"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
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.