feel like they have accomplished something on their own.
Lois Szymanski

Anonymous said...

If you go to www.featherfund.org and click on Carollynn's story you will understand why Chincoteague Ponies. You will find that just about every pony gifted has made a big difference in a child's life. They are not handed out willy-nilly to just any kid, but to ones with land or a way to earn future support for the pony.

Also, when someone purchases a Chincoteague Pony the money does not got to a money hungry guy dealng horses, but to support the Chincoteague Fire Company and the over 40 charities they donate excess money to, supporting more than one cause. It is a win-win situation.

Anonymous said...

Very well said Lois! My daughter is the proud recipient of a Feather Fund Chincoteague colt and I can honestly say he is teaching her patience and responsibility better than I ever could (: Every time I see her cleaning out a stall, or patiently teaching him to allow her to groom him, lead him, feed him, or discipline him, I know this was the best choice. Sure I could have bought her an already broke horse, but this way she is learning patience and a solid work ethic, and most importantly, she is earning her right to be his human (and she is taking riding lessons and becoming a better rider elsewhere until he is old enough to ride). -Amy

Karen Butler said...

I really enjoyed reading the Feather Fund article. The comments posted have been very interesting, too. Laura, I thought your comments in particular were very well thought-out and obviously stem from a real concern about both the children and the ponies. I'd love to respond to some of them.
First, as to why buy a Chincoteague pony instead of a pony from the sale barn destined for slaughter. As a parent whose daughter has purchased horses there I can tell you, it is a real heartbreaker to watch your child spend hours and hours and also lots of money, and end up with a pony that may or may not be a suitable mount. There are lots of reasons I can think of to salvage these horses, and I myself have spent more money than I should have just because I didn't have the stomach to see one more get sold to eventually go across the Canadian border and bring 12 cents a pound. I totally agree with you that if you can provide a good home to one of these older, or broken down, or untrained horses, by all means you should. But that's not the same as a Chincoteague pony.
Regarding the years of boarding and expensive training, the Feather Fund screens the families they award ponies to very carefully with an eye to just your concerns. Ponies are given to children who have not only the desire, but also the facilities, and the family support, to handle them. You should also know Chincoteague ponies are extremely easy keepers, so the inputs compared to, for example, a thoroughbred that's coming off the track, are minimal.
I can tell you as a mom that my daughter's Feather Fund pony project has been about so much more than the riding. These recipients learn all the things that keeping livestock teaches us. But they also get a great opportunity to blossom into well-rounded young people through the self-esteem building that goes on at an age where that's so crucial. And the Feather Fund provides support and fellowship through planned events throughout the year. My daughter's favorite was taking her pony in the holiday parade in Westminster, where the Feather Fund happened to win an award for best animal display! Having a Chincoteague pony has been a wonderful experience for her.
Finally, you ask why not buy a good, older kid's pony who needs a home? I agree. You should! There are ponies out there that would love to find a loving, nurturing home, whether they have years of riding left in them, or whether they will just be companions.
I don't think what the Feather Fund is doing in any way takes away from the other opportunities in the equine world for children. To the contrary, I think there is room for both!

Linda Benson said...

Well, for me, I have always been fascinated by the idea of the pony-pennings. I think it's pretty neat that they have found a way to let the ponies continue to run wild and free on the island, and in the meantime, have done such a great job of piquing the public's interest in horses and ponies in general.

And I guess what intriques me about The Feather Fund (and there are some wonderful stories on their website) is that any time we can keep kids involved in wholesome, outdoor activities (with horses or otherwise) it's a good cause.

And it's amazing to me how an author such as Marguerite Henry, in writing a horse story so many years ago, can be so influential so many years later. Hmm - things to ponder.

Anonymous said...

What an awesome peice of history to have, and a wonderful group of kids to be apart of! My daughter has had great joy and sense of accomplishment raising and training her Chincoteague pony herself, this had also helped her tremendously with training and working with other horses. The Feather Fund is a wonderful organization, and I thank them for showing my daughter kindness and love. A relationship between a young horse and a young child is precious! THANK YOU Feather Fund!

Lexy Swenson said...

Carolynn Suplee gave my daughter her pony,Chincoteague Miracle in 2003. I didn't know the first thing about horses, but my daughter has loved them always. She was 11 years old when she got her Chincoteague Pony,he was literally an answer to a prayer. The lessons she has learned from raising a foal far surpass any other experience that I can think of. She learned about patience, guidance, tolerance, and also dicipline from working with her pony. Sure she couldn't ride him right away, but that's the easy part. Having the drive to learn everything you can to best take care of an animal that you love is something else. They have grown up together and have a very strong bond. Lucky, as we call him, isn't just a pony; he's a member of our family. My daughter is 18 years old now and has strength of character and truly knows who she is as an individual, traits she developed, I think because of the dedication and time spend with her Chincoteague pony.

Laura Crum said...

I'm thrilled all you Chincoteague owners are happy with your ponies. That's great. But I have heard stories of Chincoteague ponies that did not turn out so well. I, myself have never dealt with a Chincoteague pony (that I know of), so can't speak to this. What I can say is that most children are best served starting out with a gentle, well broke older horse or pony. You need not buy said beast at the auction--I agree that is a very risky path to getting the right horse/pony. But there are lots and lots of gentle older horses and ponies who need homes, and a bit of research will help you find them. Reliable horse rescues are a good source. Experienced local horsemen can help you. Again, having had many, many years experience in the horse biz, I can assure you that caring for that gentle riding horse/pony will also develope your kid's character and confidence. My child's first mount was a gentle older pony who could have been a Chincoteague for all I know--he looked a bit like them. But its unlikely, given I'm on the West Coast. We loved Toby and kept him until he died. He gave my little boy a great start as a horseman. I totally recommend this approach over buying (at any price) an unbroken horse/pony for a child. I, like most experienced horsemen, have seen some real fiascos with this approach.

And yes, Karen Butler--sure, there's room for all approaches in the world. I'm just advocating for the approach that I believe is best (overall) for both the kids and horses/ponies involved. And at the same time its great that all these Anons are happy with their pony/experience.

Anonymous said...

The ones who do nothing are the ones that complain the most about those working hard to do something good for others. If Laura wants to give slaughter ponies to kids she should go out there and work her tail off to raise the funds and do it, start a charity like the Feather Fund did.

The Feather Fund has 22 incredible success stories and not one failure with the foals they've given away. These kids are not learning about riding as much as they are about life, love, work and giving.

This post is coming from someone who has had a lifetime in horses, someone whose daughter trained her own horse and learned more than all the rich kids in her Pony Club who made fun of her pony while they rode their ready-made mounts. Now my grandson is training his own foal.

Linda, your article was wonderful. Don't let one person with a negative attitude toward anyone who doesn't follow her path ruin a good thing. This blog post is inspirational and awesome.

Laura Crum said...

Gee, last Anon, thank you! You've just given me a great idea for a post. See mine tomorrow. If you read a word of what I said, you'd realize I wasn't advocating giving slaughter ponies to children. I was/am advocating buying gentle reliable older horses and ponies for a child's first horse. For very good reasons--reasons that are about what's good for children and horses. If you choose to attack me for this reason, I think you're a little short sighted. Once again, I'm delighted that you Chincoteague pony fans who have written in happened to have great experiences. I'm happy for you.

KB said...

I love the books, and I enjoy reading about the pony round-ups, but I'm with Laura on the issue of foals for kids. Unless we're talking about an older child who is already an experienced horseperson, I think it is a recipe for disaster. Kids belong on older, calm horses while they are learning. My son's pony did come off a slaughter truck, but she was evaluated by an experienced rider before we purchased her. It was the best possible start for my son, and with four years of riding and horse handling under his belt, I think he could now take on an unhandled foal without endangering either himself or the baby horse. As the adoption coordinator for a rescue (www.horsehaven.net), I think a pony or horse that has been thoroughly evaluated is a better option for a child.

Anonymous said...

Gentle riding horses are a wonderful idea and I advocate it! I just don't advocate people putting down the Feather Fund's gifting of pony foals in memory of an angel who did this annually for the 8 years she survived cancer, when they knot nothing about the breed. It is mean and short sighted.

Those who know anything about the breed know why twenty-some Feather Fund kids have raised nice riding ponies on their own with not one mean one in the bunch. That is the truth that tells the story.

I've had horses all my life, but none as gentle and wise as Chincoteague Ponies. I'm not talking about the handful of bad ponies that got that way because some impulse buyer took a foal home and tied it to a tree (an actual story I heard about) and tried to beat it into submission until this "wise" pony learned that humans were not to be trusted. I'm talking about foals raised with love by children with good sense and guidance.

My daughter's pony, trained by her at age 12, now bows, shakes hands, stands on a stool, shows English and Western and is on his 5th Pony Club kid.

Anonymous said...

Feather Fund kids must be age 10 to 18 with horse experience (4-H, USPC, FFA and riding lessons). They are vetted and approved by application and essay and discussion with the parent or guardian. They are experienced children with common sense.

We pride ourselves on good matches. ANON was right when she/he said these ponies are exceptionally kind and wise and that also makes a difference.

Experienced horse people run the charity and work very, very hard to buy these ponies and keep the memory of an exceptional woman intact. Sometimes there is more than one side to a story, it just takes digging to see that.

Let's try to be nice and not disparage the good work of others.

Lois Szymanski

Aske said...

Damn! Cried my eyes out when reading Carollynn's story...it's always wonderfull to see / read how one person can make such a big difference in the lives of many...

Anne Coyle said...

Everyone brought up valid points but what about the miscellaneous needs of every rider. If these children cannot afford a horse, how are they possibly going to be able to afford a good pair of horse riding boots, a helmet, saddle, grooming supplies, and the rest. As anyone who has ever been around horses knows, they can be very costly. Perhaps the Feather Fund could expand their efforts to include providing these youngsters with some of the equestrian apparel and equipment they will need, as well. Just a thought…