Country #3 – Ukraine: Visiting Motherland or a Skittish Candy Bar

My life started in the small Ukrainian town of Belaya Tserkov’ on a rainy August day in 1979. By a strange coincidence, 1979 was the year the last horse owned by my extended family was sold. I was an ultimate urban kid, and so were my parents. That’s why they couldn’t understand my love for horses. The closest relative who kept and raised horses was my great-grandfather Vasily, who used to earn his living as a horsebreaker when he was young. All my grandparents, despite growing up in farms and rural areas, left for the cities as soon as they were able to. And as far as I know, since my great-grandfather Vasily, none had any connection to horses.

Although I was born in Ukraine and spent every summer there until the age of 12, I’d never ridden a horse there until that April, when I went to Kiev for a business trip. Luckily, I managed to organise my travel in such a way that I could not only meet with my relatives but also do some riding.

With the help of a friend and colleague, I found a pretty nice place—Bolivar Ranch. Although it was called a ranch, it was actually a small hotel with a restaurant located along the way from Belaya Tserkov’ to Kiev. The cost of renting a horse was surprisingly low—20 USD per hour. I booked 2 hours, hoping to ride in the nearest forest. But my plans were ruined by the fact that I was busy all day and all the horses except one were booked, so the instructor couldn’t go to the forest with me. On the other hand, she couldn’t allow a stranger to ride a horse to the forest alone.

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Instead, I was offered to ride beautiful mixed-breed skewbald Twix in a huge arena. I was told that Twix was a new horse, which was recently presented to one of the customers, and in order to reduce the livery payment, she allowed the stables to rent him. In fact, I was the first guest to ride him.

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Twix was gorgeous: thick copper-red and snow-white mane, massive neck, cunning eyes and even some kind of a smile on his face. But although he had a delicious name and looks, his personality wasn’t that sweet.

He loved to suddenly stop and pull his head down, or shake his massive neck, or sharply turn at the gate corner in an attempt to unbalance the rider. For the first 20 minutes, we were a perfect example of what one of my riding instructors used to describe as a battle between two nervous systems.

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I still don’t think that my nervous system overtook Twix’s. It was more like I bored him to submission with endless large and small circles. Nevertheless, in the next hour, Twix was trotting, cantering, turning on the forehands, legs yielding and so on—implicitly, but to be honest, without any enthusiasm.

Later on, Elena, the instructor, said, “I see that he cannot be ridden by kids and first-timers, but looks like you can control him well enough to go to the forest, not too far though.” So she walked with us and took some more pictures of this funny little skewbald monster called Twix.

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If you want to visit the place, check their website: http://www.ranchobolivar.com.ua/en/index.html. Besides riding, there are many other activities for all family members.

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