05/10/21 – Three Kyrgyz Stallions, 1200km Await
Bringing the Boys Home
The truck rattled up the road, away from Uzgen, towards Arslanbob. Our three horses stood tied behind us. The stress of the bazaar, the length of the day, combined with the lack of water and hay had left our chestnut horse, Tian, in a murderous mood. For thirty kilometers he took out his frustrations on the skinny bay, Chai, by baring his teeth and threatening to bite the little horse. But when we stopped to pick up the big bay, Fidel, in Oogan Taala, things turned ugly. Fidel hopped into the van without a problem, and whinnied hello to his traveling companions. Tian must have taken this as a threat; he began lashing out at the big bay. Roaring and striking out at each other, they made noises you only hear in horse movies. They’d either settle down and get along or kill each other; we had only 12km left to reach the house, so we drove on.
From behind, a resounding thump rang out, and we knew something else had happened than horses just bickering. Thrown off balance by the other two horses jostling, Chai had tumbled to the bed of the truck and stayed down. The long day at the bazaar had taken its toll on him too, and he didn’t have any more energy to give. He lay there, resigned. Tian stood straddling him, and thankfully a calm descended over the back of the truck; the two rambunctious studs knew they’d been too rough. A horse that’s given up won’t stand back up with just a gentle voice, and after much yelling, pushing and arm-waving Chai wobbled to his feet. By separating Fidel and Tian better, we were able to get the rest of the way home, where we put them in their new stalls. Mangers full of hay and unlimited fresh water worked wonders, and we found three peaceful horses waiting for us the next morning.
Alpine Test Rides
Horses who sit in the stable won’t get you across Kyrgyzstan. Our next challenge was to get them physically and mentally prepared for the trek. A good dose of dewormer and new shoes all around were just the beginning. Unlimited hay, and three small meals of grain had a huge effect on Chai, who had a lot of weight to gain. After three days, we were greeted with loud, demanding whinnies when we entered the barn. We began to understand their personalities. Fidel is strong, full of vigor, and alert. Tian is intelligent, emotional and bursting with energy. And Chai is trusting, giving and curious. Daily excursion to the pastures around our guest house let them enjoy spring grass while we established the ground rules for this journey.
Traveling with stallions scares a lot of riders, us included. To feel more confident, whenever we took them out to the alpine pastures to graze, we sought out pastures with other herds of horses nearby. In this way we could see how our boys would react to other horses and have a little bit of control over the situation. For grazing, we planted a metal stake in the ground and tie a long rope to their front hoof, giving them 80 square meter area of grazing space. Fidel and Tian called out to the other herds, and showed off a bit, striking at the air and whinnying. When no other horses replied they settled down to munch grass. Chai, who is only five years old, is not interested in this kind of behavior and preferred sunbathing to picking up mares.
Sleeping out was the final challenge before we feel ready to depart. A grassy knoll next to a waterfall was the destination of choice, but when cresting the ridge three-quarters of the way there a thunderstorm rolled down from the mountains. Rather than get soaked while setting up camp, we stopped on a rolling plateau that had the advantage of a spring for the horses to drink, and a small smattering of trees for us to seek shelter. The first adrenaline punch of the trip kicked up as we planted the boys’ stakes, tied their ropes, threw up the tent and waited for the rain. It passed to the north of us, right where we would have camped if we’d continued riding; listening to your gut can pay off. It was only after dinner that the drops began to fall, lulling Ashley into a very fitful sleep. Like a mother with newborns, she resisted the urge to leave the tent and check on the horses each time she woke up. At four am, the distant melody of the call to prayer in the village awoke us, and we finally emerged to take a peek at the horses. More stars than we’d ever seen illuminate the sky, and the silhouettes of our horses stood out from the darkness; all was well.
The White Road
Hours and days passed as we fiddled with equipment, maps, and the horses themselves. All the while, our eyes were fixed on Black Valley pass to the west. The weather was warm with afternoon showers. But finally, on a Wednesday we called it: it’s time to go. The next few days were a flurry of weighing rations and washing clothes. On Saturday morning, our family clip-clopped down the road. This road will take us all over the country: to the west, to the north, to the south, to the east.
In Kyrgyzstan, to wish someone luck you say “Ak jol,” or white road. The color of the clay trail we take to leave Arslanbob was white. The adventure has begun.