Monday, June 22, 2009

Wild, Wild Horses

Saturday was our Open Day here at the monastery, and I finally decided to hike all the way to the fabled Pollet's Cove -- an inlet and valley on the coastline that's a strenuous, three-hour hike (each way) through the mountains from where we are. When I set out on my hike, I wasn't even thinking of going that far, but somewhere along the way I decided I felt up for it; it was late in the day to be setting out on such a long hike, but I had two sandwiches and a couple of granola bars and some water in my backpack, so, well, carpe diem.

Pollet's Cove is near the very tip of Cape Breton Island, well above the Highlands, accessible only by trail. It was once a fishing community, but was abandoned long ago and is now a destination for day hikers, campers, and ranchers who bring their cows and horses and leave them there for the summer to graze.

I've tried to make it to Pollet's Cove twice before, and petered out both times before getting there. Mountain hiking is much more physically challenging than it sounds. But while I was on the trail I ran into two guys who were coming back from camping there, and they told me about the horses they'd encountered. That was enough to hook me. If there was a chance of meeting and interacting with semi-wild horses, I was determined to get there. I only hoped the horses would still be in the vicinity when I arrived -- it would have been terribly disappointing to hike all that way with the hope of meeting them and find that they weren't around.

When you arrive at Pollet's Cove you come out of a thick forest that you have to almost push your way through, and suddenly you step out into a wide valley with open meadows that slope gently down to a grassy plain and a large creek that empties into the ocean. As I came around the final bend of the slope and stepped into the clearing, I found the whole group of horses standing right there, as if they were waiting for me.

I don't have a lot of experience with horses, but I'm pretty good with reading animals' body language and communicating with them. I intuitively felt these horses were completely relaxed and welcoming, so I walked right into the group and began to pet one of them -- a gorgeous, cream-colored steed with a white mane who followed me around and hung out with me for a good 10 or 15 minutes. I petted her and scratched her back, and when I did that she would close her eyes and look very content. For a while I was standing on a log so I could be taller next to her, and I put my arm over her back to give her a hug (have you hugged a horse today?). I felt her leaning towards me, as if returning the hug (I admit I experienced a brief moment of fear with this 1,000-pound beast leaning into me; if she fell on me she would squash me like a bug). She was so peaceful and friendly and in tune with me that I felt, with total conviction, that at that moment I could have hopped onto her back to ride her and she would have happily agreed. But I dared not. Being so little experienced, and being without medical insurance in Canada, it didn't seem like a very good idea.

I eventually broke down and gave her one of my coveted granola bars, because I felt she had become such a good friend in those few minutes. She ate it from my hand (always feed a horse with an open palm, not with your fingers). That brought the attention of another horse, a dark chocolate-brown steed who was not going to let the cream-colored one get all the goodies; she trotted over with great interest and began sniffing and chewing at my backpack sitting on the ground. I had to shew her away from it to keep her from actually eating my backpack. I had only one granola bar left, and I wasn't willing to part with it since I needed the calories for the three-hour hike back home. But she had some stickers in her black mane that were matting the hair together over her face, and that didn't look very comfortable, so I picked them out for her and we bonded that way. She seemed to appreciate it.

Because I had set out so late in the day, I didn't get to spend as much time with the horses as I would have liked. I said farewell to them and went to soak my feet in the cold stream for a while before setting out for the return trip. When I passed the same spot on my way back to the trailhead, the horses had already moved on to another spot in the valley, looking for greener pastures. My meeting with them, although brief, was something I will not soon forget.

From Gampo Abbey - My Photos

From Gampo Abbey - My Photos

From Gampo Abbey - My Photos

From Gampo Abbey - My Photos

"Wild, wild horses
Couldn't drag me away..."

-- The Rolling Stones

1 comment:

egomzez said...

Very nice post. Nice pictures. More more more