The ponies are the property of the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, and proceeds from the sales fund things like their new firehouse, hoses and uniforms.
Before Henry, it was a quaint local rite; “If you’re from Chincoteague, wherever you are, you come home for Pony Penning Day,” said Richard Conklin, 78, as he sat on his porch on Main Street. Before Henry’s book, a Christmaslike dinner was served, he recalled, with potpie as the traditional meal, and the auction, held at a fair set up on main street, was a townwide affair.
As he spoke, his granddaughter, Hope Abell, 15 at the time, sat at the foot of his rocking chair, discussing with her grandmother Carolyn Conklin, 76, which colt she was going to buy at the auction the next day with the money she had saved up digging for quahogs, a local mollusk. Hope has been buying ponies since she was 8 years old, she said, training them herself and selling them for a profit. “When I see a pony, it’s like I feel it,” she said, describing how she chooses her mounts. “Like it is meant for me.”
For the more than 70 years since Henry’s best seller, Pony Penning has been a phenomenon — the real Misty was featured in Life Magazine several times, and the birth of her first foal was celebrated in 1960 with a day off from school for the local children. Visitors have swelled the town, population about 3,000, by as much as 40,000 people, on penning day, according to the chamber of commerce. Henry’s story has stoked the equestrian fantasies of little girls the world over, including one growing up in mostly horseless New York City — me.
By Sarah Maslin Nir