It’s the last week before Christmas and once again I am spending the week in the Pyrenees in the company of seventy-plus horses and a smattering of people. We are taking the horses from their summer grounds, some 1800 metres up in the Pyrenees to their winter grounds some 1400 metres lower in the Aude.
The horses are capable of surviving the temperatures of the mountains but the winter grounds afford them better access to food. They will have dry-grassland to feed off for the winter period but they will have no more shelter than nature herself provides. For four months they will be left to roam an area of more than 85 hectares.
Of course, “rough living” is only a part of the story: not one of the horses is shod. And yet they are quite capable of covering 150km in four days – with or without rider – with no detrimental effect on the hooves. The snow, ice, climbs and descents are all taken in their stride with little or no chance of injuring themselves. Last year we did a 10km trot downhill on snow and ice. This year promises to be as interesting – there is already a good layer of snow awaiting us on the other side of the Col de Puymorens (snow chains were obligatory this morning).
It should be a good week again.