In the U.S., the shortage of large-animal veterinarians is often discussed. Horse people complain a lot about a lack of quality farriers, too–especially a lack of quality farriers who are willing to visit farms that have just a few horses. And many American horse owners skip the local tack store altogether because they think it won’t carry boots in their size or breeches in a certain color. So imagine keeping horses on an island where there is no large-animal vet, no farrier and no tack store.
This is the challenge of horse keeping on Kefalonia, a Greek island in the Ionian Sea. There are not many horse farms here, for sure, but I managed to find a lovely farm and eco-villa right on the coast to volunteer at for 10 days. The determination required to keep three horses healthy and happy on this island has inspired me, for sure!
Farmers Katerina and Kostas grow their own hay, and feed is purchased on the island. Bedding, however, is scarce. Katerina says it’s even more so now that the economic crisis is in full force because fewer people are buying furniture, et cetera, so less wood shavings are available. Also, in Greece, buildings are constructed of concrete, not wood. In the U.S., our shavings come largely from the construction-lumber industry, but this industry doesn’t really exist here.
A team of two farriers from Athens visit the island once every two months. When I arrived, the horses were at the end of their two-month run, and their feet still looked great. Their feet were long, sure, but I never would have guessed that they were overdue for a trim and new shoes. I don’t know if this is a testament to the farriers’ skill, the horses’ genetics or the feed, but someone is doing something right.
The veterinary situation is scary. While it might be difficult to get an emergency vet visit for a horse in a remote area of the U.S., it’s simply not an option on Kefalonia. The closest equine veterinarian is in Patras, a four-hour ferry ride plus one-hour drive away from the farm. Katerina has learned by doing and is very capable with veterinary matters. Having limited vet help only reinforces her commitment to the best care possible for her horses.
Forget about tack stores, too. In fact, when I asked whether there were any on the island, Katerina laughed. There are a few tack stores in the Athens area–about eight hours away on the ferry and road–but they are extremely expensive and have limited inventory. Most of the tack and equipment purchased for this farm comes from Germany or the U.S. Even the horses aren’t Greek–they are Appaloosas imported from England!
So, U.S.-based horse friends, the next time you want to gripe about your vet being late, your farrier not returning your call or your local feed store being out of shavings, count your blessings! For all of Kefalonia’s beautiful beaches, breathtaking sunsets and delicious local feta, it’s not the place you want to be to keep a horse.