I am writing this article for those who want, during their holiday in Bagni di Lucca, to get out and enjoy nature and horses. I am Rosi and I have worked for the last 3 years at Ruscello Ranch with owner Marcello and his son Leonardo. The ranch is just outside Bagni di Lucca at Ponte a Diana. We provide trekking, Ital-Western festivals as well as raise and train horses.
I would like to share some personal stories of our experiences, accounts of our adventures and thoughts and observations of the wildlife and wilderness around Bagni di Lucca. I feel this is just as fascinating as the culture and history of Tuscany.
The Garfagnana mountains near our village are a real environmental miracle. It looks like a harsh mountain landscape, but there are also broad valleys. It is beautiful in every season and in winter it is at its most spectaular, with the snow covered peaks forming a breathtaking sight. In spring it suddenly bursts into bloom.
Here I have seen for the first time wild herds of horses with their new born foals, grazing peacefully on the green pastures. One foal caught my eye when she came galloping right over the peak with the big azzure sky behind her. She was black as the night with spots on her back. This young Appaloosa I gave immediately the name Sky. She was running around so fearlessly under the beautiful Tuscan sky. I wanted her to be mine.
These foals have an unsure future in the wild. The harsh winter and lack of food make it hard for them to survive. My friend Colette and Leonardo’s girlfriend Chiara had fallen in love 2 of the foals so we set about to catch and tame them.
Half way through October we were waiting impatiently for the arrival of the 3 foals. The trailer arrived late – it had taken some time to catch them, load them into the trailer and drive from the mountains to the ranch. They were driven very carefully over the winding roads, but it must have been a traumatic experience for these young ones.
Once they got out of the trailer the foals were very unsure of their new surroundings, and very wary of us. They are only 6 months old which means they have just been weaned from their mothers. They have had their only sense of security taken away and been whisked off to a new, scary place with creatures they have never seen before, human beings.
The first days we just sat in their stall in the corner or just hung about in the stable to allow them to get used to us being there. We sat on a chair with a book or lunch and let them come to us when they felt comfortable with us. They needed to be able to trust us if we had any chance to train them. After a week or 2 they became accustomed to us and their new environment. After that we just spent lots of time with them. We ran our hands all over them and they started to enjoy that. One by one they came to us for another massage, even pushing each other out of the way. We would rub around their ears, neck and belly and brush their tails. Once they became used to us touching their bodies we would pick up their feet and handle them gently. This was all done without a lead rope.
After 3 weeks they were completely submissive and relaxed. Now they wait in line to get rubbed down. We give them non stop positive reinforcement and praise when they approach us. Earning the confidence of a wild foal is something that doesn’t happen overnight. Each foal is different. We constantly keep in mind not to be in a rush as they are still so young and we have all the time in the world.
I will keep you posted on the development of Sky and the others.
Rosi van der Ploeg