Helios - A Home for Horses in the Spanish Pyrenees

Helios – A Home for Horses in the Spanish Pyrenees

Help Helios


In June 2012, We (Tom, Julia our daughter Molly) gave up our farming life in England, and walked 1000 miles from the top of France down to the Spanish Pyrenees, with our horse Maggie and our two dogs. It was a change of life with no plans for anything to do at our destination and so creating an open door where our future could unfold. Soon after arriving we looked for a companion for our horse Maggie, and were quick to find an old horse called Corrito who was in much need of some proper care and love. He has made an amazing recovery and has turned out to be a wise mountain master. There were four other horses living nearby who were in quite tough conditions and their owners were persuaded to allow them to come and join Maggie and Corrito, for more space, freedom and regular feeding. After some time the word was getting around that we were caring for horses in a different way to local attitude and showing a new approach to horse care. It pleased a lot of people, just to come and see the horses living in an open space as a herd. More horses were given to us and by the end of 2013 we had nine horses in our care.

Here is the Ventham story in full:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Epilogue

Why We Care

We have an awareness and compassion for all living beings in our world. We believe that all life is sacred and interrelated. Alot of animals are free and can not be domesticated , but a vast amount of animals are farmed for their meat, skins or what they can provide for us and some are kept for our pleasure and entertainment. More commonly the Horse fits into this latter category.

Without challenging others views on what is right or wrong, for us it feels unacceptable for any of these domesticated animals to be neglected or mistreated to the point of suffering. Just as we would not wish it upon ourselves. This is a difficult line to draw but in most cases your heart knows when things are not right. Its just that some of us don’t see the problems or are in a situation where they can no longer care for an animal. We are facing difficult times on our planet, some parts of the world more than others. But we must not forget that we are not the only species trying to exist, especially those who are in our care and at our mercy. All animals have the right to be treated with dignity and to be respected for the beings that they are.

Horses are the dolphins of the land. They have been with us from the beginning of time serving a multitude of purposes. As a mammal they are surprisingly close to us humans. They have feelings just as we do, they experience pain and fear, joy and peace. As a group they express remarkable unity and comradeship. Horses have the ability to live on the cusp of the seen and unseen world, and through contact with us can help us return to our spiritual origins.

Our horse Maggie has taken us on a journey of a life time for which we will forever be indebted to. Because of this we now have dedicated our lives to helping horses where needed and also to help us humans experience a connection with these amazing animals. We need to be together caring for each other in order to evolve into a more harmonious world.

How Do We Ccare

The underlying principle is to restore the horses right to freedom. Of course when they first come to us they are generally not in very good health physically and mentally. Most typically they are undernourished and have been kept in confinement. We worm and treat for mange, and then they are introduced into the herd so they can be as a group.

We provide a very basic existence to enhance a natural well being:
• Space which is so important for horses who can typically travel 15km a day
• Shelter from extreme weather
• Fresh water and salt
• Grazing with hay and straw as a supplement feed

All the horses are barefoot with no shoes on, and the hoofs are trimmed periodically to simulate natural wear if necessary.

Any interaction with the horses is done on a mutual basis. We use no bondage and no force. Rather we spend time developing a relationship first and then trust. Some of the horses can be ridden, some just like to go for a walk and some just like to be left alone.

For healing emotional problems and regaining trust, we have found that to provide the basics of care as a routine is one aspect, but to also show the animals that we really do care for them, talk to them, respect them, love them and to let them know what amazing beings they really are. This in itself is a powerful intention to bring a sparkle back into their eye and an incentive to live. Which incidentally works for humans as well!!

The Horse represents power, along with forward movement, adventure, confidence and courage. We try to give them the opportunity to express these innate traits.

Where Are We

Currently we are situated in a village called Borrastre, close to the Ordesa National Park in the Aragon region of the Spanish Pyrenees. This is right in the middle of the Pyrenees, 800m high, between the Mediterranean and the Atlantic seas.

We rent a small house for us as a family, with some land attached for the horses. In the winter months the local farmers allow us to use more land to give the horses a wider area to forage.

Its not at all populated in this area and the local people are indigenous having survived here for centuries. They like many other parts of the world have gone though dramatic changes to their lifestyles in the past 30 years The dominant activities in this valley are farming for meat and tourism where people come during the summer months to enjoy the peace of this spectacular environment and also for sporting activities.

Our Vision

Our vision is to cultivate a lifestyle in caring for horses together with us as a family. It is a project that we are already doing and are passionate to develop. We feel that we have so much to share with other people. It encompasses not only the right care for the horses, but also a way to coexist in a more harmonious and balanced way with nature and the animal world. Horses in particular have a great deal to teach us, if they are in an open free environment.

Our experience

I was born on a farm in the UK and have lived my life well trained and schooled in working with animals. I have lived and worked in Zambia, Australia and New Zealand. I have been witness to some amazing animal stories, which I used to call miracles, but now realise they were all part of the animals way to heal and communicate with one another. Without speech their senses are different to ours, being highly tuned to the energies all around them. They feel everything. Their feet are very grounded on the earth and they directly experience all the seasons of the year. They are survivors and are masters at being at one with nature. This perhaps is the key to how they can help us, as we fly around in our technological world. When you truly experience unity with a horse, the world looks a very different place.

After I bought our horse Maggie, my life changed quite significantly. I began to see the picture of what I was doing with my farming life in a very different way. She challenged my beliefs and made it quite clear that we had to form a different type of relationship and bond before we were going to do things together. I had acquired so much experience over the years about caring for animals, but she showed me I actually still had so much to learn. Farming is working with captive animals. As a farmer you restrain them at some level and they do what you want, until the end of their lives which you decide when and how that should be. Does it really have to be like this? Or is there another way that we can coexist.

I had a horse who wanted to run free, this is when she looked her best and most powerful. We could harness her in bondage and she would dutifully oblige, so forgiving and patient, but all the time waiting for that moment to run free. So we worked hard to develop our relationship and to trust one another. I have learnt a lot and been challenged out of my comfort zone. We tried everything alternative and we became natural horse and man. This is when the magic happened. Once maybe twice only but it was enough for me to see the world through her eyes, as our thoughts and movements were joined as one. My beliefs changed in how I wanted to live my life. Maggie gave me the strength to make a big change, perhaps she wanted this too.

As a family we have lived in community with other people. We ran a community supported Biodynamic farm for 11 years in England, selling all our produce directly to the local community through our farm shop. We hosted open days and farm walks, trained apprentices and volunteers, had school visits where we showed the children how the farm works. We celebrated the seasons, to give thanks to the earth. We did everything possible to make it an open farm. We had nothing to hide and wanted to show the public a harmonious approach to living off the land.

Julia, is a natural community leader, with many years experience of living and working in communities around the world. A trained Montessori teacher, Julia has home-educated both our children. More recently, she has trained in alternative healing modalities, is a regular meditator and offers courses in both. We both share a love of the natural world, growing our own food and having a simple, sustainable lifestyle .

Developing Our Project

The horses teach us to focus on the present, now, and what is real. As humans we have free will, to organise our lives into a form, that fits the world we live in and to dream our reality. With a meeting of minds we can evolve to live a more harmonious life with nature.

The ideas we have to develop the project are for the benefit of others but also to provide us with a means to generate an income to care for the horses and ourselves. They are:
• To have open days where people can come and observe the animals in a free environment.
• To provide simple, affordable, rustic accommodation for people to come and stay, i.e. yurts, wooden cabins, adobe houses, in which to observe and feel more connected to nature and these wonderful animals.
• To run courses in animal communication and other alternatives such as, meditation and yoga that fit with the projects ethos.
• To run demonstrations in how to form a relationship with and care for horses, i.e. hoof trimming, feeding and constructing shelters.
• Horse Café. Open to the public on open days (weekly). Simple natural organic snacks and drinks in a relaxing atmosphere from where you can observe the horses. Providing picnic areas as well.
• School visits to encourage a connection and relationship to the horses and also to nature.
• Organic garden. Horses produce a great deal of high quality compost.!! Produce from the garden would be used for the project and also for sale to the public. We could run courses in gardening, compost making and nutrition.
• Sponsorship of individual horses with monthly newsletters. Opportunities for sponsors to come and stay to spend time with their horse.
• Retirement home for old horses, where their owners can pay for them to see out their days in a natural loving environment.

We are in the process of finding a more suitable location to suit the horses and our needs. It will have good access, a source of natural water, lots of space with grazing and mountain foraging areas. We will strive to set an example to live with as light a foot print as possible, off the electricity grid and self sufficient in our food production for us and the animals.

Initially we will manage the project ourselves as a family. As it begins to develop we will encourage volunteers from organisations such as Help Ex and WOOF. In time it will be possible to invite people to come and live on the project to help in specific areas and to be part of the self sufficient community. This will give a strong grounding for sustainability, with less dependency for the projects success on any one individual.

The land will be owned by a charitable organisation with a commitment to caring for horses. This will provide long term security for the project and allow freedom for us as individuals to develop the project within our means and without the burden of a mortgage.

Our Horses

Maggie an Irish Cob mare. Born in 2005, 14.2 hands high.She is a draft horse and has been used a lot for pulling. She started life in the North east of England. She was sold at Appleby Fair to be used to pull a caravan for a travelling gypsy. Sometime during this period she had a foal. She was then brought by Rob and was used for collecting scrap metal around the streets of Hull in Yorkshire. We brought Maggie in 2010 with the intention that she would deliver milk from our farm to our customers. However this never happened, but instead she became an exciting hack for me and my daughter Molly to explore the surrounding countryside. We also had a lot of fun going out in a small trap around the country lanes. She loves to be near people especially children and will not hesitate to enter a building. One time I lost her on the farm and spent ages looking for her, only to then find her standing peaceful in our kitchen. Which incidentally used to be a stable. She would spend a lot of time actually in our farm shop wooing the customers. She has a lovely healing nature and is striking to look at. She is immensely strong for her size and has now gained some of her natural independence. In June 2012 we put her on a ferry and took her across to the North of France. She then pulled our cart with us walking, 1000 miles, up and over the Pyrenees 2000m high to where we are now in Spain. What an amazing horse she is. We have now hung up the harness!! She is undoubtedly a healer and has an amazing attribute for showing us the way in life.

We have no records.!….but word of mouth he was born in 1989. He is a gelding.

We found him at a nearby camp site when looking for a companion for Maggie after we arrived in Spain. He was one of 11 horses that were kept for taking tourists for rides. All the horses were in terrible conditions, very cramped in a small corral, and it was a fight food when a little was offered. I went with Molly and a Spanish friend Jessica to look at them. It was a very sad situation as these horses were very depressed. Only one came up to us at the gate. He jabed at me with his mouth and then walked away. I knew exactly what he was saying ‘get me out of here’. We found the owner who at first resisted helping us at all but after a while said that he had one horse that he was going to put down as he had really bad breathing problems and was coughing a lot. We could have him provided that we took him away in 2 days time. He went to show us which horse it was and sure enough it was the one who came up to talk to us. We found someone with a horse trailer and arranged for him to be brought to us. He was keen as he literally jumped into the trailer. Once home, we wormed him immediately, took off his head collar which had been on for so many years his nose was reformed. We took his shoes off and set him free with Maggie who was pleased to have a companion at last. Within 2 week his cough had completely stopped and was experiencing grass and freedom for the first time in a long time. He would quite often escape over or under the electric fence, I never actually saw him do it. But he would always stand just on the other side of the fence never running off, but just reminding me he is a professional escapist. He has turned out to be a fine mountain master, nothing much phases him now, but he has both the physical and mental scars to show his life has not been very happy. He moves slowly, doesn’t want confrontation but does make sure to spend time with all the herd individually, passing on his wisdom. What a lovely horse he is.

She was born at a local riding centre in 2011. She was brought and is now owned by Gabriel, a local farmer, to mark the birth of his grandson, in the hope that one day they could be together.

It was Maggie who sensed her one day when we were walking passed a farm. She could see through the walls! We went to investigate and found Xena tied up in a very dark cowshed.

She had been taken from her mother when she was 4 months old and has been in the cow shed for the last 2 years, having no contact with another horse and no grass or freedom. To cut a long story short(more amazing animal miracles), she arrived here last week with the whole family who own her to see her being set free with our horses. OK, so it was quite an affair. We put her in and all our horses began to chase her around. This is quite normal behaviour when introducing someone new, as they try to find a place in the herd. But it didn’t stop. The 2 males we have were trying to bring her down and take chunks out of her. She was running like the wind to get away. Impressive camera footage! Eventually they stopped but only to start up again after a rest. I was worried that she was using mussels for the first time ever, but also more concerned that she was not showing any signs of submissive behaviour towards the other horses. When I saw blood coming out of her nose I took her out straight away. Horses can do this when they over exert with extreme pressure on their lungs.!! I explained to the family that all will be fine I just needed to protect Xena and that it may take a bit longer for her to integrate in the herd. I took her off to a corral nearby and left her to rest for the night. I realised that evening what the problem was! As she was taken from her mother so young and put in with cows, no one had taught her how to be considerate of other horses while finding a place in the community. No one had shown her any social cooperation and communication skills. She certainly hadn’t been old enough to learn these when separated.

The next day I took Currito down to see her. He is 24 and an old Master we had rescued from a nearby camp site. On the way down I explained to him what needed to be done. I put them in together. He went straight up to her, no teeth bearing and no chasing like the day before. He stood by her side for ages, touching noses and clearly communicating some wise messages to her. It seemed like he was talking to her as a grandfather talks to a child. Reassuring without the ‘I ‘ and just explaining things in a respectful way. I felt completely at ease and left them together for 24 hours. Then I replaced Currito for the other male Sirio. Very strong big handsome 3 year old. He wasn’t quite so forgiving and twice I had to jump in and ask him to be a bit more considerate. It was quite clear that he was showing strong signs of wanting to mate with her, (pretty obvious with a horse). He was not interested in bringing her down he just fancied her, she is very pretty. That was his main thing and he certainly couldn’t waste time giving her social interaction lessons! Eventually they calmed, he discovered he wasn’t going to get a chance as she was not in season. I left them for the night at least so they could become familiar with each other and for him to acknowledge her as a ‘could be’ herd member.

The next day I put her back in with the others. What a difference. Currito said I’m her if you need me, Serio ignored her but said I’m here if you want to be mated with! The other mares kept her at a distance and now a week later are beginning to allow her a bit closer as her natural instincts of social interaction are coming back.

The family has been back since for some slightly more harmony photos and even brought other members of family and friends to see.
I’ve learnt a lot from this whole process. Here says an ex dairy farmer. The importance of relationship within species. How many animals are taken away from their mothers so soon after birth and are left vulnerable to learn ways to socially interact. So much stress it must put them under when the relationship is lost. And how nervous and untrusting and unpredictable it makes them towards other beings. Perhaps it resonated with me a bit as I was shipped off to boarding school at 7 and didn’t realise it at the time but began to learn other ways to socially cooperate or not as my headmaster used to show me!

So that’s the beginning of Xena, who is now settled in well with the herd. She is beginning to show signs of being a horse again, but remains to be extremely confident. She has never been ridden or trained, but she is very easy to put on a head collar and lead.

He was born in 2009 and is a gelding. He looks like a unicorn. He is powerful and alert and keeps the whole herd moving.

He is owned by Etana. She brought him from a farm where he was tethered on a short line and being fed for meat. She trained him for riding and kept him in a corral near where we were camping when we first arrived. On the first night I had a dream about Serio. I saw him very clearly. The next day I went for a walk with Maggie to explore the area and was surprised to find him standing in the coral very real in his physical form. Over the next few weeks we would often wake up and find him standing next to our field talking to Maggie. This happened so often we let him in to be with our horses. Etanas’ personal circumstances changed and she felt she could no longer look after him. She tried to sell him as a riding horse but with no luck as he is extremely nervous around anyone except Etana. So we offered to look after him as he had settled in well to the herd here. Sometimes she comes to visit him, and is always very willing to pay for any hay or trimming he may need. He is a lovely horse to take for a walk but none of us have yet been brave enough to ride him.

Talante and Sasa
Talante was born around 1990 and Sasa 2011. These two go together because Sasa is the foal of Talante.

They both belong to Mario who is a professional poker player. He kept these two horses in a small pen near where we are staying and Sasa had grown up in this enclosure. They had been there for two years. They were fed and watered when Mario could remember, but clearly not a lot! We offered to him that they could have a better life if they came and joined our horses to have space and freedom and regular feeding. He willingly agreed and has been very supportive in helping with their care. I think that Mario has learnt a lot from this experience as he can see his horses looking so much better in this environment. Talante is the leading mare in the herd and exudes all the qualities of being an excellent mother. She came originally from a riding school so is quite tame. Sasa is still suckling at 3 years old. This is very unusual but I guess Talante will know when she has to wean her. Apart from lack of freedom she has not been damaged like all the other horses at some point in their lives. If you go out into the field and just sit with them she is the only one who will come and put her head on you, breath heavily, and melt you in an instant. You quickly forget about everything else and become overwhelmed with a huge sense of connection and oneness with something you really cant put into words.

Noble was born 1992 and a gelding. 16 hands tall. I don’t know much about his history but he has been a local icon. He used to be the local dray for carrying tourists in a cart around Ainsa. I’m not sure for how many years but judging by his posture, it has been quite a long time. His owner came to see us one day in a bit of a panic as he had to go into hospital and was desperately tying to find a new home for Noble. The next day he brought him here in a trailer, unloaded him and handed him to us with a piece of baler twine around his neck This was the first time we had seen him. He said he was ours now, no paperwork just told us his name and age. He had a lot of bald patches from mange, no tail or mane left from scratching so much and was quite thin. But he strided down the track, eager to see his new home. After a few weeks of isolation to treat him for worms and mange we introduced him into the herd which was so easy. He stood apart from the others for a couple of days waiting to be accepted and then he found his place. He is certainly not one for any conflict. He has a very noble personality, he makes us laugh. When you go out for a walk he follows like a dog, with his one good ear working overtime to compensate for the bad ear.

Prince and Calcetinas
My daughter and I came across a very very thin horse that was being used for giving tourists rides. When we approached the horse she had completely zoned out. She seemed to have lost all sense of response and stood day after day tied up and waiting for tourists. The owner was not there at the time but several weeks later we managed to make contact. He acknowledged that the horse was very thin but she had gone with the 5 other horses also used for riding up into the mountains for the winter months. More weeks passed and then he contacted us again and said that he was going to cease to run the riding business and he needed to find homes for all the horses and was going up into the mountains to try and track them down. We offered to take any that he couldn’t sell, hoping that one would be the very thin mare that we had originally seen. More weeks passed and we got another call saying he had found them, so we went with a friend and trailer to the mountain where he had three horses tied up. . He had only found these three the others were going to be left to their fate on the mountain, it seemed too much trouble to find them!. One was sold but he said the other two (Prince and Calcetinas) we could have. We brought them home, took off what shoes they had left on, trimmed their feet, wormed them and injected for mange and extreme tick infestations. They are both very old and recovery is slow but will improve in the spring. We will go back to the mountain to look for the missing three. One of whom is the very thin mare we originally saw.

Please leave a comment for Julia below

Here is the Ventham story in full:
Part 1 | Part 2 | Part 3 | Part 4 | Part 5 | Part 6 | Epilogue


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About the author


Mark is the founder and editor of HorseConscious, which provides a haven for those seeking a gentler, more equal way to be with horses that doesn't involve force or pressure. As well as building a community, where people can meet and exchange ideas, HorseConscious is also a focal point for education in these methods. The site is free for all and we are continually adding new articles and features and we'd love to hear of your experiences too!


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