The Transhumance is a ride like no other. This is not a trail ride, but a French family’s mission each spring to move a herd of 35 black Merens horses from the Pyrenean foothills into the high mountain pastures of the Ariege Nature Park, where the horses spend five months in total freedom.
The Merens are an incredibly hardy breed with a sweet and gentle nature. They are generally jet black in color, with a small and stout body, and a long, curly mane and tail. Jean Louis and Christine Savignol have been helping to preserve the breed - also known as the Ariegios pony - in the Ariege Region of the French Pyrenees where it originated. Their holistic approach to caring for the horses has resulted in a herd of gentle-natured, willing, and extremely trusting horses who seek to connect with humans.
What makes this particular herd so special and valued is that the horses are treated with respect and given unconditional love from the day they are born. They have never known bits or spurs or force. They are listened to and their innate wants and needs met first and foremost. Anything more they offer their humans is accepted with gratitude and reverence.
In May 2018 I completed my second Transhumance. The trip of a lifetime, twice! I feel so blessed! Essentially in France the Transhumance is the traditional practice of moving livestock from one grazing ground to another in a seasonal cycle, typically to mountains in summer and lowlands in winter. In the US you'd call it a muster and in Australia - a drove.
Jean Louis has been taking his horses the 65 km up to the mountains each year for 17 years now. Their horse numbers are dwindling as they no longer breed, but still, getting 35 horses with 10 riders through 65 km of city, country, and backcountry roads in three days is no easy task. This year, for the first time ever, Jean Louis made the journey with only a neck rope to guide his mount Moustique. The herd leader had chosen him years earlier, and today he is the only horse Jean Louis ever rides.
To participate in the event, the horse must choose you. You observe and meet the horses, and the one you connect with or who comes to you is the one you will eventually ask to carry you up the mountain.
Last year I was chosen by the six-year-old mare, Agour, who stepped forth from the herd to greet me and, after that, never left my side. This year Agour remembered me and stepped out to me as soon as she saw me to ask me to scratch her bum. That’s how I knew it was her – it can be hard to differentiate among the seemingly identical three dozen gorgeous black horses until you start to pick up on the small differences – the 10 white hairs forming just a hint of a star on Agour’s forehead, the little ridge of hair standing up along her spine, the telltale angling of her bum toward anything or anyone offering a scratch. Agour courageously took me and herself up the mountain one year ago and, even though she hadn’t been ridden since she was trained as a three-year-old, she was a perfect angel as we accepted our role bringing up the rear of the herd. We had agreed on a mission to make sure everyone – horse and human – was safe.
This year, however, my destiny was to connect with another horse, a 16-year old gelding named Nepal. Nepal is easier