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Photo-Journey to the Sardine wild horses

There are pearls that only glow when you recognize them as pearls. This is true for Sa Jara (Sardinian), the Giara di Gesturi (Italian), a wind-ridden plateau in the middle of Sardinia and the last retreat of the Sardinian wild horses. Where are they from? There are only assumptions about this. The Phoenicians (or the Greeks?) Brought them to the island 2,800 years ago, it is said. They have been living here for so long that they have become wild animals again. Even in captivity there is no tame animal from them. They have the size of ponies (about 1.20 – 1.30 m), but they are narrow-limbed and long legged like Arabs. Small horses, no stocky ponies. In the past people have occasionally tried to make the wild horses more manageable by crossbreeding with tame races, in order to use them for the field work. Since Arabs are the dominant horse breed in Sardinia, they probably also have Arab blood.

On the volcanic plateau of the Giara, the water collects in innumerable shallow lakes, which disappear completely after a long drought as in 2017 and leave huge, dusty and vegetationless surfaces dotted with stones.
20171006_0126Then the food is scarce for the wild horses, which compete for fodder with the likewise feral or semi-feral cattle and goat and sheep herds of the villages on the edge of Giara. There is a modest wild horse tourism in the villages, which endlessly and unsuccessfully argue about who the horses actually belong.
20171006_0067The Giara is not a landscape that turns its beauty outside. Cork oaks, holly oaks, countless gray-and-white stone chunks, and the half-high macchia, between them the dust-dried, gray-gray surfaces of the dried-out lakes that extend to the horizon. The light is hard, except in the short times at sunrise and just before sunset, when the dust dances in the air. The scenery is divided into the almost black, evergreen vegetation, the steel-gray surfaces of the lakes and the infinite sky, which lies like a huge light bell above the plain.
20171006_0597It is quiet, infinitely quiet. The wind has depressed the trunks of many cork oaks in the wind direction and formed into bizarre shapes. Often the stems continue to grow horizontally from man height, the younger branches align themselves upwards again. Trunks and branches are knobby and stiff, only the hard leaves and new shoots move a little in the wind.

It’s like magic when the horses show up. Silently, carefully, they pull quietly over the open surfaces in small groups and disappear again in the macchia.
20171006_0334Rarely you hear a neighing, if it comes to a quarrel among the groups or something in the family is clarified. Then the scene is briefly dramatic.

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You should bring time to meet them and not look for them, but wait somewhere in the countryside. They will come, because they are at home here.
20171006_0439They are not very shy, but they keep distance from the people they have already seen, long before you even see something of them. The more you become a part of the landscape and you only move quietly and deliberately, the more self-evidently they graze, play and fight near the people. This year they are terribly meager after the long drought, but the sparse rain at the beginning of October has given way to sprouting a touch of greenery and tiny blue and red flowers. Also daisies, which are immediately noticeable as rare white spots in the macchia, are here as a representative of a more lush vegetation.20171006_0158Shortly before the end of the drought the situation was so dramatic that helpers from the villages brought straw to the plain. The horses and the wild bulls, which are also completely emaciated, are still meager, but they no longer need it.
Less herds of sheep and goats would be a better aid to the wild inhabitants of the Giara, who can not move to other regions in times of need. But the fur of the horses shines in the sun. It is amazingly thick,  usually pitch-black or dark-brown, the hooves look like after an ideal bar hoof care. In short time they will look round and healthy again.

20171006_0252I soon no longer try to photograph them close up, because I do not want pictures of skinny animals that induce a false form of compassion. They are wild animals, and they should stay that way. They live here long enough to cope with the sometimes extreme conditions. It is striking that the approximately six-month-old foals look best. For this, the mares that sucked them are extremely meager, the stallions look a bit better.
The Giara has something of the beauty and brutality of the desert. What a wealth of pictures!20171006_0622-220171006_0540


Cork oak. The stems are peeled every 3 – 5 years, which does not harm the trees. The cork bark grows again.

But they must be carefully looked for and picked out of the landscape like rare precious stones. The horses look like deep black scissors cuts in the hard light and the extreme contrasts.
I will come back in the spring and see healthy herds again enjoying the lush vegetation and life.


View from the Giara di Gesturi into the valley at sunrise


Sa Domu ‘e s’ Orcu. The house of the Fairies and the Orcu, a men eating monster, is a cave-tomb, dating back to 3.500 B.C at the end of the neolithic age and beginning of the copper age.
Full moon before sunrise.