The 94th annual Chincoteague Island pony penning was another success, and the herd is now safely back on Assateague island to live wild and free for another full year. The fair has closed up and the saltwater cowboys have gone back to their day jobs, but for three special girls, this year's pony penning was one for the record books.
Thanks to an organization called The Feather Fund, 12-year-old Graysen, 13-year-old Olivia, and 16-year-old Alexandra had their dreams come true at the annual pony auction. The girls have all overcome life challenges and left this year's auction with their very own Chincoteague ponies.
The Feather Fund is a nonprofit organization that has been helping children and teenagers fulfill their dreams of owning Chincoteague ponies for 15 years. It is inspired by a woman, Carollynn Suplee, who dedicated her life to helping children fulfill their pony dreams and giving back to the Chincoteague community. When Carollynn was diagnosed with cancer, she underwent treatment, but she didn't know if she'd survive. When she did, she felt compelled to use her life to give back to others.
It started when she began seeing feathers everywhere she went. She would see them in the oddest of places, and it soon occurred to her that these feathers were more than a coincidence. When she read Psalm 91 verse 4, she knew she was being protected by the Lord and was being guided to give back. The verse reads, "He will cover you with his feathers, and under his wings you will find refuge."
When a series of events led Carollynn to buy a Chincoteague colt with a feather marking on his neck for a little girl wearing a feather t-shirt, she couldn't ignore the signs. Every year until the year she lost her fight with cancer, Carollynn followed the feathers. She made dreams come true for deserving girls and boys, and each story is characterized by almost unbelievable serendipity. The Feather Fund was founded to continue Carollynn's work, and every year, they help deserving children forge powerful bonds with dream ponies they find at the auction.
This year, The Feather Fund helped three more girls find their dream ponies, pushing their total number of pony recipients to 45. The oldest of this year's feather girls, Alexandra, wrote an essay about her battle with an eating disorder. She struggled because of anorexia, but her love of horses helped her heal. She picked up a part-time job at a summer camp where she helped care for 120 miniature horses. When her heart horse was sold and moved away, she knew she needed another horse to make her life complete. The Feather Fund recognized her resilience and chose her to be one of this year's recipients.
Another hard-working horse lover, Olivia worked tirelessly all summer of 2018 with dreams of buying one of the Chincoteague buyback ponies that are returned to the herd to help sustain its numbers. She raised $1,300, but she soon realized her life's savings wasn't enough. But through the generosity of strangers, her dream came true and she became part owner of a buyback pony. Sadly, that pony was the only foal to die that year of "swamp cancer." Olivia was devastated, but she was as determined as ever to support the Chincoteague herd of wild ponies and the community. The Feather Fund helped make that happen.
The third 2019 Feather Fund girl submitted the organization's first-ever video essay. Graysen struggles with dyslexia, and her video essay was a heartfelt production about her love of horses. She fell in love with a horse she rode at her barn, but that horse was eventually sold and moved away. There was a horse-shaped hole in her life, and The Feather Fund agreed she had the work ethic, experience, and passion needed to raise a Chincoteague pony.
Alexandra, Olivia, and Graysen arrived at the 2019 pony auction with feathers in hand ready to bid on their dream ponies. The Feather Fund allotted each girl $6,000, and they were free to bid on their favorite ponies. None of the girl's went home with their first-choice ponies, but true to The Feather Fund magic, each match seems meant to be. Now with lead ropes in their hands and their hearts full from generosity, these girls are ready to raise their ponies with love and passion. The Feather Fund also hopes to inspire their girls, and horse lovers everywhere, to be kind, compassionate, and to always have faith.
Horse Courses by Elaine Heney
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Featured images via Facebook/The Feather Fund