I had heard about the Skyrian ponies before I’d heard about the island’s very unique Carnival celebrations. Although I haven’t seen much of the island (probably the first time I’ve never seen the port of a Greek island!), my stay wouldn’t be complete without seeing the horses.
Last night I’d messaged Amanda to see if I could visit the farm before I fly back to Athens. She confirmed that I could and I made the necessary arrangements with the wonderful Frosini for whom nothing is too much trouble. Frosini picks me up at 11.30 am. My suitcase and everything else is bunged into the boot and we head off to the Skyrian Horse Project that is otherwise known as Amanda’s Farm. It sits en route to the Airport in the North of the island so it makes sense to do it this way.
Frosini drops me outside the gate of the farm where Amanda and her volunteer Chloe are waiting for me. She kindly offers to keep my suitcase with her so that I don’t need to take it into the farm. I had been asked to wear a mask whilst visiting and happily reassured Amanda that I’m one of those rare Brits who still wears a mask when on public transport or close to people outside of my family. Amanda explains that they are a fully working farm and any illness amongst her very small team would put the welfare of the ponies at risk. Not only this but the ponies could also be susceptible to picking up human viruses. All totally understandable.
Before taking me to the horses Amanda tells me that she has spent many years studying the behavioural psychology of horses and that it’s an area that really interests her. She tells me that firstly I should hold out my hand to the horses and let them smell my scent. Once they have familiarised themselves with me I can then scratch them firmly on the neck. It has to be a firm scratch rather than a tickle which may make them think that it’s fly and irritate them. Into the first field of ponies, we go.
I have not been around horses much before. I’m not afraid of them but I take on board everything that Amanda tells me. At one point one of the horses tries to have a little nibble at me. The horses are very protective of Amanda and don’t always like the idea of a new face coming to take her attention away from them.
Amanda has been around horses for most of her life and sees the work that she does here on the island as a labour of love. Amanda makes clear that the farm isn’t a ‘tourist attraction’. The small number of visitors that they get, helps to fund the running of the farm and especially the feeding of the horses which has of late become very expensive. On top of that, there is the maintenance of the farm and mending the fences is a never-ending job.
I ask Amanda if all of the ponies on Skyros now live on farms. She tells me that mainly yes they do and there are a number of farms that have the horses. She says that although it would be wonderful to have the ponies living out in the wild, practically they would never survive. In a way, it’s at loggerheads with the farmers who use the hillside pastures to graze their sheep. The pastures are overgrazed and at a premium. The Skyrian pony needs to eat a lot and even more so during the harsh winters that the island can be subject to. If they were left to live in the wild, they just wouldn’t survive.
Amanda introduces me to the horses and points out a white one that unfortunately has cancer, something that the white ones can be subject to. She isn’t in much pain at the moment but they monitor her and ensure that she is living a happy and pain-free life until the inevitable day will come. Amanda points out that the stature of the Skyrian pony is quite narrow. I thought that they looked quite stocky but apparently, they have their winter coats on at the moment which deceivingly, makes them look chunkier than they really are.
Chloe, Amanda’s volunteer (who Amanda tells me is an exceptional volunteer) has been here for several months and also plans to come back and stay longer. I notice that she has a British accent and I’m curious as to how she can stay in Greece for so long since Brexit. She tells me she has a Cypriot passport – Ah worth its weight in gold!
I ask Amanda how the horses react to the fighter jets, based just a few kilometres away when they are out on manoeuvres. It seems that they are mostly used to it with the exception of one or two that are still a bit skittish when they fly overhead.
Finally, Amanda takes me to see two of the stallions. They are both in individual fields and Amanda tells me that only she can go into the field with them because they can be very aggressive and territorial. It is clear that all of the horses and especially the stallions have a strong emotional bond and affection for Amanda. The stallions in particular driven on one hand by the love and care that has been given to them by Amanda. On the other hand they can be driven by their sexual urges. Any biting or other sexual displays are swiftly shut down by Amanda by using a series of body language gestures that clearly demarcate the boundaries.
My visit here was brief and I’m so glad to have seen the pony’s which first piqued my interest in Skyros. I’m really grateful to Amanda and Chloe for giving me some of their valuable time whilst other priorities call. I’m left with nothing but admiration for Amanda and the work that she is doing here and the love and expertise that she has for her job.
You can contact Amanda through her website or her Facebook page below and any donations will be gratefully received.
I grab my coat from a garden bench which has temporarily become a bed for one of the farm cats. Right on time Frosini arrives to take me to the airport. I’m the first one here. The Greeks turn up twenty minutes before the plane is due to depart. It’s a tiny airport and a small plane so this is the way things are done. The airport reminds me of Astypalea Airport where you put your case through a scanner and then chuck it onto a belt that drops it right onto a cart on the other side. Passports or ID are shown at a small desk and then we wait until the ‘security’ is open. Most people go back outside the airport for a smoke.
Once security is open, we queue up to put hand luggage through another scanner and then we wait in the small and compact lounge. The plane is here and we board. It was quite a turbulent flight. When I look to my left and see the Greek’s crossing themselves I know that things are rough.
Thirty minutes later we land in Athens safe and sound. Now onto the next leg of the journey which I’m still not sure if it will work out or not. Ideally, I want to be in Diakopto in the Northern Peloponnese by this evening. Fingers crossed!