My journey dancing with wild horses.
The adventure of healing a wild herd presented many levels.
Staring up an academy at the end of the road in a small unknown Caribbean island, turning an untamed bush into a productive farm, and developing an ecotourism centre to raise funds, was quite a task along with the rescue of seven wild horses.
After the rescue, we had the herd settle in a smaller area around the ruins of a building that is today the hiking center. We kept the five mares in one group and the two stallions in each of their paddocks. The herd started to settle down.
At the academy we were around 25 students, teachers and other volunteers and we had many discussions about what we should name the horses. Part’s of Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean 1 was filmed in St. Vincent and two of the horses Jack (Sparrow) and Danny got their names from this movie. Jack and Danny also had “rastas” just like Johnny Depp. The five mares got their names too. A very old mare was called Granny, and our lead mare we named Darling.” There was something very special about the number two very shy mare and we called her Spirit. Elena, a student from Italy at the time thought the best name for Spirit’s daughter was ‘Elena’ and the last young mare was just something else, very joyful and active we called her Magic.
The wild herd’s ancestry probably included a mix of Barbados Thoroughbreds, a few imported polo ponies, some Quarter Horses and a few other South American breeds all mixed very well together over an unknown number of years.
I like to call the St. Vincent breed “I-landic Horses”. This unique breed of horses are small, strong minded, smart and energetic.
Creating the Dream Home
The Academy is located on thirty acres of land, so lots of space was available to create a Dream Home. We started to fence in the overgrown football field, the hidden fruit orchard, the grugru forestbush behind the greenhouse structures and some other flat areas around the Academy. We connected several of the areas with pathways so the horses would have to walk up and down hilly roads to get from one to the other, to better grass, to the breadfruit tree and then walk all the way back to the water. When we had rounded up the horses we had forced halters on them and once the horses started to lose and take their halters off with connected ropes, I could no longer catch them that is also why we connected the pastures, as it was impossible to come near them.
In this way I could meet the horses’ natural needs. Horses need to have freedom, friends and lots of movement so they can keep healthy and self trim their hooves. There are no farriers on the island, and our natural horse management setup has kept 24 hooves in self trim since 2007. 24 hooves, because old Granny just stayed with us a year before she passed. I kept experimenting with how to put the fields together to get the best results in terms of self trim. ,Some things worked and some things didn’t.
We got really good at making fence poles from trees, metal wire and concrete, all home made, simple and low cost solutions.
St. Vincent is a tropical island and during the rainy season it pours down heavily and the herd would stand close together, bending their heads down to shield themselves from the rain. After some time we had raised enough money to build a shelter so the horses could escape the rain. When the shelter was finished and the rain came, I waited in excitement and imagined that the horses would immediately go under the shelter and even be grateful…. I visualized my lead mare Darling getting close to me in the shelter and that this was going to be a great way to get closer to her, as the horses did not want much to do with people and I thought the shelter was going to be my breakthrough.
Then the rain came. I ran outside, through the wind and rain, sat down in the shelter, waited… and …nothing happened…
The herd did not come near the shelter and stood in the same way close together with their butts facing the wind and rain. It took the horses 2-3 months to discover the benefits of the shelter; after all they had never had one before. When they discovered that the shelter was useful, they would not go in there if I was there anyway.
I continued being with the herd without doing anything and continued to develop their home, that step by step turned into a park. I had become very good at swinging the “cutlass,” a big knife that looked like a pirates sword to keep the park clear of bushes.
From the roof of the shelter I stated to collect rainwater for the horses. The horses preferred rainwater to public water. Public water has chlorine. In the beginning I was quite worried as the sun was shining strongly from the clear sky and none of the horses were drinking except the foals going to drink from their mother’s milk bar. The horses would not touch the public water for up to 24 hours after which the chlorine had evaporated.
One day I saw Spirit licking a specific spot on the ground and I thought that was pretty strange. Then I remembered that all the horses I had worked with earlier had a salt and mineral block in their stalls, maybe Spirit needed more minerals? I could find a mineral and salt block in St. Vincent as some farmers used these for their cows. I hung the block up in the horse shelter and once again waited eagerly for the horses to enjoy the gift… again nothing happened.
I had also read that “tropical” horses need more salt as they sweat a lot. Horses are not really made for this climate and now as we humans had brought them over here, we would need to accommodate their needs. Patience was a great teacher on my journey. One day finally I met Darling in the shelter licking the mineral and salt block like I would lick a chocolate vanilla ice cream on a sunny day.
More about the salt adventure: Once when I had started taking Magic and Granny for walks, Magic was drinking the salty ocean water. First I thought I should stop her, but then my second thought was….. well maybe she knows what she’s doing and what she needs. So I let her continue drinking the salty ocean water and she never seemed to have any problems.
Discovering Self Healing
One day Magic’s left front knee was twice the normal size, and she was limping badly. I though it was broken and I instantly imagined my first horse funeral. I was so worried, I ran to the phone to call the vet. Finally he picked up the phone but could not come before Sunday and this was Tuesday! I had not idea what to do, Magic could not follow the herd to the better grass and she was in a lot of pain and distress. What to do?
Should I try to tie her? No. Instead, I let her out in the garden where she could eat what she wanted and find any herbs she might need while I kept Granny corralled. In this way Magic could have company, and did not need to move with the herd through hilly pastures and anymore than she choose to herself. This worked!
It took two months and Magic healed herself in this way. The vet did come, but there was nothing to do but wait to see if she could fix it herself. So we had to trust it was going to work.
During these seven years the vet visited us five times. Two times for castration, once for vaccination of a newborn foal, one time for the sore leg and one time for a deep wound.
Connecting through long walks in the rainforest
I had started to go on discovery trails with Magic and Granny, finding new jungle trails and wandering on deserted beaches towards the La Soufriere volcano. The walks were magical. The sounds of the ocean massaged my mind and the gentle tones from the rainforest entered my heart. The walks were great not just for the hooves but on so many levels. We started to connect more deeply.
I observed the hooves carefully and was fascinated how a small crack in the hoof was no problem. Earlier I would have panicked. Elena’s front hooves would crack in the middle about 1 cm, thereafter the toe would crack off on the left side, then followed by the right side and again. The hoof always ended up being nice and round when the longer toe cracked off. For those of you who are into trimming, you can even see the “mustang roll” on Darling’s hooves in these photos.
The Home that Heals
In between all my other tasks developing the Academy, I continued to expand the horses’ home and had finally created a “park” with great views in all directions. My sweat would water the ground and I could spend hours on Sunday mornings with the herd at sunrise as the night turned to day. I took walks to the fig tree, reached for the sweet leaves and gave to the horses, then I would walk over to the mango tree handed out free fruits, found a wild papaya and searched for grugru nuts.
Magic and Darling were the first ones to follow me around and enjoy the snacks I could offer. They would always keep an eye on me and soon more of the horses discovered the benefit of my company. Step by step I became one with the herd.
It always brought great peace and relaxation to spend time in the park with the horses working or just hanging out.
The Horse Park continues to heal people who like to enter and explore the world of the herd and reconnect with nature.
Kind regards Stina