Checking my emails is one of my first jobs in the morning, catching up with people, sorting work, contacting clients, sponsors, responding to requests etc . A few months ago I received an email from a lady (Emma) asking if I would be interested in teaching in Greece, it was the middle of winter here and naturally my first thoughts were…hell yes…Sunshine I am there!! I replied saying yes I would love to. After we had sorted possible dates Emma told me that my trip was to be a surprise gift for a lady called Amanda from a group of friends, volunteers who had been working at the Skyros Horse Foundation). I did think I had done many unusual things before but this did sound a little more bonkers than normal! I hadn’t ever even heard of a Skyros horse before! Life is an adventure so naturally I jumped on the plane anyhow.
I met Emma and Anna who had come from Germany at Athens, we took the short flight heading east of Athens to Skyros. It was clear to see that this place meant so much to the girls as they giggled continuously about Amanda, the Island and of course the Skyros horses. Naming all 40 of them, telling me stories about each of them about the work Amanda and Stathis (The Owners) do.
While we were waiting for our transfer flight the girl’s text Amanda to check she was OK to pick them up form the Airport, Emma looked up and said, they are trying to sort some fuel out as there is none on the island. The girls roared with laughter, before putting my mind at rest saying that Amanda and Stathis could literally fix anything and that it would be no problem.
It felt a bit strange, uncomfortable even going through passport control thinking you’re a total stranger’s surprise! I am actually quite shy (with people I don’t know ;-)!!) so literally felt terrified. The girls spotted Amanda and Stathis, they dashed over for hugs, I stood back (in true reserved English style) Amanda turned straight to me smiled and then burst into tears.
We all piled in the van and heading to the farm, I could see how stunning Skyros island was, the weather was fantastic not a cloud in the sky. Arriving at the farm I met two more of the Volunteers, Inga and Elia who had helped Emma to organise my trip, the girls were clearly all super stoked there plan had come together and we were finally all there, on the farm in Skyros about to work for four days with the Skyrian horses they all loved so dearly.
The girls vanished, slipping back into life working on the farm, chatting to each other while sorting the animals and checking on the horses. Amanda took me to meet the horses….all 40 of them! We went in to one field after another, I was totally fascinated, the horses weren’t like any breed I had known or seen before. If you love a breed then maybe you naturally say you can see that breed in a horse. I didn’t, I thought just how incredible it was that there was a breed that really wasn’t like any other, I did start to wonder where have I been all my life how can there be a breed of horse that lives on a very very cool (in the trendy sense) Island that I have never heard of!
The Skyros horses are small in stature, maybe about 11.2hh high, predominately bay or varying shades of. As soon as we went in the fields they were straight over to say hi, be stroked and fussed. Amanda told me all their wonderful Greek names and what each one meant. As we were walking into one of the paddocks I realised they were all stallions, I love Marcus (as you all know) but have never had the chance to see a true natural bachelor heard. Herds of young colts is more common to see but these weren’t they were varying ages and were working or going to be working Stallions. I asked the obvious question of why have so many and Amanda told me about the breeding, the need to protect and preserve the different bloodlines to ensure the longevity of the breed.
In the adjacent stallion field a small fight broke out, Amanda calmly told me how one of the stallions, Orfeas had covered a mare and that it was still causing friction in the herd, within a few seconds they were back to swatting flies off each other but it reminded me just how quickly instinct can take over a stallion.
That evening, we went into the village, passing hundreds of goats and sheep. A few horses were on tethers enjoying the cooler evening while getting some grass. We drank wine ate olives and I listen to Amanda and Emma talking about the project, the struggle to get hay and how excited they were as there was to be a large hay delivery tomorrow which was amazing as they had created a hay appeal and this had funded a delivery of 21 tonnes of hay to keep the horse going for a few months. I sat there just trying to imagine what I would feel like having to get hay from another country, no popping to Mole Valley Farmers or making your own, it was obvious that the financial situation in Greece was very bad the Island obviously wasn’t rich in money terms but my goodness they are passionate and incredibly resourceful, Emma said they don’t have a Vet on the island, I looked at Amanda thinking, really?! Emma started telling me how Amanda and Stathis are called all across the island to help injured horses and other animals, Stathis and Amanda clearly have learnt to use the land, homoeopathy and get by with relentless patients and love for the horses. Emma enthusiastically tells me of how they mended a young horse with a broken leg, I listen almost in disbelief that this is even possible, but sure enough the next morning Georgie, the horse who beat all the odds trotted over, completely sound.
The first night I lay in bed worrying how I could really be of much help, I am not very good at the whole just standing in a arena and saying put your hand here your stick there bla bla bla…. Amanda clearly has a total natural way with horses so it was just finding a way to make her dream more possible. I felt that Amanda was in a situation which I had some empathy for and recognised, when your working so hard to get all the ‘have to be done jobs’ done. There simply often isn’t enough time to train any horses and with 40 where would you start!
I asked Amanda about her personal dreams with the horses, she told me she loved working at Liberty and loved the idea of possibly having a team, there was a big festival coming up on the island and she said it would be cool to have a something to start on with that in mind (no pressure then in 3 days! Lol). I said to Amanda I needed her to think of perhaps a few horses that we could put into categories; I mentioned for example perhaps we could have 4 as a Liberty Team as one group, one stallion perhaps who is running with some mares to work alone, 5 or 6 that work with the volunteers and Children who live on the island and maybe a gelding for Amanda to relax and look at the more advanced Liberty stuff with. Amanda chose her horses then volunteers, Amanda and I set to work, doing some fencing and getting ready for the hay delivery that evening. I was whacking in metal fence stakes with the girls holding and putting all the new wire up. Knowing what it’s like to have lots of horses, unless it is easy to get on with working the horses it is always the training that will get left as it is so easy to just run out of time, especially if you have to get horses in from 4 different paddocks to do one job.
We all worked hard, maybe it seems weird to have horse trainer go over and the first day be fencing and moving horses around, but it gave us all a chance to really get to know each other, by lunch time it seemed like we had all been good friends and had known each other for years!
By 9pm we all tired but on a high, feeling excited about being on Skyros together, then the hay arrived….all 21 tonnes of it!!!!
It had been sunny all day but the wind had got up and it had started to rain, the driver of the hay lorry said he only had until 6:30am before in had to be back on the ferry. We all very enthusiastically said we were on it, he look at us and said to Amanda we wouldn’t be able to do it, Amanda smiled told him there were three English and three Germans! He gave a warm smile and drove off into the village, by 1am we had done the first lorry and by 4:30am we had done it! It was incredibly hard work, the bales were SO heavy, but none of us were going to leave the others so we pushed on until we literally collapsed in bed.
The next day, the jobs were done and we could now really get on with the horses, I started working with Amanda and the horses, they were amazing, they are naturally very kind and clever, once you teach them they seem to get it, obviously very intelligent but rather refreshingly have this incredibly calm attitude. I was now in my element!
A group of the stallions had caught my eye, (all dark brown, almost black) I got this feeling that they could be the Skyros Liberty Team! I started teaching them to work together, I haven’t ever tried with mixed aged stallions who hadn’t done much (some hadn’t done anything) but full credit to how Stathis and Amanda look after them that they are so confident. They started to get it really quickly. One of the older stallions had done some training already so I handed him to Amanda and taught her how to add another young stallion to work along side him while I worked with the greener pair. On the first day both pairs started to show real brilliance, I felt so excited, they could park and walk together calmly, at first they would occasionally forget them selves and jump and chew each other (with no intent, just games) by day two they started to own the tasks, watching Amanda parking two in the middle and starting to work the others was super cool!
Amanda, Stathis the girls and I all worked with the chosen horses, one day the girls and I took 4 horses down to train on a local beach. I am not sure who loved it more but I smiled thinking what a truly awesome group of young people and horses and just how lucky I was to receive Emma’s email.
The following morning we let the girls sort the horses at the farm as Stathis and Amanda wanted to show me where the horses come from. We drove up to the mountains which cover about half of the whole island. The views were spectacular; I kept my eyes peeled trying to spot some wild horses. Eventually Stathis spots some down near a watering hole (just like in Africa! minus the lions..only a few crazy Mule sharks!! (Mules with teeth)) We got as close as we dare in the van before heading over on foot, it was three stallions, they looked well, Amanda said it was a good time of year as there was plenty of food around. I turned into tourist mode and wanted to get closer to take some happy snaps, we all wandered over, within a few minutes the stallions came over, one looked about 3yrs old and the other two older again. They let us scratch there necks, they even pulled funny faces, as we walked of they followed in two’s!! I did think well they clearly aren’t that wild but as we got in the van another van turned up wanting to look at one of them, he got out of the van calling come, come…they quickly left at this point lol!!!
Back at the farm, we were now on a bit of a role, the horses were coming along well, I did some work with Orfeas the stallion that was causing a bit of trouble in the other herd, he was quick to be defensive and perhaps by nature he needed to be, he found a win and I left it at that, they usually come good the next day…Amanda can keep me posted.
My few days were up, we had crammed so much in. I felt so proud of the amazing horses, especially the Stallion Liberty team!!….who I will have to pop back and have another play with again very soon! Amanda is incredible and an honour to work along side, a lady who I hope I can have as much passion, love and drive even in extreme adversity and against some times all the odds but still manages to smile and keep going. I definitely have met a new life long friend. I must say a huge thank you to Emma, Anna, Inga, and Elia for the organising the whole thing, working so incredibly hard and just being awesome super super lovely people!