Dangerously Daydreaming

"All men dream, but not equally. Those who dream by night in the dusty recesses of their minds, wake in the day to find that it was vanity: but the dreamers of the day are dangerous men, for they may act on their dreams with open eyes, to make them possible." ~ T. E. Lawrence

The Horses of Summer Bay

Out on a lonely island in the Bering Sea live some creatures you would never expect to find running wild in the Aleutians.  How they have survived the frigid williwaw storms and bracing winters over the years is a mystery.  These are the horses of Summer Bay.

 Every time I visit my family in Dutch Harbor, Alaska I make an effort to see the Summer Bay horses.  The only way out to them is via a sometimes washed-out, and very pothole-ridden, gravel road.  The road meanders along the shoreline and weaves with the undulating hills of tundra.  Sometimes I reach the end of the road only to discover that the horses have moved inland.  But on a good day I’ll crest the hills at the top of the pass and see them grazing in the valley below.

The horses are offspring from stock horses that once lived at Chernofsky Point on a sheep ranch.  The ranch was on the far southern side of Unalaska Island, a project of the Aleutian Livestock Company, and closed down in the 80’s.  Some of the horses strayed from the ranch and before long the makings of a feral herd were born.  The multiplied over the years until as many as three separate herds roamed the tundra hills.

About 6 years ago, one of the oldest of the stallions still remembered his training.  A friend and I captured him, gave him the brushing down of his lifetime, and were able to saddle him and ride him through town.  It took some work on our part, having been at least 20 years since he bore a rider.  It’s a memory that I’ll keep for many years to come.

Most of the horses, even the young and “wild-born” ones are great around people.  Their human visitors often bring gifts of apples and carrots, and with the promise of treats in addition to their natural curiosity, they usually come out of their way to meet us.

My brother and I love going out to see the new foals each spring, usually born right around this time of the year.  There won’t be any more foals though.  Coming from such a small group of original animals, inbreeding has become a problem; some of the youngest horses now have eyesight and dental complications.  A few years ago all of the males were gelded.  The herd population is on a slow decline now.

It makes me sad in a way, though I understand the need.  I can’t quite imagine Unalaska Island without the horses.  But for now they’ll continue roaming the tundra and drawing me out for a drive to Summer Bay whenever I visit Unalaska.


9 comments on “The Horses of Summer Bay

  1. ethelthedean
    May 24, 2012

    Get this to a magazine to be published! What an inspired post. Lovely snaps and very sharp writing. You have a gift my friend!

    • Audrey
      May 25, 2012

      Thank you! I’d love to get it published!

      The place, the animals, it can’t help but inspire. If you’re looking for a wild and stunning place to add to your travel list, I recommend a late summer visit.

  2. captainariel
    May 25, 2012

    God I miss that beautiful place and these horses! 😀 be careful though! The last time I saw them I was w Dwight and two other people and we accidentally spooked one, as a result our friend got kicked :(. But that’s the only bad experience Ive ever had w a horse!

    • Audrey
      May 25, 2012

      Oh yes, you definitely have to be careful around them. But that’s the case with most horses I’ve worked with over the years – even the trained ones – I’ve been bucked, bit, kicked, stepped on, and dropped so many times. Glad that’s been your only mishap though!

  3. Worrywart
    May 25, 2012

    Gorgeous and sad.

  4. whatimeant2say
    May 26, 2012

    I think Ethel is right. This would make a great magazine article! Beautiful story and pics. On a side note, I did not know there is an island called “Unalaska”. What’s the story behind that?!

    • Audrey
      June 7, 2012

      Thank you! I’ll have to check into that… would be so cool!
      I guess the name “Unalaska” comes from a native Aleut word (Ounalashke) that means “away from the mainland” which is pretty fitting being as it is an island. And the translation fits perfectly too!

  5. Curly Carly
    May 27, 2012

    Ugh, my phone keeps messing up. Anyway, I’ve never heard of those horses before. So cool.

    • Audrey
      June 7, 2012

      I know how that goes… 🙂 Yeah, the horses are kind of an obscurity. Even on the island some people have never seen them.

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