Caroline Butler, a sixteen year old Carroll County resident, was the top bidder on a foal at Pony Penning in Chincoteague, Virginia, a wild pony round-up that has been an 87 year tradition. Butler, the daughter of Bryan and Karen Butler of Middleburg, had her heart set on getting a pony at the 2012 Pony Penning, held the last week in July on the island of Chincoteague, since being awarded a Chincoteague pony a few years earlier by the Feather Fund, a Carroll County nonprofit organization. She had outgrown the pony she was awarded by the Feather Fund in 2010, one from a smaller herd.
Laid up from a knee reconstruction that prevented her from travelling to California with her nationally ranked rugby team, Caroline spent her recovery time with her leg immobilized, watching remotely as this year’s crop of foals were born and photos were posted on Facebook. She studied the genetics of each animal, searching for a foal that would mature at a rideable size. Finally, she narrowed her choice down from the 67 foals to a short list that included three candidates: two fillies, and a leggy colt that was born the same day she had her knee surgery.
Once she was cleared by her surgeon, Caroline began working to earn the money she would need for her foal. She mowed a cemetery, and found a job mucking stalls at a nearby farm. By the time Pony Penning came, the not quite 16 year old had saved $1500.
Caroline went down to Chincoteague a week before Pony Penning and stayed with Lois Szymanski, co-founder of the Feather Fund. Mrs. Szymanski and Caroline scouted out the pens and quickly found the two fillies Caroline had on her list, but the colt was on the northern side of the Island, which meant Caroline wouldn’t have a chance to see him until the northern herd was rounded up and put in the pens on the southern side to await the much anticipated swim. When Caroline finally saw the colt, it was love at first sight.
The day before the swim, Caroline was at the pens to see what foals would be tagged as “buybacks” (foals that are returned to the island to replenish the herds). Caroline had been told only fillies (female foals) would be kept as there were too many stallions on the island already. As she looked over the pens, her heart did a summersault. Both the fillies she was considering bore the red tag of a buyback. She was glad her number one pick was a colt and that she would at least have a shot at bidding on him. Just as that thought went through her mind, her phone went off. It was one of the Feather Fund girls calling to tell Caroline the colt the she had fallen in love with had the red tag. He had been chosen as a buyback.
Caroline was devastated. She held back tears of frustration and disappointment as she told Szymanski the colt was a buyback. Szymanski was flabbergasted and wanted to make sure so they went to find him in the pens.
Caroline called her mom to tell her the bad news. The news was confirmed after Caroline saw the colt walk up to the watering trough right in front of her and get a drink. Around his long, perfect neck hung the red tag.
Numerous people tried to intercede and convince the Chincoteague Volunteer Fire Company, who owns the ponies, to let the colt go through the sale ring. Their minds were made up; the colt was a buyback. Caroline decided to have her mom come pick her up, rather than attend the sale and have her heart broken. Her mom drove the four hours to Chincoteague, and the two determined that they stay one more day, to support the Feather Fund recipients.
Thursday came and Caroline made the difficult decision to attend the auction. Throughout the auction, others tried to convince her to bid on another foal, but her heart was true to her first choice. As each foal was brought out by the Saltwater Cowboys, Caroline’s heart was heavy. Foal after foal found new homes with eager bidders. The buybacks went as high as $7200, with foals as big and flashy as Caroline’s bringing up to $4200. Caroline was resigned to go home without a foal.
Finally, the auctioneer announced there were no more foals to purchase; the last two would be buybacks. Caroline’s heart pounded as she saw her colt enter the sale ring. The auctioneer stalled as someone approached his booth. He covered his microphone as he listened, then nodded, and made an announcement that sent shivers through Butler’s heart, “Ladies and gentlemen, I have been given some new information on this foal. Turns out there was a mistake, This foal is not, I repeat not, a buyback. This colt goes home with the buyer.”
There was confusion in the crowd as the bidding started up again. The colt was soon at $5000, as people thought he was still a buyback. Once more the auctioneer stopped the sale, and explained. This time, Caroline had a chance! The bidding commenced at $500, and Caroline bid. There was a rush of emotion as bids escalated quickly. The hammer stopped at $1250. The colt was Caroline’s.
Never before had ad the fire company removed a buyback tag. The crowds cheered and screamed and reporters surrounded them. The next day, on the front page of the Eastern Shore News was a picture of Caroline right after the sale and it said, “It Was Like a Miracle!”
Back home in Middleburg, Caroline decided on the perfect name for her colt. She christened him,”Quintilius”, after the story of a star that shared his magic with all the world.