Second Ride in Georgia: Border Security Zone or Horses with High Heels

On day 3 of our visit to Georgia, we planned to go to the Lagodekhi Nature Reserve and take a short ride to Machi Fortress.

Lagodekhi is located on the west of Georgia in the Kakheti region, which is famous for its wines. The part of the reserve we were aiming for is located in the border security zone, and everyone who plans to hike or trail ride there should register with local authorities.

On arrival, we were introduced to our guide, Daviti, and almost identical light grey ponies. Local breeds of horses that are good for trail rides are not higher than 14 hands, so they should be classified as ponies rather than as horses.

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Local saddles looked like leather cushions with stirrups and, to say the truth, were very comfortable for the long rides. Another peculiarity I noticed here is that horses looked like they were wearing high heels because their shoes were calkinned to avoid slipping.

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At the start point of our trail ride, we passed a wooden stand that showed the traces of animals that are found in Lagodekhi. There weren’t many, but the ones we saw made the ride a bit nerve-racking. :-) Apparently, because several types of roe deer exist, many wolfs, bears, and lynxes are also present. However, we didn’t see any.

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In that time of the year, everything in Lagodekhi was so green that it made me dizzy.

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About one kilometer to the fortress, we had to dismount and continued on foot because it was too steep for horses to climb. Daviti told us that tying them up was unnecessary because they won’t go anywhere on their own. We climbed up and up over the steep bank of Matsimis Tskali River, which serves as a border between Georgia and Azerbaijan.

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It took us about another half hour to get to the fortress’s ruins. Machi, which was built in the eighth century, was the biggest fort in Kakheti and for some time even served as a summer residence of Kakheti kings. It stayed intact until the 17th century but was demolished by the Persian shah Abbas, which is very surprising knowing how difficult it was to get there.

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The fortress ruins were preserved but never restored. Nowadays, once-massive fortress walls are concealed by overgrown subtropical plants. What surprised me the most is that these 12-century-old fortifications are in better shape than some 1980s buildings down in the valley. Ancient builders certainly knew some secrets. :-)

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Many more hiking and riding routes are available in Lagodekhi, so if you want to visit the place, here are the contact details.

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Useful links:

Country # 24 – Austria: A Mare with a Surname or Equestrian Manga Artist

Last year was quite rich in terms of staying in hotels which provide riding lessons. It started with the Concorde El Salam Hotel in Cairo, where I had international ride #20, and continued in the Meydan hotel in Dubai, Chateau de Faucon in France and here, in Austria. The amazing Posthotel in Achenkirch is truly a 5-star hotel. Just check Trip Advisor! You could hardly find a place with a better rating.

Picture taken from the hotel site: http://www.freizeit.ch/freizeit/15962/reiter-s-posthotel

All hotel pictures taken from the hotel site: http://www.freizeit.ch/freizeit/15962/reiter-s-posthotel

The story of Posthotel in Achenkirch goes back to the 15th century, when it was just a modest post station. Contemporary history of the hotel started in 1918, when the coaching inn and restaurant came into the possession of the Reiter family, grandparents of the current owner, Karl Reiter.

3 generations later, in addition to the hotel extending, Karl Reiter decided to breed Lipizzaner horses and brought the first stud stallion from Vienna’s Spanish Riding School.

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The Reiter family was always very successful in turning dreams into reality, so now they are the proud owners of not only the finest resort and Spa but also the biggest private Lipizzaner stud farm in Europe with about 40 pure-bred horses.

Hotel guests can book either a lesson in an indoor or outdoor arena or a trail ride.

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Regrettably, I couldn’t entirely trust the Tirolean weather at that time of the year, so I had to choose an indoor riding lesson.

At 10 AM sharp I was in the stable meeting Tanja – my instructor for the day – and Ivanka – my international ride number 24. Tanja, a tall blonde benevolent girl, has worked in Posthotel’s riding school for about 10 years, not only teaching riding but also driving carriages. So of course I couldn’t miss the chance and asked her half a million questions while I was taking short walking breaks during the lesson.

Tanja with one of the Posthotel horses

Tanja with one of the Posthotel horses

As you probably already know, all Lipizzaners can trace their pedigree to 6 classical foundation stallions: Pluto (a Spanish stallion foaled in 1765), Conversano (Neapolitan, 1767), Maestoso (half Kladruber, half Spanish, 1773), Favory (Kladruber, 1779), Neapolitano (Neapolitan, 1790) and Siglavy (Arabian, 1810).

So all Lipizzaner horses have a “surname”, the dynasty name, after their personal name.

According to her name on the stable door, Ivanka was a great-great (and few more times “great”) granddaughter of Pluto. Although, I would imagine that in the course of the last 250 years, these six blood lines have crossed so many times that she is as much a Pluto descendant as the other ones. :-)

Beautiful Ivanka

Beautiful Ivanka

Slowly but surely I was earning Ivanka’s attention and respect, so closer to the end of the lesson we managed to make a few pretty good flying changes and traverses.

The most amazing thing about Ivanka was that her mane and hair were so soft and niveous that I decided to extort the great secret of her snow-white coat from Tanja.

Owners of grey horses will understand me: it takes tremendous effort to keep that white hair from turning yellowish under the influence of sweat, dust or fresh grass. But the answer surprised me. “We just use plain water,“ replied Tanja. Well, that must be very special water there in Achenkirch.

Knowing that Tanja knows a lot of the hotel’s horses from their first days, I asked if it was possible to tell,  looking at the foal, what kind of a horse he will turn into. She told me that until 6 months old it’s difficult to say something about the character; and as for the colour… The result of this genetic lottery is only known by the age of 5-6 years. I mean of course, 99% is that the horse will turn as white as Ivanka, but there is always the chance that an older horse will stay black or bay.

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Lipizzaners mature quite late. A thoroughbred’s career will be long over by the age that Lipizzaners are saddled for the first time. But on the bright side, it’s not rare for Lipizzaners to live for over 30 years.

After the lesson I had a few more hours to departure, so I walked around and found out that the hotel has an enviable collection of books about horses, which I would’ve enjoyed much better had my German been less limited.

One of the impressive volumes was devoted to the artworks of Johann Georg von Hamilton, who was a court painter in Vienna in the late 17th century.  In one of my previous posts I mentioned the portrait of Emperor Charles IV which you can see in the Winter Manege in Vienna. It was created by 2 artists: Johann Gottfried Auerbach portrayed the Emperor, and Georg von Hamilton created one of his most realistic horse portraits ever. And “realistic” is a key word here.

Von Hamilton deeply loved horses and painted them relentlessly. The natural beauty of horses was not enough for him so he avidly decorated reality. These are examples of his works: roman-nosed creatures with tiny heads, enormous butts and fragile looking legs and, of course, big manga :-) eyes without eyelids and eye lashes.

A black stallion performing a "piaffe". Picture taken from' http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/paintings/workshop-of-johann-georg-de-hamilton-a-black-4958424-details.aspx

A black stallion performing a “piaffe”. Picture taken from’ http://www.christies.com/lotfinder/paintings/workshop-of-johann-georg-de-hamilton-a-black-4958424-details.aspx

A Black Horse Performing the Courbette

A Black Horse Performing the Courbette

I mean, I could understand that eagerness to conform to the 17th century’s canons of horse beauty – delicate heads on swan necks and large expressive eyes – but if striving for “perfection” we continue “improving” proportions, then these fantastic creatures will look more like the Loch Ness Monster than a real horse.

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Sitting in the old cozy leather armchair in the library corner, I heard the clatter of four pairs of hooves and saw the open carriage drawn by a pair of white horses. It had five passenger places, but only two passengers, so I decided to try my luck. Maybe they find a place for me without pre-booking. Using more gestures than actual words I explained that I was staying in the hotel and would love to have a ride with them. Then I jumped into the front seat and we started our journey to the beautiful Achen Lake.

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As we passed a local school and the hotel’s manicured jumping arena, I thought that this place had come straight from my childhood dreams. The jumping arena was located just 50 meters away from the school and was surrounded by a desktop-picture-quality landscape. What could be better? But my second thought was that I most likely would have stayed illiterate if I’d had a chance to study in this school. Seriously, what kind of horse-mad kid would pay attention to calculus or Ancient Rome history with such a view?

But the pair was driving us closer and closer to the hills, looking like they were made of velvet, and I closed my eyes dreamingly. Chilly fresh Alpine winds, and the sounds… Oh those sounds from my childhood that made me drop everything I was doing in the middle of it and rush to the nearest window to see horses that produce spellbinding music by simply walking or trotting on the pavement. Just clattering… No other magic or years of musical practice required. But in the Alps these tunes from my childhood sounded even better. The horses’ effortless toccata was accompanied by dozens of bells hanging on the necks of modest milking musicians grazing on the hills J Suddenly the rhythm accelerated, I opened my eyes and saw the long thin whip flying over the horses steaming backs and touching them slightly. Not unlike a conductor’s baton, I thought.

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In about an hour and a half we were back at the hotel and I took a taxi to the nearest railway station.

And you know, I made a promise to come back in wintertime. First of all, because it’s about time to learn how to ski J, but also because I still keep dreaming about complementing my collection of worldwide equestrian pictures with photos like this.

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Useful links:

http://www.posthotel.at/en/reiters-stud-farm/

EquiBingo

For the last 4 years my best friend and I have been making our New Year Resolutions in the format of Bingo.

The process is quite exciting – first of all you need to imagine travelling to the future one year ahead. Then imagine yourself being extremely proud of your achievements and feeling happy because the last year was just FANTASTIC!!! (yes, with capital letters and exclamation marks). Logically, the next step is to think what exactly was FANTASTIC!!! Then you start getting ideas of what you want to achieve. For example, you want to lose 20 pounds, save a particular amount of money, travel to Greenland or get over 65% on the Novice dressage test. When you come up with your super-wish-list, you need to word your goals in the present tense. Apparently, this way there is more chance you will achieve them.

If your friends and relatives also have their goals in Bingo format, you can set some rules and play Bingo against (or, better to say, ‘with’) each other. For example, the first one to cross a straight line, or the one with the highest number of goals crossed out, wins a pre-defined prize.

Normally, I have some riding goals on my overall Bingo list, but then I thought “why not make a separate Bingo list for my equestrian dreams?“ And here we are: 49 goals for the next… Let’s say 5 to 7 years. Actually, I already have some squares crossed off, but I’m still way too far away from a single straight line.

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And as I hate playing interesting games alone, please feel free to join me. :-) Create your Bingo-list or use mine and start crossing those goals off!

Don’t forget to share how many Bingo points you have, and what your latest achievement was, in the comments section.

Have fun!

Xoxo

P.S. These are my achievements so far:

1. Checked! Rode Mr. Buttons (Irish Draft Horse) during a showjumping clinic run by Karen Whinston in Bahrain in May 2014. Mr. Buttons was later renamed to Professor Buttons as he was a very demanding horse and required everything to be done very precisely.

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4. Rode this beauty for the first time in March 2014 in Bahrain. We have been inseparable since. Not surprisingly, although the horse is not mine, our names match just perfectly: Romeo and Yulia.

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8. Not sure that it can be counted, but I tried to throw a lasso Altai style in August 2013. Read the full story in November.

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14. Did it! I milked a horse at the Engagement of the Stallion Celebration in the middle of Kazakhstan steppe in May 2014.

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17. Almost there! So far it’s 22 (in alphabetic order): Bahrain, Belgium, Czech Republic, Egypt, Iceland, Iran, Iraq, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Lebanon, Morocco, Netherlands, Oman, Qatar, Russia, Singapore, Spain, Turkey, UAE, Ukraine, USA.

18. Done in October 2013! See the story about the Laxnes Horse farm and Feikir by the link.

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19. Done! My first beach ride happened to be in Casablanca in April 2012.

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22. Another great beach ride in Muscat, Oman in May 2012

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27. Done! Took a picture with Przwalski’s horse in Real Escuela, Spain in July 2014.

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28. Done in August 2014! Read more about riding with Equibeach on the 18th of October.

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29. Learned to ride side-saddle in USA in May 2014. Here is the full story.

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32. Took part in a Horse Wedding Celebration in Kazakhstan (May 2014). The full story can be found here.

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42. I don’t think I can count it, but my side-saddle horse Grand, back in USA, was a former police horse :-) and here is the picture

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47. Watch shrimp fishing on horseback. Done in August 2014. Read the full story in my next post.

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48. Watched Real Escuela show in July 2014

Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take pictures of the show or in the museums, so this picture is not mine

Unfortunately, you’re not allowed to take pictures of the show or in the museums, so this picture is not mine

A-la Lara Croft or Fluent Neigh is Spoken Here

Here I am again, waiting for another flight, going through my newly made memories and organizing pictures, videos and notes.

It’s time for new story called “A-la Lara Croft or Fluent Neigh is Spoken Here”.

Why Lara Croft you may ask? When I was telling my friends that I was going to learn how to ride side-saddle, every second person asked me if I wanted to be like Lara Croft in Tomb Raider? While I would love to resemble Lara Croft at least a tiny bit (in any way), my obsession with the idea of riding side-saddle started long before Angelina Jolie rode that beautiful Frisian horse in the movie.

In fact it started when I was 6 and my parents took me to Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow. I don’t remember the other paintings I saw that day, because “Rider” by Karl Bruilov completely absorbed my attention. I was standing there spellbound and the only thought that occupied my mind was “when I grew up I want to be like her.” But at the time I couldn’t have been further away from that dream – I was a dark-haired 6-year-old, wearing ordinary clothes, with no horse, let alone a side saddle…

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But all our dreams come true sooner or later, one way or another. Many years, a few beautiful dresses and more than enough hairstyles later (blonde included), I’m ready for my first side saddle lessons in Dancing Horse Farm, Lebanon, Ohio.

My coach, the absolutely amazing Helen Trimeloni, learned how to ride side-saddle because her horse Willy didn’t want to do flying changes and they couldn’t progress with higher level dressage. So she decided to change discipline. (Btw, later Willy learned to do flying changes and even compete up to Prix St. George).

While we were brushing a 9-year-old bay, Grand, Helen told me his story. He was imported from Canada a few years ago to be a police horse in Cincinnati. But the plan got changed and the city decided against having mounted police, so Grand was sold to the school – an absolutely priceless purchase as I learned later. According to his passport, Grand is a Canadian warmblood, but he looks more like a draft horse.

After Grand became a bit cleaner, and we – a bit dustier, Helen brought the saddle. “It was made in the 1920s,” she told me.  “It would be great to know its whole history, but I don’t think it’s possible now.” Wow! An almost 100-year-old saddle!!! It’s rare to have such a chance to touch, or rather to sit on, a piece of history.

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Talking about history, women have been riding with two legs on the same side since ancient Greece, but only as passengers, as they didn’t have any control of the horse, which had to be led by another rider sitting astride. A more practical design resembling the modern style of side saddles was created in the 16th century by Catherine de’Medici, which from my point of view makes her the first feminist.

So back to our vintage saddle, unlike the straight one it’s flat on top and has 4 girths – I know, we women like to overcomplicate things.

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Some rules to remember when riding side-saddle :

–          left heel down,
–          right toe down (You may think this would be easy for a person who always loses dressage test marks for keeping her heels up. Think again! In side saddle I had a tendency to keep my right heel down :-))
–          upper pommel should be right under your right knee, which makes you sit as far in the saddle as possible,
–          as the reins are much longer, they have to be kept on both sides of your right knee,
–          hips should be as parallel to the horse’s shoulders as possible, so the weight is distributed evenly.

My first 45-minute lesson went really fast, and trying to recall it I’m getting nothing but a series of flashbacks:

–          First question: “Mounting… How?”
–          Answer: “Sit astride first and only then put the left leg under the lower pommel and right on top of the upper one.”
–          When Grand started to walk: “No way can anyone enjoy this way of riding!”
–          The second thought a couple of minutes later: “It’s actually fun and I look quite elegant in the mirror.”
–          “Hey, Helen! Do you remember the song ‘Walk like an Egyptian?’ I sit like an Egyptian.”
–          After a circle of trot: “I never felt these muscles when riding straight saddle.”
–          The sensation after a circle of canter: “Wow! He actually listens to the whip on the right side the same way he listens to my leg on the left side.”
–          Lesson is over: “Already?”
–          “How on Earth do you dismount?”

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When I brought Grand back to the barn, I noticed that he, not unlike the other horses in the stables, has a file with an A4 piece of paper attached to the wall next to the door of his stall. This piece of paper had all his details on it: name, year of the birth, name of the owner, emergency contact phone, type of food he prefers and even some behavior characteristics. This is where I learned that he cannot stand Friesians. Why? Nobody knows, but it’s not about the color, as he has a perfectly friendly relationship with two jet black Canadian horses: Mye and Jubilee.

By the way, Dancing Horse Farm is kind of United Nations of the Equine world. They have over 20 different breeds of horses here, some common to the US like Appaloosas, Mustangs, Painted horses, Morgans, along with more rare examples, like Half-Andalusian, Haflinger, Hanoverian, etc.

Second day. They tell if you see a person wearing only one chap and one spur, you can bet that his side-saddled horse is not far away. My to-be-side-saddled horse was away in the paddock enjoying his breakfast. Remember the movie ‘Catch me if you can’? Well, on that day I kind of took part in the sequel. First, Grand was running away on his own.  Then he asked his fellows for help. I swear these horses have some kind of special friendship. While I was trying to catch Grand, who was always 5 meters in front of me, 4 other horses, as by an inaudible and invisible sign from him, cantered in our direction and surrounded him in such a way that no matter how much I tried to get to his face, I kept seeing 3 tails in front of me. Eventually, an old trick worked – I started scratching Grand’s croup then his right side, then his neck, then his ears, and before he understood what had happened – the halter was on him and he obediently walked with me to the gate.

Riding side-saddle was already a dream come true, but jumping in side saddle was completely beyond my expectations, yet we did it in the second lesson. Helen told me that Grand likes to jump, but he never really had a talent for it. He normally canters quite nicely but then doesn’t know what to do right before the jump. Well, that’s a lot of horse to take off :-)

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On my last, fourth day on Dancing Horse Farm, Helen lent me her side saddle apron, a weird-shaped piece of material which looks like skirt from the front and a wide belt from the back, and it bends over your right leg as one half of a pair of trousers (Yeah, try to imagine it :-)).

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We trotted a bit, cantered a bit and then jumped 2 jumps in a row. I thought one jump was difficult, but two…! Actually, when you are concentrating on readjusting your position between jumps, it seems easier. I finally found the rhythm and understood that the simplest way to get over the jump is to do almost the same as in a normal saddle – fold forward when you feel the horse taking off and unfold when you feel all 4 legs on the ground. When I had got this, life became way easier. In the end we even jumped the course of 7 jumps (up to 45 cm), a feat which I would never have expected in just 4 lessons, and all credit goes to my great teachers Helen and Grand.

In between my side saddle lessons I had a few more dressage and show jumping lessons with Helen. Here in Dancing Horse Farm they teach the RWYM (Ride With Your Mind) approach, which I first heard of at the Karen Winston clinic, but this is a completely different story which is yet to be told. So if you happen to be in Kentucky or Ohio, go visit Dancing Horse Farm, enjoy their display of horses from all over the world, take a few lessons and pass on my regards to Helen.

xoxo

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Grand: Gentle giant with hazelnut eyes

Grand: Gentle giant with hazelnut eyes

Love this picture even though it shows how not to sit in a side saddle

Love this picture, even though it shows how not to sit in a side saddle

Big boy Townie

Big boy Townie

Townie: Helen's show jumping horse teaching me to jump bouncers

Townie: Helen’s show jumping horse teaching me to jump bouncers

Side saddle: just imagine! It was made when our great-grandparents were teenagers

Side saddle: just imagine! It was made when our great-grandparents were teenagers

Auto portray in Apollo's eye

Auto portray in Apollo’s eye

Useful links:

Dancing Horse Farm site: http://www.mydhf.com
Dancing Horse Farm Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/DancingHorseFarm

Horse Wedding Ceremony or How I Milked a Horse

“It’s the year of the horse” she told me. “There will be no better time to go there. Besides, when this event is included in the UNESCO list of Intangible Heritage, there will be more tourists coming and it won’t be the same.” This is how this story started.

Almost every country has its unique horse-related tradition. To name a few:

–        they have The Siena Palio in Italy, the only place where horses are allowed to walk into the churches to get a blessing before the exhausting racing,

–        in Oostduinkerke, a small village in Belgium, they catch shrimp while riding enormous Brabant horses,

–        and there is the Lady Godiva Festival in Coventry, England, where they… Well just Google for the pictures :-)

And today I want to tell you about a tradition I witnessed in the beginning of May 2014 in the very center of my second motherland, Kazakhstan (which according to some research is, along with Ukraine, the place where people first domesticated a horse about 5500 years ago). In one tiny village, far away from the urban world, they celebrate Biye Bailau – Engagement of the stallion. This was the event my friend, Emma Usmanova, a well-known Kazakhstan archeologist, invited me to witness.

Tersakkan is the 50-household village located on the bank of the one and only Kazakhstan river flowing to the North. That’s how it got its name – Tersakkan, literally meaning flowing backwards or in the wrong direction.

Every year, on the 1st of May, when the grueling 7-month-long winter is finally over, the whole village gets together to celebrate the resurrection of nature; to thank Kambar Ata, the patron saint of horses, for newborn foals; to bet who will win the race; and to milk their mares for the first time this year. But the main aim is to “merry the horses” and give the beginning of new life…

Horses are everything for Kazakhs: transport; food (there are dozens of dishes cooked from horse meat); their milk is used to make kumys; their hair, skin and bones are used in medicines and cosmetics (there are plenty of ancient recipes still in use); they can even be used as a bank deposit or a measure of a person’s wealth. There are at least 60 words meaning “horse” in the Kazakh language, and countless proverbs, sayings and omens related to horses. But this is material for another story.

In tersakkan this year they had 22 herds with 15 to 25 horses in each of them, probably the highest human-to-horse ratio in the world. :-) The most interesting thing about Tersakkan horses is the unbelievably wide range of colors. When Emma asked me to help with the correct color terms, I was a bit confused. What is the term for a completely white horse with bright red main and tail, or the one with a bay head and legs and light grey hair on the rest of the body? Indeed, some of these horses looked like they were made of different spare parts. By the way… You can try your color identification skills in the comments section below.

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These horses have never known stables. They graze all year long a few kilometers away from the village. Even when there is up to 1.5 meters of snow, they somehow find last year’s grass under it. The only time people get involved is when, due to a sudden thaw, snow is covered by a hard-to-break crust. Then people will bring their horses some hay saved specially for this occasion. Unfortunately, this year spring came late, so the animals didn’t get enough time to put on weight.

The celebration begins at 9 in the morning and goes in a precise order according to tradition. Nobody I spoke to knew how old this tradition was, but 60-70-year-old people were telling me that their parents celebrated it when they were kids, and so did their grandparents.

So the sequence of events is the following:

Haltering of foals – First of all, men will bring all the mares and offspring from the pastures. It’s time for haltering the newborn foals for the first time. “Normally, it’s a task for young boys,” one person told me. “Grown up man can halter and tie them up pretty quickly, but when boys do it, it’s more fun.” When all the foals are tied up, women bless them by smearing their tails and forelocks with freshly made butter, so they grew up big and sturdy.

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Despite foals being only a few days or a few weeks old, they are quite strong and very determined not to lose their freedom. Looking at how the foals behave, villagers can predict if they will be good riding horses. It’s believed that the most obstinate foals will grow up to be the hardiest horses. However, no matter if a foal was fighting, turning and twisting all the time, or just passively resisting a rope, in 20-30 minutes when their legs betray them and their tiny bodies run out of energy, they will all end up the same way – lying down on the ground with their bellies up.

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What surprised me the most is that these half-wild mares didn’t protect their offspring from the people. It looked more like they accepted this tradition as an inevitable part of their lives. They just stayed beside their babies in silent support and occasionally touched them or shaded them from the sun. Or maybe they were just saving their energy to fight the stallions? :-)

Introduction of a stallion – The next step is the introduction of a stallion. Stallions have been kept away from the herds for about 2-3 months, and now they are eager to see their new family. The whole village comes together to cheer and watch how the mares will accept their new leader.

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And the mating game starts. While flirting, these simple, unprepossessing stallions turn into beauties with swan necks and billowing manes. They trot with suspension and almost passage, trying to impress the females, but mares are not that easy to get. They will bite and kick, angrily neigh and run away. All until the stallion decides that instead of trying to tame them, he’d better go get some fresh grass to chew. The very moment the mares are left alone, they don’t look that furious and independent any more. Now they themselves are looking for attention – not unlike humans, right :-) – and the whole game starts all over again: biting and kicking, sniffing and neighing.

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Dastarhan – While horses are sorting their relationships out, people are gathering at each family’s dastarhan (a kind of low table). Every family will offer their best dishes and you absolutely have to try something at each and every table. And don’t forget to thank them by saying “Kailak bolsyn,” literally meaning “Happy mating.” As you can imagine nobody start a diet on the 1st of May there :-)

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By the way, Kazakh women are always ready to host guests, and I’m not talking about 2-3 friends coming for a cup of tea. “Guests” in Kazakhstan means 20-30 people coming at the same time and staying for at least 4-6 hours or maybe even a few days. So they normally slaughter a ram or an ox and cook beshbarmak (boiled meat with noodles spiced with onion sauce), bring irimshik (a special kind of dried cottage cheese), make baursaki (doughnut-like pastries) and lots of other very unique dishes. According to nomad tradition, the most respected guests will get the best pieces. So, as the guest who came from the furthest afield, I got the biggest piece of ox meat on the biggest bone.

Milking of horses – And the celebration goes on. After the foals stop resisting the ropes, it’s time for feeding them and milking the mares. Thanks to Emma, who befriended every person in Tersakkan, I was allowed to learn how to milk a horse. Surprisingly, this subtle bay mare had no objections, and now I can proudly say that I took part in making this year’s kumys. Unlike cows, horses produce only 200-300 mL of milk per milking, which is why mares’ milk is so precious.

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Kazakhs, as well as other nomads of Asia, don’t drink fresh mares’ milk; it has to be fermented to become kumys – “the drink of the warriors” they call it. As Hippocrates said “Let food be thy medicine and medicine be thy food.” This is precisely the way how Kazakhs use kumys. There is even a saying “If kumys doesn’t cure the disease, nothing else will.” Kumys comes in 3 main types: thin (for children and older people), medium and strong (heady and sour, which is also called “milky wine” sometimes). There are about 30 varieties of kumys depending on the season, composition, taste and secret recipes every family has.

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Local craft master class – After all the herds have been introduced to the stallions and let to run away to the steppe, the village women provide master classes on kumys making, carpet weaving and felting. It’s great to see that in the era of globalization and all-alike goods produced in China, these people still remember, practice and teach the ancient crafts and traditions.

Racing – And the final and most awaited event is baiga – a 25-kilometer (5 times around the village) saddleless endurance race.

It takes 2-3 years and lots of special knowledge to raise a good racing horse. I was told that synshis, local horse specialists or horse whisperers, can check how well a horse is prepared for the race by tasting the horse’s sweat – I mean, wow! This is a type of quality check that never came to my mind before.

However, no matter what kind of race we are talking about, be it the most expensive Dubai race, the Kentucky derby or this particular baiga, no one can predict the outcome 100%. Every race is an equation with too many unknowns. Everything matters and doesn’t matter at the same time – the horse’s genes, the rider’s experience and weight, the horse’s color and composition, and even, as we now know, the taste of its sweat :-) All these are important, but there is no victory without something intangible – something which we call luck. So who got lucky this time? A very young boy, barely a teenager, riding a funny named 3-year-old horse (Kok Koyan – Blue Rabbit) was the fastest and got the first prize.

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Leaving Tersakkan, I was thinking that maybe… Just maybe… I happened to see a future champion fighting the rope for the first time in his life today.

 

P.S. Few more pics

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Haltering a foal

Haltering a foal

Steppe macho

Steppe macho

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Horses are everything…

Horses are everything…

Flirting

Flirting

Taste of milky wine

Taste of milky wine

Color quiz #1 – Check out her curly tail :-)

Color quiz #1 – Check out her curly tail

Color quiz #2 – What color is the foal? Hint – he is not albino.

Color quiz #2 – What color is the foal? Hint – he is not albino.

Color Quiz #3 – Made of spare parts?

Color Quiz #3 – Made of spare parts