It’s five months today since the horses and I arrived here in Portugal, exhausted, dislocated – and relieved. At least I was relieved. The horses simply shook themselves off, snorted, and checked out the local grass as they came off the truck. Then we set out on the one kilometre walk that would complete our journey (the truck could go no further down the dirt road).
The journey begins
Three days earlier six horses and myself had set out from Israel on an epic journey. Six unsophisticated, backwoods horses who had never been on a horse lorry before, let alone a plane, and me, their over-protective, natural horse-keeping, essential oil wielding chaperone. I chose to travel with the horses to ease their journey in any way I could, to protect them from being treated like just another pallet of cargo; and to share this experience with them, a sort of penance for what we were putting them through.
The transport business doesn’t see living beings, just objects in transit – as anyone who has flown on a low-cost airline will agree. To me each horse is a special individual whose needs and comforts must be considered. Explain that to the man on the forklift as he screeches and crashes and jerks along with my frightened horses in a container… I think he got the point in the end, or maybe he was just terrified by the mad-eyed woman yelling at him!
We flew from Tel Aviv to Brussels on a Monday evening. In Brussels we were met the horse transporter – and my horse from England. Three days previously the transport guys had whisked him out of the grassy, Cotswold field, where he had lived a quiet life of semi-retirement for the last five years, loaded on a horse transporter for the 3rd time in his life, and ‘poof’, his old life was gone. The only uplifting moment for me on the whole journey was when I called his name from outside the lorry (I wasn’t allowed on) and saw his ears rotating keenly, trying to find my voice. I hadn’t seen him for over a year.
I had chosen this transport company, despite them being the most expensive, because they had promised we could decide on arrival in Brussels if my Israeli horses were fit to travel further, or if it would be better to rest close to the airport and continue the next day. Sucker! It immediately became clear that the well-being of the animals was less important than the well-being of the owner’s bank balance. After a useless, tearful tantrum outside the customs terminal we loaded up my tired and accepting horses, so brave and trusting, and set off into the night. Me and my friend Zena, who had also met us in Brussels, in a rental car.
We drove till mid afternoon, overnighting somewhere in rural France, set off before dawn, drove through the day, overnighted in rural Spain, started out again at 4 a.m., and arrived at the quinta by mid-morning. As I said, exhausted and dislocated, despite the cheerful reception from the rest of the crew (my partner Prasado, and Bill, Gali and Yulie, who own the quinta and four of the horses), who had arrived the day before.
Still, we had arrived. The hardest thing I had ever done was already starting to fade away into memory, like childbirth, as I walked beside my beloved horse and led the herd down the dusty track towards their new life.
At the top of the hill, just as we passed the boundary to the quinta, we paused and surveyed the view, my first view of our new home: the Serra da Estrela mountains to our left; tree dotted hills sinking and rising around us; the track before us heading on down the hill between aromatic pine, eucalyptus, lavender, cistus and rosemary – an aromatherapists shopping cart. A deep breath, an inner smile, we are home.
Where are we today?
Five months later, I sit here on the hilltop as the herd munches happily all around me and it is good. The horses are relaxed, healthy, well-fed, the herd dynamic is ‘right’, no-one lives in fear. But gosh, it’s been a journey to get here. For me it has been fascinating, stressful, joyous and educational as I watch this group of horses, each one with his/her own history (and baggage), form a coherent herd living an ‘as natural’ lifestyle – with a little help from the human herd.
The horses have adapted to their new environment, we humans have figured out how to provide them with enough food and shelter, nursed them through maggot attacks and lameness, slowly allowed them to roam more freely over the sort of landscape that most people would consider unsuitable for horses. And we are thriving. So many stories, so many lessons, I will share them with you in other blogs, alongside our continuing adventure. But in honour of the 5 monthiversary here are:
Five heartfelt memories!
1. Going down to the belly of the cargo plane, where the horses stood 3 to a crate, stacks of boxes piled all around, whickering at me as I step in to check how they are. Such a contrast, their quiet kindness against the harsh metal and hellish noise.
2. The horses have shown such trust throughout this whole process, from the days of preparing for the journey, through those 4 long days on the road, and the times of uncertainty, as we tried to provide the feed and shelter they needed in a land we knew nothing of. The trust has never wavered, only grown as we continue to Explore Horse and expand our horizons.
3. The way O-sensei, the English horse, picked up with Prasado and I as if we had never been apart, even after 5 years of not living together. We were his herd in those first hard days when the other horses chased him and refused all his polite and gentle overtures, he would have moved into our tent if the deck would have held him!
4. Those first days of freedom, when we cautiously opened the fences and I escorted the horses around the property to see how they handled the steep hillsides, strewn with deadfall and forestry litter, such pleasure to explore their new world together.
5. Today, not quite a memory yet, but a significant moment, they all stand in the shelter munching hay, having chosen to rush home from the oak valley when the rain started to pour, and I know I have listened to them as faithfully as I can and am providing the best of both worlds, domestic comforts and natural needs and the freedom to choose what they prefer.
So, here at Quinta Regadas do Seco life is good and I would love to share our beautiful space with you. I invite anyone who would like to learn about horses in a natural environment to come to one of our workshops. You will learn about natural horse care, how you can be your horse’s most trusted friend and refine your horsemanship skills on many levels. For more details on workshops and what you will learn go to the Exploring Horse Camp page here, or for dates and to reserve your place go to the Essential Animals website, or leave a comment here and I will answer any questions you have