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HORSES THAT FLED HORROR FIRE ARE NOW REAL-LIFE FIRE HEROES


Three horses that were given sanctuary when wildfires devastated rural Portugal last summer are now living their best lives – working as a fire prevention team.

The native Sorraia horses – a rare and ancient breed famed for its zebra-like markings – are roaming loose on 40 hectares as part of a rewilding initiative to reduce the fire risk in the area.

It’s an incredible turnaround in the fortunes of the mares, all of whom were in a pitiful condition last August.

Anna Gabteni, a horse trainer at Moita Nova Equestre in the Alentejo region of southern Portugal, told MumsHaynet: “Last summer, there was a huge fire and, as we entered the fourth day of this wildfire, I suggested to my boss that we put something on the internet telling anyone needing an evacuation place for their horses to come to us.

“The next day, we got eight donkeys and two Sorraia mares. We were expecting three, but one escaped in panic because the situation was a mess with the fire, but by some miracle she managed to survive.”


When the horses eventually arrived at Moita Nova Equestre they were in a sorry state – undernourished and with open sores on their backs.

“They were that super skinny we thought they were two years olds,” says Anna.

“I have seen thinner horses, so the mares were clearly getting some food, but their hooves hadn’t been done and they had wounds on their backs from scratching and fly bites.”

As well as being underweight, the two mares were close to wild and clearly traumatised by human contact. However, over the course of three weeks, Anna was able to give them basic first aid care before returning them to their owner.

Unfortunately, when she went to visit the fire refugees a couple of months later, their condition had deteriorated.

Welfare

The owner agreed that as he hadn’t the means to properly take care of the horses, Anna could have the two mares she had looked after, as well as their pal who had miraculously rejoined the herd when the fires died down.

While Anna’s sole objective has always been the welfare of the horses, she is now looking for a way to help finance their new lives as her earnings as a trainer and groom can’t hope to cover the sudden arrival of three new horses in her life.

To this end, she has set up a Go Fund Me page while she explores her options.

SMILES BETTER: Anna has given the Sorraia mares a second chance in life

Although Sorraia horses can be ridden, they don’t tend to be bred for performance.

Thought to be the Iberian ancestor of Lusitano and PRE horses, with established links to the American mustang, there are only 200 or so Sorraia horses worldwide.

Usually dun colour or grullo, the Sorraia has very distinct, primitive markings, including a black dorsal stripe, black tips on the ears, and horizontal leg stripes, which is how they earned their ‘zebra’ nickname among locals.

Standing at about 14.3hh maximum, the Sorraia horse is said to be docile and reliable, and better suited as one-person horses. However, for Anna’s small herd of mares – Ibérica, aged 11, Justa, aged 10, and five-year-old Opalina – the aim is to let them live as natural a life as possible, giving care as and when it might be needed.

She said: “Following three months of quarantine and treatment, including wound care, vaccinations, supplements, getting their teeth seen to, deworming, and rehab with freedom-based target training at Moita Nova Equestre, I found a really good place thanks to a woman who offered her land because she needs it clearing.

“Because of the fire last summer, everyone is now very interested in having animals eat the grass to reduce the potential risk.

“So, this woman has provided the land and it has enabled us to start a rewilding and holistic grazing project with the horses.

“They live on the land, but they are only semi-feral as I still deworm them and check for wounds, rather than completely leave them to their own devices.

“And I am happy to say, that after moving there in March, they are all thriving.”

FIRE HORSES: Anna's three mares are eating hard to reduce the fire risk this summer

Last August’s devastating fire broke out in area of scrubland and pine forest in Baiona, within the parish of São Teotónio.

After raging for five days, the fire reached the neighbouring Algarve municipalities of Monchique and Aljezur, leaving a 50km stretch of 8,400 hectares burned in its wake.

It was sky high temperatures and strong winds that hampered the heroic efforts of more than 1,000 firefighters, leading to the evacuation of 1,400 people. Now with another hot summer beckoning, authorities are again on red alert.

With wildfires becoming an increasing part of summer life in a number of European countries, governments and land owners are looking at new ways to reduce the risk. Rewilding is one such way to combat the threat.

Along with goats, and even bison, hardy indigenous horses are being reintroduced to lands they once freely roamed, clearing the scrubland and vegetation that acts as fuel for devastating blazes.

Endangered

Left to their own devices, horses in the wild will consume some 30kgs of vegetation a day.

“The horses are on a 40-hectare agrotourism farm, right now, called Misericórdia da Boavista but there are people nearby who are also interested in the project,” says Anna.

With more people wanting to invest in rewilding, Anna is looking into the possibility of breeding the three mares – to both increase the population of the endangered breed and also help safeguard Portugal’s vast swathes of forest.

“I need to find a way to make this financially feasible,” says Anna. “So, I am looking into guided tours of the area for those who are interested, and a breeding programme because Sorraia horses are so rare.

“But this year, the priority is to get the horses settled and used to their new home.”

If you would like to help Anna and her herd of Sorraia horses, you can make a donation by clicking here


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