In Search of Europe’s Wild Horses

A Journey on Foot Through the Eastern Rhodopes // 2017 Expedition

It is often remarked that ‘civilisation’ as we know it owes a great debt to the horse, the domesticated partner of humankind for thousands of years. However, in many places around the world our daily need for horses has dwindled to the point where riding and horsekeeping are merely recreational. At the same time, we are beginning to take stock of the damage that human development has inflicted on the natural world.

Among the species we have lost is the Tarpan, the European wild horse, the last of which died a century ago. Today, rewilding groups are attempting to fill some of the gaps we have created in our ecosystems by reintroducing species to the wild. Herds of horses with similar appearance and durability to the Tarpan have been released in the Eastern Rhodopes in Bulgaria, and it is anticipated that we will soon see the first horses be declared legally wild in Europe for more than a hundred years.

In June 2017 Alex Mullarky and Laurel Robertson travelled to the Rhodopes to walk in the hoofprints of Europe’s new wild horses. Hiking between the herds over several weeks, they observed the realities of a domesticated species learning to become wild again; not only the challenges facing the horses, but the responses of local people. Through essays and photographs they examined whether humankind is really capable of relinquishing its hold on a species we have been proud to call our own for thousands of years.

– National Geographic