Red Star: horse of a rare breed

Adrienne Wolfe stands with six-month-old Misty (foreground), who is one of three Chincoteague ponies on Rolling Bay Farm. - JULIE BUSCH photo
Adrienne Wolfe stands with six-month-old Misty (foreground), who is one of three Chincoteague ponies on Rolling Bay Farm.
— image credit: JULIE BUSCH photo

Breeder Adrienne Wolfe promotes the ponies made famous in children’s stories

Standing 14.2 hands tall, Red Star’s large brown doe-like eyes placidly gaze into yours. Her coat is astonishingly soft to the touch. And although no treats are in the offing, the Chincoteague pony and the younger Misty eagerly nuzzle up to visitors.

Adrienne Wolfe turned to the rare breed while casting about for a horse. She decided to promote the horses made famous in children’s literature, yet are very few in number.

“It seems a shame for these guys because you read the book, but then you forget about them,” Wolfe said. “There’s hardly any of them. I just want people to think about them.”

Wolfe is miles away from her former job as a wireless communications program manager, but within a heartbeat of the animals that were so much a part of her life growing up.

“I just feel totally calm, it’s a perfect partnership,” she said of riding horses. “It’s very subtle how you cue them, shifting your weight. It’s a quiet sport.

“As an adult, I find it very cathartic, whether combing or mucking stalls.”

Last summer Wolfe, her husband Mark Tiernan and their 2-year-old daughter moved from West Seattle to 2 acres on Bainbridge Island, where they’ve established Rolling Bay Farm.

She plans to promote the Chincoteague (pronounced SHIN-ko-teeg) ponies by breeding them and becoming a spokeswoman for them.

Her first three ponies arrived in January: 6-year-old Red Star, a 6-month old filly named Misty and Sweet Breeze, a tricolored buckskin pinto who, at age 12, is the pasture boss and due to foal in March.

Wolfe wants to start a Chincoteague breeder association and promote the breed with activities for children. She has already registered with the Make-A-Wish Foundation, which grants wishes to children will life-threatening illnesses.

The Chincoteague are a great breed in many ways, Wolfe said.

Although the ponies live wild on Assateague, an island off the coast of Maryland and Virginia, they are surprisingly mellow in temperament, easy to train and have a natural affinity for people.

Some say the island ponies escaped from a Spanish galleon wreck, others say farmers brought the horses from the mainland to avoid paying a fencing tax.

Half the population, about 150, is owned by Maryland, which controls the horse population through birth control and half are owned by Virginia, which herds the horses across the narrow channel to Chincoteague and auctions off 60 to 70 foals during the Pony Penning every July, a grand event attended by some 40,000 each year, Wolfe says.

Proceeds support the Chincoteague volunteer fire department.

The fact that they are a smaller breed, 13 to 14.2 hands, compared to most riding or race horses that stand 16 or 17 hands tall, make them good for women and children to ride, Wolfe said.

The horses are also steady and don’t spook easily, yet the breed is not well known except in Marguerite Henry’s children’s book “Misty of Chincoteague.”

Currently, there are only two registries in the U.S. for this breed, in Chincoteague, Virginia, and Bellingham, Washington.

Perhaps because the Chincoteague fire department is not equestrian in nature, Wolfe theorizes, the breed hasn’t really been promoted, but that’s not the case with Wolfe, who was a “horse girl.”

She started taking riding lessons when she was just 7, living in Illinois. She recalls always wanting to be around horses.

By age 12 or 14, she had moved up from cleaning halters to getting jobs to exercise or train horses when their owners were away.

Eventually, she worked at a stable owned by a jockey who took in broken-down racing Thoroughbreds.

Wolfe got her own horse when she was 14, an ex-racehorse named Kite Flyer, whom she trained for hunting and jumping competitions – the former judged on style and poise in jumping and the latter for speed and height of jumps.

Since graduating from college, Wolfe worked as a program manager for AT&T Wireless for nearly 20 years. But about five years ago, the “outdoor-oriented” couple decided they wanted to do something more rooted in hobby farming.

Of all the potential animals they considered, Wolfe kept returning to horses.

Wolfe says the goal of the farm is to become “a hobby that pays for itself and some change.” She encourages those interested in getting a pony to work with her to select a stallion to sire a foal of the desired size or color.

Foals start around $2,500 at the pony penning, and average $4,000 to $6,000 at the Bellingham registry.

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