The Horse-Drawn Carriage Driver from the Wild Valley
He speaks the horses’ language, but never sees himself as a horse whisperer. Werner «Wohli» Wohlwend is a coachman, businessman and family man. His heart belongs to the over 50 horses on his farm.
The Engadine is his home Wohli grew up in Pontresina which lies at an elevation of 1,805 metres in a side valley of the Upper Engadine. He was raised just a few hundred metres from where he now has his horse farm. «As a little boy, I often helped the farmer on this farm,» he recalls. A love of animals was always in Wohli's blood, but it wasn’t until he met his wife Gina that it was rekindled. A shared hobby turned into a shared profession, with Wohli as a coachman and Gina as a riding instructor. Morning routine Dozens of horses galloping in a circle, snorting and whirling with their hooves on the snow. Behind the Piz Albris, the first rays of sunshine are peeking through, enveloping a scene of snow flurries and the haze of the animals in a magical light. Wohli himself has already been up for hours. His day begins and ends with a walk through the horse stalls to make sure everything is in order. With a bit of stroking and cuddling, of course. Because he’s got a very special connection with his animals: «I love the honesty of the horses. I just have the feeling we understand one another.»
With two horsepower into the car-free valley The sleigh is ready to go. Wohli lays out cosy furs and blankets. Guests should have a warm and comfortable ride. «On request, we also offer punch.» In the winter months, temperatures can drop to minus 20 degrees. But this doesn’t take anything away from the experience: if anything, it makes the atmosphere all the more mystical. «And that’s why a sleigh ride is worthwhile, even in freezing cold weather,» Wohli affirms. All that’s missing now are the horses. Napoleon and Nero, two impressive heavy horses, are fixed to the reins. They’ll be pulling the sleigh today into Roseg Valley. The starting point is right next to the Pontresina train station, where the small road winds along the Ova da Roseg into the valley. Wild winter wonderland Swiss stone pine and larch forests surrounded by metre-high snow cover and a spectacular mountain backdrop – it’s no wonder the Roseg Valley is known as one of Switzerland's most beautiful Alpine valleys. With a bit of luck, you’ll get a glimpse of an occasional ibex or chamois while you sleigh. When Wohli stops his sleigh, passengers get a feel for how calm it is in the valley: «Winter here in the Roseg Valley is so idyllic, so tranquil.» Living traditions There are hardly any purely horse-drawn sleighs, without wheels at all, left in the Engadine. «For me, it’s a matter of tradition. And I think it's important that it doesn’t die out,» Wohli explains. His passion, however, is devoted to the horse-drawn bus: «I like driving the sleigh, but I prefer to drive the six-horse carriage.» The coachman likes socialising and joking with his guests. «I’m happiest when everyone is yodelling and laughing. Something always has to be going on for me.» But Wohli loves the challenge as well. Driving a horse-drawn carriage measuring over 19 metres long and weighing more than 11.5 tons uphill around tight curves is an art in itself. «I read up and researched how the old stagecoaches did it. And it works.»
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