CHINCOTEAGUE, Va. -- Dozens of wild ponies grazed yesterday in a corral on Assateague Island, where they usually roam free among the marshes and woodlands.
Today, most of the ponies will swim across the narrowest point -- about 600 yards -- between Assateague and Chincoteague islands in an annual event that attracts tens of thousands of spectators.
Tomorrow, about 60 foals will be auctioned at the Fireman Carnival Grounds on Main Street in another annual event -- the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company fund-raiser.
Kenneth Burton, an island native, plans to attend the auction. Although Mr. Burton will attest to the virtue and beauty of Chincoteague ponies, he won't be buying any.
Mr. Burton, owner of Tom Cove's Campground on Chincoteague, paid the highest price -- $2,200 -- for a wild pony last year.
"There was another lady, and she wanted her as bad as I did," he recalled. "When we got bidding above $2,000, it really slowed down."
The pony -- named Crimson and Clover -- was born the Monday of "pony penning" week, when ponies are herded and corraled to rest and await the swim. "She was the only one last year that captured our hearts," said Mr. Burton. "She also captured our pocket book."
Crimson and Clover also left a lasting impression on Terri Robbins
of Mount Airy, who showed up at Mr. Burton's barn yesterday to see the pony, now a year old.
"She's gorgeous," she said, stroking the pony's mane.
Mrs. Robbins and her husband, Frank, plan to watch the swim and attend the auction. They don't plan to buy. "Our towing truck is in the shop," Mr. Robbins explained.
The ponies are auctioned off the last Thursday of July, to raise money and to manage the herd on Virginia's portion of the island, said John Schroer, Chincoteague National Wildlife Refuge manager.
"If they were left to their own, they would expand -- naturally -- and habitat would be damaged," he said. "Other wildlife on the island would suffer, too."