WICHITA FALLS, Texas -- When Sarah Fung was 9 years old, she fell in love with a book that began to change her life.
"Misty of Chincoteague," by Marguerite Henry, tells the story of a group of ponies that lived on two small islands off the coast of Virginia -- and two children who wanted very much to own one.
Even though the story was fiction, the setting -- the small islands of Chincoteague and Assateague -- is real, and so are the special Chincoteague ponies that live there.
Fung dreamed of owning her own Chincoteague pony someday and bringing it here to Texas.
The book introduced her to the islands' real-life tradition of rounding up the ponies for a swim from one island to the other on the last Wednesday of each July. The foals are auctioned off before the mares and stallions swim back to their island.
Like the ponies, that tradition fascinated Fung so much that she read all three sequels to Henry's original book.
In sixth grade, she found an ancient book buried in the school bookshelves. It was full of pictures of the Chincoteague ponies featured in her favorite book.
She checked the book out every week for a month and the librarian finally just told her to keep it.
A few decades later, after moving to a ranch with her husband, and after owning several horses, dogs, sheep and cattle, Fung told her husband that she wanted to buy a Chincoteague pony.
At first, he didn't understand why someone who already had horses would want a pony. "He gets it now," she said.
She purchased a Chincoteague pony that was bred in captivity, sired by the prolific Lightning of Chincoteague and from the producing mare, Denim and Diamonds. She named her Moon Pie, after the white streak through her mane, and nicknamed her Pie.
The filly never made the traditional swim between the two islands, but she is, nevertheless "bona fide Chincoteague," Fung said.
"Every horse-crazy girl has read or heard of" the "Misty" book, Fung said. She even visited the book's setting last year. "It was wonderful, like a dream come true."
She purchased Pie as a yearling, then trained it herself , something she'd never done with her other horses.
"My husband was pretty impressed with her. My son helps me, too," she said.
Fung even lost 40 pounds specifically to ride Pie without overwhelming the 13.2-hand filly, now 3 years old.
"She's so smart. She picks up tricks so easily," Fung said.
Fung writes a blog about Pie at www.slidebythesea.wordpress.com. She updates it often with photos and news of her training and events.
Once children meet Pie, Fung encourages them to read Henry's book and its sequels. "Being able to see something real, living, breathing and furry --it makes it real," she said.
It took her 20 years to finally own her pony and to connect with the small, close-knit Chincoteague community, she said. Her new dream is to take Pie back to the islands for a visit.
"I want to ride her on the beach."
(Contact Ann Work of the Wichita Falls Times Record News at www.timesrecordnews.com.)