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How a modern horse farm wants to breed fine trekking horses.

It all began 17 years ago with the horse Zulu’, a very successful experiment by a private breeder of the Madonie. This extraordinary gelding, together with his sister Zelda, is the product of the mating of the same Thoroughbred Oriental Sicilian (PSO) stallion with a Franches-Montagnes mare and a Connemara mare. Zulù resulted in an exceptionally gifted subject for trekking in the mountains for its strength and stamina. On the other hand, Zelda turned out to be a multi-face mare with an unreachable walking pace, high vitality and resistance to gallop. Both possess a remarkable mental balance, memory and learning ability thanks to the father’s genetic heritage.

In 1985, the Azienda Agricola Traina began the experience of horse breeding in the Sicani Mountains as part of a project of the Sicily Region managed by the “Institute of Horse Breeding in Catania”, acquiring some young Franches-Montagnes mares born in Switzerland. The regional project, in reality, aimed at increasing meat production in Sicily, which was particularly deficient in that historical time. However, the farm has tried, over the years, to exalt also the other natural qualities of the breed that, for its extreme docility, is remarkably flexible and has been successfully used in the various activities of riding school run in Palermo by the young Francesco Traina, in walks in Sicani and competitions with carriages (with excellent results). At the end of the nineties, a new breeding phase began with the coupling of some mares with an Egyptian PSA stallion and the organisation of the first authentic long trips on horseback.

Francesco Traina actively participated in the works of the “GENERAL STATES OF THE HORSE IN SICILY”, organised by “SICILY, EQUESTRIAN PARK OF THE MEDITERRANEAN”, as a representative of the Equestrian Tourism of the F.I.S.E. He had the opportunity to discover the qualities and history of Zulù and, on the suggestion and indications of its current owner Franco Barbagallo, an expert in international equestrian tourism and teaching of trekking horses, with the full support of his father decided that the horse farm needed a sharp … turn! He set in motion a detailed project, at the end of which his horse farm will become the first “CENTER OF BREEDING AND TRAINING OF HIGH-QUALITY TREKKING HORSES ” of Sicily, with subjects born from the mating of stallions of Oriental Sicilian Thoroughbred (a top-level autochthonous breeds improver) and Franches-Montagnes mares, to create other horses with the excellent qualities and characteristics of Zulù.

The project’s first step was to obtain, from the “Institute of Horse Breeding in Catania”, the reopening of the farm’s riding station equipping it with a suitable PSO stallion. The Institute, in the figure of the President Dr Caterina Grimaldi of Nixima, has well accepted the project, providing the excellent PSO stallion VULCANO and the commission technicians that selected the first French-Montagnes mares for aptitudes, morphology and genetics, headed by the veterinarian Dr Ketty Torrisi. Coupled with Vulcano, the first foals will be born in April 2023.

For the growth of these foals, the horse farm will use a “modern ” protocol that will follow the canons resulting from ethological-scientific studies on the colt of Prof. Michele Panzera, professor of the “University of Messina, Department of Veterinary Sciences”, and the Ed Dabney’s multi-years field experience. Before becoming a trainer of Natural Horsemanship, famous even in Europe and present for years at the horse fairs of Verona and Rome with demonstrations that have left their mark, he was Chief Wrangler of one of the largest working ranches in Wyoming. For years, it had the full responsibility to breed, grow and train, like professional cow working horses, hundreds of foals bred in the semi-wild.

The new foals born in the Traina Horse Farm, then, will be “handled” and “taken care of” immediately after birth, to be closely followed throughout their path that, in about 3.5 years, will lead them to trekking horses with an excellent technical and operational level.

In particular, the teaching will take place in three phases:

1) From birth to saddle.

2) The construction of the foundations of the Horse.

3) The specialisation of the horse in trekking.

The first phase involves creating a relationship of trust “in man” and “being with man”. Finally, the time of “foals and mares left to pasture to became almost feral” will end. Attendance and teachings will start immediately from the basics, such as wearing a rope halter, being led all around, being tied to “something” without pulling, being touched in every part of the body without reacting, respecting the territory of man, never touch him on its own decision, getting used to the different “strange things” used by the man without being frightened and even looking at them with curiosity and interest. At the same time, the type of breeding will remain semi-wild.

The second phase will build the equitation’s foundation of the foal, so after its specialisation, it can practice trekking safely, correctly, and with precise positioning of the hoofs on the ground. This is achieved thanks to the development of independent and accurate control on all parts of the horse (head, neck, front, back and rib cage) through the “SIX KEYS OF HARMONY” method developed by Ed Dabney. Starting from the ground without the saddle, the teaching “of everything and more” will create a “bridge of communication” with the horse by giving him instructions for “understanding and not constraint” based on a “firm but gentle” partnership, where any physical or verbal violence is banned, where the established “connection” will always be stronger and more important than any “artificial control”. This also happens by constantly introducing into the everyday life of the foals the elements that any horse needs to grow balanced, willing, serene and happy. In the order of “equine priority”, they are SAFETY, COMFORT, FOOD, and FUN/LEISURE (too many think that FOOD is their primary need, and some even … the ONLY ONE!).

After teaching the “SIX KEYS OF HARMONY” from the ground, the saddle will be put on the horse for the first time to do the first short “rides” in a controlled environment using, as a bridle, only the rope-halter of any teaching. Then, the BOSAL (or Hackamore) will be introduced, an ideal tool for preparing the horse for the next and final D snaffle bit. Then the horse will learn the SIX KEYS from the saddle.

The third phase will begin before putting on the saddle, teaching the foal to face a “Trail of Ability”, with many different stations placed in a controlled environment, each with a diverse and precise purpose. Once the saddle is set, the horse will face the “Trail of Ability” with the rider on his back.
When the Trail of Ability is completed very well, the horse will go out in nature bridled with a bosal, along a second path of natural ability, without stations, where the horse will learn to face it at every pace and, at the same time, training the cardiovascular and respiratory systems at various speeds with many pace transitions. At a certain point, the bosal will be replaced with a particular D snaffle bit that does not hurt the tongue and mouth of the horse. Then will begin the first outings along various nature trails in the wild with increasing difficulties.
Building an excellent trekking horse needs about 11/13 weeks of constant daily work, with work sessions of about 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour in the afternoon for each subject.

In their life, these new-born horses will never even know hyper-flexions of the neck, forced and unnatural unions, martingales, spurs, mouth shuts, head stops, bits, spade bits, broken snaffles with bars, chains, whips, sticks, wood poles, longes, strings and lines and all other useless and harmful gadgets that only demonstrate the inability to do without by who uses them.

Those interested in learning the techniques to breed and train horses for pro trekking can contact Franco Barbagallo at   Cell 340 6883596

Those who want to participate in the different experiences on horseback (and without horses) of Azienda Traina, also made for young people and children, can contact Francesco at:

Rural Hospitality and Breeding.

Facebook and Instagram pages: Azienda Agricola Traina

Telephone: +39 339 459 4895


Trek & Tour on Horseback.

Facebook and Instagram pages: Sikani Horse Trek

Telephone: +39 339 459 4895

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