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May 7th, 2024 - Bringing the Boys to EUROPE


BACK to Kyrgyzstan


Exactly two and a half years ago, we said goodbye to Tian, Chai & Fidel. Not a day went by without us thinking about them. And so, we decided to do something crazy, something maybe impossible: we’d bring them home to France. To facilitate the journey, it made sense to bring them to Europe in a truck. But the adventure didn’t feel like an adventure if there wasn’t a long ride together squeezed in there too. So, once in Europe, we’d ride them home from Poland, through the Carpathians and the Alps. Pretty simple, two bullet points on a to-do list: bring the horses to Europe, ride them home to France. But there was no way those two bullet points wouldn’t contain a hundred sub-points, and those sub-points a hundred notes and offshoots. Even meticulous planning couldn’t prepare us for the ride that was coming.

The sun was shining despite the cold when we drove out to the winter farm in northern Kyrgyzstan. A herd of horses came into view, dark dots milling about in the white snow. Like a parental instinct, we spotted immediately the shapes of Fidel, then Tian, and finally the discreet Chai. 

Like in a movie, when we walked out to the herd of 15 horses, Quentin whistled and began speaking softly — and to our surprise and joy, Fidel and Chai broke off from the herd to come say hello. What a chance to experience a precious moment of softness, of reconnection and of love. For Tian, it’s a little more difficult to forgive us. But on the second day, he stood forehead to forehead with Ashley, meditating for ten minutes. Their relationship is on the mend. 

The mountains of paperwork to prepare the journey can’t block out our excitement to cross the mountains of Europe this summer. But frustrating challenges arrive. On Friday, Ashley spends a full day searching for the last three vaccines the horses need before their travel. In a country where vaccination is far from the norm, it’s a frustrating task. 





And then, it all seems to stop. On Monday, we receive a call from Hélène: our fiery, spicy Tian was sick. We rush to a vet in Bishkek, buy his entire stock of meds and then rush to the stables to find Tian already on the ground and suffering. He had contracted tetanus from a cut on his face, an old one that he’d had for weeks before we’d arrived. In cruel twist of fate, tetanus one of the vaccines Ashley had been searching for just two days before.


For the next 36 hours, we stayed by his side, offering him the best support we could: big doses of medicine, sedatives, and fluids. He was never alone. He showed us that he wasn’t ready to give up. And fought his hardest until the very last second, but he did not make it. 


When we came back to Kyrgyzstan, Ashley promised each horse that now we’d never be separated again, until the end of their days. But we never thought the day might come so soon. The only bright side we can see is that she kept her promise, and we accompanied him on his final journey.


If you’ve met Tian or seen the film, you know he is irreplaceable, that he has a strong spirit and a deep connection with Ashley. In Chinese, Tian means “heaven.” We hope that he is up there watching us, eating green grass and galloping across the steppe. 


Fidel and Chai are still with us, and we feel even more determined to bring them home. We will make this journey in honor of Tian. He will bring us all his strength and courage. He will travel with us in our hearts. To his memory, of all the moments we spent together, we’ll try to honor. 





It feels like the world has stopped, and it’s all we can do to keep moving forward. We finish vaccinating the two remaining horses, and their passports arrive. Now, we wait on the Russian visas and the truck. Hélène asks, “Did you see the news of the floods in Orsk?” It’s not far from where we’ll cross the border into Russia. Within two days the entire region where we should drive through is underwater; our layover stables have been evacuated. The truck is delayed. Our Russian visas expire. Will we ever get out of this country? With the shock of losing Tian, I am disassociating a lot, telling myself that everything will be ok if we can just get to Poland. 


But Fidel and Chai are not concerned about when we’ll leave. They’re getting extra rations and putting on weight before the trip, and they’re feeling great.  


Finally, the truck arrives. We meet the driver Maksim and are instantly reassured; he’s easygoing and attentive to the horses. Inside the truck, we make huge box stalls and set up a feeding system of unlimited hay. Minor delays feel unending, but finally, we’re on the road through Kazakhstan. The steppe stretches endlessly, flat, empty, and hostile. I’m sure that taking the truck to Europe was the right decision; I don’t want to ride through this. The tears come and go – I miss Tian, and it wrenches my heart not seeing him alongside Fidel and Chai in the truck. Near Astana, we leave the boys in the doting hands of Maksim. The next morning, he texts us, “We’re in Russia!”





Jumping ahead of the horses, we fly to Poland, pick up a rental car and unload our bags at Iris’ farm in the Swietokrzyskie mountains. A new angel has entered our story. With the first light, we realize Iris lives in paradise. Big fields of lush grass, a dozen happy, handsome horses and a forest that gives way to the small mountains – this is where we’ll wait for the horses, and where they’ll rest upon arrival. A horse traveler herself, we feel like we’ve landed in the best possible place to welcome the boys in Europe.

But of course, the questions come back. Do we buy a third horse? Do we need a third horse? If we didn’t have the audiovisual filming gear, we could go without a pack horse, but that’s not in the cards.

After talking in circles, we decide on two options we can live with: find a third horse, who can carry the pack and Chai will become Ashley’s riding horse. Or, we don’t find a third horse, send a box full of gear home, and travel “ultra-light,” with one pack horse, one riding horse, and one human with a backpack.  


Before we have too much time to think about it, the boys are almost here. 

The crack of dawn in Poland comes at 4 am, and it’s 4:12 when Tanya calls me to tell me they’ve arrived. “Они едят много сена,” she tells me with a smile – they ate a lot of hay on the ride. The boys unload. Fidel, usually independent and brave is visibly reassured to see Quentin, and Chai is happy to be out stretching his legs. As the sun rises, they graze down some of the lush grass, and then once the warm rays start to hit, they settle in for a nap. They know they’ve arrived in paradise too. Our years apart are over, and now our family can begin its journey home. Only 2500km through the Carpathians and the Alps lay in our way.    

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