The Wild Horses of Mount Ainos

One of the highlights of my visit to Kefalonia island this summer was my ‘expedition’ to Mount Ainos to see if I could find and photograph the wild horses of this mountain.

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The wild horses of Ainos live on the S.SE slopes of this great mountain of Kefalonia, above the village of Arginia. Their natural habitat is the area surrounding the monastery of Zoodohou Pigis where there is one and only freshwater spring, with a scant supply of spring water to quench the thirst of sheep, goats, people and horses alike. They owe their existence to the ancient peasant custom of keeping herds of horses running wild in the mountains so that they would not have to look after them. Abandoned after the second World War, they lived wild in small groups until up to about 10 years ago. Their numbers have decreased so dramatically that they are considered as being under threat of extinction. The horses of Mount Ainos belong to the mountain breed of Greek horses.

They are descended from the Pindos breed of horses, which the local peasants acquired from cattle fairs held in Aetoloakarnania and Arta. Isolated for decades up in the mountains, they adapted to the exceptionally adverse climatic and territorial conditions, such as the high altitude, rocky ground, lack of natural shelter to protect them from the cold and snows of winter, drought in summer, poor vegetation and scarcity of food. The way they have adapted, however, to the above conditions, combined with unchecked breeding in the wild, has meant that through the process of natural selection, the Ainos horses have evolved into a pure breed.

As I had been told that it is rare and difficult to find them I wasn’t sure I would be lucky… However, I must have had good timing because I found 4 separate herds in 4 separate locations! 6 hours of gruelling hiking, 4 of them uphill in scorching heat, paid off! The highlight was on my way down, thinking that I’d seen all I would see…

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As I was making my descent down the mountain, camera packed for the climb down, I saw her coming up, all on her own. There was a turning in the road so she hadn’t seen me as I was walking along the inside. There were some bushes on the side of the road on the curve and I rushed to hide and get my camera out. I lay in wait…and lo and behold she came strolling up right past me, merely glancing at me in surprise, likely wondering what the heck I was doing there, and quite possibly wondering what I was doing! It was the sweetest moment as she was unafraid, just curious…a moment of connection I will never forget…

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Hopefully, I can get to go again in cooler months, photography them again and explore the mountain even more.

Find out more about Ainos National Park

* All images © lenochka b

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