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The post rider of Lauenen

Switzerland's only mounted postman sets out on his rounds

(swissinfo.ch)

Late snowfalls in the Bernese Alps are keeping Switzerland's one and only post rider in the saddle, busy delivering mail.

In Lauenen, a small village of 700 residents near the ski resort of Gstaad, up to 15 houses are frequently cut off from the world by deep snow. For days on end, Willi Addor, the postman, and his trusty steed are their only visitors.

Stallion-studded career

Addor sits tall in the saddle, dressed in his yellow and blue postal outfit, with an antique American civil war cap to keep out the cold.

He would not look out of place in a spaghetti western, as he keeps a tight reign on his headstrong stallion, showing who is master.

Willi Addor began his postal career in 1962, at a time when there were no proper streets in rural Lauenen. He was obliged to carry his heavy, post-filled rucksack on foot to remote hillside houses.

He recounts how he would set out at 5.30am, wearing cross-country skis and using a head torch to show the way. He covered between 20 and 30 kilometres per day.

Shortly afterwards, he became a member of the cavalry in Switzerland's conscripted army and learnt how to ride.

When the cavalry was dissolved in 1967, he acquired an army horse, Camadra, to help with his rounds. Camadra died in 1990, and Cyrano has been Addor's trusted work colleague ever since.

In the seventies, Lauenen's street network was expanded. Addor is now able to do half his round in a Cherokee Jeep, but the less accessible houses still receive their mail by horse.

Dicing with danger

Riding Cyrano in perilous conditions is not always a synch. Before rubber grips were added to the stallion's hooves, the horse tended to slip on icy roads, sending his rider flying.

On more than one occasion, Willi has had to dig Cyrano out of snowdrifts.

"Riding in thick fog is the most difficult challenge. Sometimes I can see only the orange road-markers sticking out of the snow and nothing else," he told swissinfo.

"But if I were not prepared to face up to a certain degree of danger, I wouldn't be doing this job. It's not for the faint-hearted".

Children abandon their sledges and shout for joy when they see him coming.

Armide Addor, his sister-in-law, told swissinfo: "We're very grateful for these deliveries, because it means we don't have to struggle down to the village to collect our mail."

Willi Addor prides himself on his door-to-door deliveries. He has even taught his horse to mount the steps of farmhouses and reverse backwards after the dispatch.

And unlike postmen who deliver on foot, he has no problems with dogs.

Mail order

Deliveries have been cut down to one per day now. Nevertheless, Addor says his workload seems as big as ever.

"People living in remote farmhouses tend to do a lot of shopping by mail order, because it's difficult for them to get to the towns and cities. I have to deliver the catalogues and the goods they order."

After the morning round, Cyrano is taken back to the stable for a rub-down and some well-earned oats, dished up in a champagne-cooler as a mark of respect for the princely horse. If he's been good, he also receives a few mints.

The 14-year-old stallion rests his head on Addor's shoulder as he is groomed. His owner has few complaints about his performance.

"This breed is maybe not so good for racing or show jumping, but he's a sure-footed workhorse," says Addor.

"He can be a bit jittery, but he's very affectionate and loyal. He's pretty intelligent too. He learnt how to open the stable gate with his hoof, so I had to put an extra lock on it."

The Last Post

The tiny post office in the heart of the village is a popular meeting place and a lifeline to the outside world.

A part-time sorting job was recently axed by the central administration as part of cost-cutting measures.

Fearing that their beloved "Post" may be closed altogether, the villagers started to pay all their bills there rather than by standing order through their bank accounts.

The place is now doing brisk business and there is no threat of any further cuts. The postman's job is safe for the next seven years when he is due to retire.

When Willi Addor finally hangs up his saddlebag, the people of Lauenen will miss the clip-clop sound of hooves approaching, as they finish their breakfast each morning.

The sight of the sturdy Cyrano galloping past, kicking up clouds of snow, will become a dim memory.

The cap and cape that kept his master warm in blizzards and freezing fog will be put away forever. It will be the end of an era.

swissinfo, Julie Hunt

In brief

The mountain village of Lauenen is assured of postal deliveries in the winter thanks to its post rider, Willy Addor.

He and his stallion, Cyrano, deliver to 200 remote houses in all weathers.

Cyrano, a muscular Freiberger, cuts a path across the banks of white snow, pressing on where expensive four-wheel drive cars would have floundered.

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