The Feather Fund: Helping Kids Achieve Their Pony Dreams – part 2
Continued from our Part 1 article…
By Gabrielle Sasse, PleasureHorse.com
The Feather Fund is a non-profit organization whose mission is to continue the work begun by Carollynn Suplee to assist deserving children with the purchase and attendant costs associated with the acquisition of Chincoteague ponies, with the goal of helping each child learn about responsibility, care, love, work ethic, as well as the concept of “giving back to others” through the care and training of his or her animal.
Children between the ages of 10 and 18 send in an application each year to ask for a pony. They must have adequate housing for the pony, have an equestrian background, have a minimum number of dollars saved, must attend the auction and submit a short essay or video about why they want a Chincoteague Pony. Feather Fund recipients are chosen by the fund’s board of directors, which includes members of the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Department and prior recipients of Chincoteague ponies, either from the fund or from Carollynn and her family.
Nineteen year old Amy Wetzel of Oberlin, Ohio was one such pony recipient. She too first learned about Chincoteague ponies through the beloved Misty, “but when I absolutely fell in love with the breed was in the summer of 2007,” she begins. “My family and I took a vacation down to the Virginia shores, and while we were there my dad heard someone talking about the swim being that week. I insisted that we should go! I was so excited that it happened to be the same week because I knew about it but never knew when it was.”
“Early Wednesday morning, we got up and headed to Chincoteague. I fell in love with the island– it is still my favorite place to this day and I always get excited when we go back,” Amy exclaims, her excitement evident. “I fell in love with the ponies after the swim, and we went to the holding pens to see them up close. I always thought they were cute in pictures but seeing them in person was when I knew I wanted to own one.”
“For the rest of the day I begged my parents to buy me one in the auction… and they said no.” And like all pony loving girls, Amy got a taste of what she could have and kept on asking. “For the rest of the year and continuing years, I kept asking for one. The first couple of years I was not allowed to go to the auction because my parents could not trust me to keep my hand down!” She laughs. “I learned everything I could about [the ponies]. I was hooked on the breed, and I dreamed about the day when I was an adult when I could go back and finally purchase one of my own.”
“After our first year going to the swim, my grandma saw something about the Feather Fund in a magazine. She told me about the contest and how I could enter to win a pony,” Amy explains. “I was thrilled! There was a way of getting my pony earlier then I expected. I entered two years in a row and never received a phone call. In 2011, I had forgotten about applying and the deadline approached quicker then I expected. I was at my grandma’s house and she had asked if I had entered yet. I said no and she insisted that I do. I put together an application quickly because my hope of winning was gone. I always liked to think there was a chance. I might not be the winner again, but I tried anyway. I am so glad that I got my essay in that year! Just when I had given up hope about being part of the Feather Fund winners, I got that phone call asking me if I would like the donated colt!”
Lois adds to Amy’s story. “That year that Amy won, she was in third. The second place girl’s dad had gotten laid off and so they were unable to get a pony that year.” Feather Fund promised the girl, Alana, a pony the next year if they were able to afford it. “Alana’s dad finally gave in after being opposed, and her dad fell in love with the pony! There was definitely something big directing us.”
Her dream finally realized, Amy and her parents went off to the Pony Auction. “Auction day is so exciting! So much is going on and it is so easy to get caught up in all the excitement,” she shares. “It was the second year I was allowed to attend the auction, and there are so many people that it is hard to find a place to sit.” The town hosts a carnival of events, games, rides and food stands to complete the whole affair.
“Even though I had the option to bid, I decided to keep the colt that had been donated to the Feather Fund by the fire department,” says Amy. “I had waited until I got to Chincoteague and looked at all the foals before I made my decision. While looking in the pens out of almost 60 foals, I was able to find mine without a problem. As soon as I saw him, I knew he was supposed to come home with me. I didn’t feel that way about any other foal.” Lois adds, ““Buckeye belonged with Amy.”
“Even though I wasn’t bidding myself, it still was so exciting see the foals come in one by one and watch the cowboys trying to keep them under control as the ponies tried their hardest to get away,” Amy reminisces. “A little more then half way through the auction, I saw my colt being walked into the pen. I wasn’t sure what was going on; I was afraid they were going to try and auction him off by mistake since he was such a special situation. Luckily, the auctioneer said he was unable to sell that one and soon Lois was called up to talk. She called me into the ring, and I was in shock!” she exclaims. “It was the first time I got to pet him after watching him for days. I was so excited I was trying not to start crying, and hearing everyone cheer for me, especially all the new friends I had just made, was amazing. I got to take my very first picture with him that day. I could hardly believe it wasn’t a dream. That is a day I will never forget – the day I received ‘Babe’s Buckeye’! Buckeye for Ohio and Babe for his dam.”
Amy has been thoroughly enjoying her pony, doing all sorts of ground work, manners, showmanship and tricks. “Buckeye just turned two in November [of 2012], so we are getting close for me finally being able to start breaking him out! While working with him, I learned he is very smart and a quick learner. His best trick is stepping up onto a platform, which is the famous ‘Chincoteague Pony trick.’”When asked why it’s famous, Amy exclaims, “I’m not sure, it just is! There are pictures of Misty standing on a platform. Also, every time I have seen the Chincoteague Pony drill team perform, they stand up on a platform because that’s what Chincoteague Ponies do!” she laughs. “I hope one day I will be able to get him to stand up on a platform while I am riding him.” Amy tells us more about her work with her pony: “I have introduced him to the saddle, and to my surprise he was very good about it. I’m choosing to bring him to The University of Findlay with me next year, when we break out colts.”
Buckeye has quickly learned to love his life in Ohio. “He has always loved attention since the day I brought him home, and it didn’t take long for him to warm up to people. When I walk into the barn he greets me with a nicker and is excited to see me. He is very playful, and loves to run around and play with his ball. Every time he is put out, he seems to put on a show. It is so much fun to watch him play! He will run and stop right in front of me, either wanting attention or for me to go play with him. I have learned a lot from working with him, and even though there are days he can drive me crazy, I have not had one day I regret my decision of keeping the donated foal. I am so happy with the decision I made and I know that it was the right one!”
Lois encourages everyone to get involved. “We have fundraisers, and you would think donations pour in, but they don’t. The ponies sell for very high! The most we’ve paid is $4,200, and they often go for well over $1,000 – $2,000. We are good at directing kids towards the better quality foals, which equal higher prices. Since we track every mare and stallion on the island, we track the height of what they grow to. We direct the kids to the ones that grow to 14 hh and up.”
“We are run by a Board of Directors. Ed Suplee is still very active, my daughter Shannon is very active and volunteers, and Robin and I run just about everything!” chuckles Lois. “I organize fundraisers and call for meetings and whatnot. We fundraise with anything: lollipop sales and bingos… the most successful one we had was when we had people donating model horses that they had painted to look like herd members on the island. People who follow the herd know the horses- they have favorites. The day before the real auction, we auctioned off the model. Some went $30-$50. Others went to $300-$500! Particularly because a favorite mare, Dream Dancer, was struck by lightning that year and everyone wanted her model. Usually when there is a lightning strike, several ponies go down, so the firefighters said that was a very lucky occurrence.”
Thanks to Amy and her baby Buckeye for sharing their story with us, and congratulations! If you would like to learn more about the Feather Fund, would like to donate to help a child receive a pony, or are interested in applying, visit their website for more information.
Hope is the thing with feathers that perches in the soul
and sings the tune without the words and never stops at all.
– Emily Dickinson