Conversations with Nikita

Nikita Gretsi is sharing with HRL one of the most historic rides ever attempted: a ride from coast to coast across Siberia, a staggering 15,000 km (or over 9,300 miles). In a recent email,  I asked Nikita questions that I believed would satisfy the curiosity of others as well as myself – bigger questions like”Why did you decide to take on this venture?” to the more practical “What do you eat? What do your horses eat?

Let’s face it, what Nikita is attempting and succeeding to do is outside most horse enthusiasts’ mental box.  No one I am familiar with would attempt what Nikita is doing.  Of course, I am not young, nor do I know each and every horse enthusiast.  Still, it would demand an extremely advanced mental and physical being to consider a long ride such as this one.

But in fact, it is the goal of Nikita Gretsi – and the Long Riders Guild founder, CuChullaine O’Reilly – to encourage young people to seek more adventure and to consider long riding.  To step away from video games and their cell phone, and to see and observe what the world is truly about. 

To seek adventure in reality, not virtually. 

But back to the conversation – below are excerpts from my email conversation with Nikita. Photos used with permission from Yakutia.Info’s excellent interview with Nikita after the first leg of his ride, translated to English for you here.

Nikita: Many of the questions that seem simple turn out to be the most complicated ones, such as why did I decide to embark on this journey. When people first asked me this it was easy to answer, but now after being asked many many times, and having thought about it a lot, it’s probably the hardest question to answer! 

I am glad that my journey is of interest to you, but I do hope that in the future more people will embark on these types of journeys. Perhaps not quite like mine, as my journey makes sense for me, but a journey with meaning for the individual. 

HRL: (quoting a previous email) She really was interested in your event and stated she would never dream of attempting such a ride.

Nikita: In order to attempt it you first have to dream about doing it! 

HRL: It is easier to watch somebody else have an adventure than to make an attempt yourself.

Nikita: I couldn’t agree with you more! But, you cannot feel all the amazing things through a phone screen or by reading about it. Sometimes you just have to go out there and see it for yourself. Feel it for yourself. I could tell you about what it’s like to wake up in a tent at -40C. How you have to light the stove in order to survive the morning. I can even show you footage of it, which looks amazing, but nonetheless, you wouldn’t know how it feels when that first heat wave from the stove fills the tent and your body starts to relax in the warmth. That is something else. That feeling is so overwhelming and brings you such joy, but to understand it you would have to experience it for yourself! 

If you don’t eat, you lose weight and then you start to freeze. So keeping weight on is a must. You also have to always have tea and sugar. If you run out of food, you can get through on tea and sugar for a few days. If you run out of tea, you’re in big trouble.
— Nikita Gretsi

As for my equestrian experience – when I got in contact with CuChullaine and the LRG, I had no experience. CuChullaine along with senior members of the LRG, such as his late wife Basha, Bonnie Folkins, Ian Robinson amongst others provided me with the most intense equestrian education. I’d read the Handbook and the EEE, both written by CuChullaine, which gave me the foundation of knowledge I would need. But reading about something isn’t the same as doing it so in 2019 I traveled to Mongolia where I learned to ride from nomads. I later traveled to Sakha, in Russia, where I continued my training and learned from the indigenous people there. Essentially, Mongolia was where I learned how to ride a horse, Sakha was where I fine-tuned everything. It was 8-12 hours of riding a day, with people who’d done it their entire life. It was difficult to sit down after some days and absolutely everything hurt, but you just have to push through the pain. I was extremely lucky as I was supported by Egor Makarov in Sakha, who is now a good friend. He introduced me to all the experienced nomads in Siberia who would go on to teach me everything I’d need to know. 

As for food – well the simple answer is whatever you can find! You can’t carry much food on horses, as the weight has to be minimal. My packhorse will carry around 40kg, which includes all my equipment along with food. During the journey, I’d have to stock up for at least a week ahead. When you go far off-road, like the old road of bones, then you stock up as much as you can, and you ration. Either way, you’re likely to run out of food at some point. It’s usually the first few days are good where you eat well and consume the calories you need, around 6000 per day, but soon you start rationing really tightly and then soon after you’re just holding on till you find the next village. 

The food varies from place to place depending on what is available but the staple food is as follows:

  • Tinned meat, usually beef, around 2 cans per person per day – You can get by on one if you really need to. 

  • Bread, lots of bread! – this is always the first to run out 

  • Butter – around 250g per person per day, easy calories 

  • Jam – good for vitamins and sugar, when in the wild you need a lot of sugar 

  • Tea, a lot of tea! All you drink there is tea

  • Sugar – for the tea, around 250g per person per day 

  • Pasta/Rice 

Those are your staples, then you take whatever else you may fancy. Pig fat is very good, as it’s high in calories. You want to take things that are light and have high-calorie content as you burn through so many calories per day. If you don’t eat, you lose weight and then you start to freeze. So keeping weight on is a must. You also have to always have tea and sugar. If you run out of food, you can get through on tea and sugar for a few days. If you run out of tea, you’re in big trouble. 

The horses forage for food, in winter they do this by digging under the snow with their hooves. They can smell the vegetation they need and they’re very picky about what they eat. However, if you ride the horses then you have to feed them additional hay. This isn’t a necessity for locals because if the horse loses weight they’ll set him free into the wild and ride another but for me, that’s not an option so maintaining their weight is essential. I’ll also give them salt in the mornings. No exact amount, you just have to play it by the ear. If you know your horses well you’ll know when they need salt. For example, they’ll start chewing bark or twigs or biting at the ground, which means they’re trying to find salt. 

If you’ve connected with your horses well they’ll always tell you what they need, they’re very smart. They’re also very precise. If you feed a horse at 7 am each day and one day you’re even a minute late, they’ll make sure you’re aware of it. They’re always communicating with you, you just have to figure out how they communicate. The same goes for water, they’ll tell you when they’re thirsty. 

I had one instance when we were riding and Artyk was complaining he was thirsty, I don’t know how I knew that’s what he was saying but I said to him there are no rivers around. He stopped and looked over to his right, there was a river flowing not far from us. It sounds completely crazy but it’s true. They understand us far more than we understand them but if you spend long enough with them you get to understand them. 

Hope those answers help! 

Kindest regards,

Merry Christmas Nikita! Stay safe!

Barb currently resides in Central Florida with her three horses; when she’s not writing or riding for HRL, she loves to read and travel.