Riding Across the Road of Bones

This interview with Nikita Gretsi, conducted shortly after the first leg of the journey was completed, was translated to English and reposted with permission from Yakutia.Info. Article by Timofey Efremov, Photos by Yuri Berezhnev.

YAKUTIA.INFO. The first stage of the international image project to popularize the Yakut horse “The Last Great Journey”, organized by a young equestrian traveler from England Nikita Gretsi, has been successfully completed.

Let us remind you that the international project of equestrian travel along the route from the Pacific Ocean to the Atlantic, which we have previously written about more than once, was officially launched in early October from the Magadan Territory. One of its goals is the international promotion of the Yakut horse brand, as well as promoting the recognition of Yakutia and acquaintance with its culture at the all-Russian and international level. The Yakut businessman and experienced equestrian traveler Yegor Makarov actively assists in organizing this trip.

Nikita shared his impressions and results of the trip from Magadan to the Oymyakonsky district with the journalists of the Yakut publications.

Nikita, what is the total distance covered by you from the start in Magadan, and where has the first stage of your long journey completed at this time?

Me and my horses have covered more than a thousand kilometers in a month. We walked up to 70 kilometers a day. At the moment, our route has ended in the village of Tomtor (Oymyakonsky district). The stop at this stage is due to the fact that the time has come for my horses to receive annual anthrax vaccinations. In addition, my Russian visa is about to expire, which, unfortunately, allows me to stay in Russia continuously for only three months. To obtain a new visa, I will need to travel to England. So while I am away, the horses will be waiting for me in Tomtor. This is all according to plan, as they will have 30 days of quarantine after vaccinations.

When do you intend to return to Yakutia and start the second stage of your journey? 

It should be borne in mind that now everywhere severe restrictions are in effect. In England, after my arrival, I will be in quarantine for a couple of weeks. Then the New Year holidays will begin everywhere. I believe that during this period it is better not to hit the road. Therefore, I plan to return to Yakutia in January. I hope there will be no outbreaks of corona virus by this time either in England or in Russia.

Where do you intend to go from Tomtor and where is the end of the second stage scheduled? 

From Tomtor we intend to move to the Irkutsk region and further towards Buryatia, but where exactly we will complete the second stage, I still cannot say. It all depends on various circumstances. In any case, my journey is not conceived for the speed of the route. We have different goals. We are not competing with anyone, one of our tasks is to pass the route, to acquaint everyone with the Yakut horse on the way, to tell people about Yakutia and, in general, to spread knowledge about the republic. We will talk about the Sakha people and their culture, which, among other things, is associated with the unpretentious Yakut horse. The goal is to awaken interest among Russians and residents of other countries in Yakutia and the Yakut horse.

What are the successes in awakening interest in Yakutia and in the Yakut horse on the way from Magadan?

Everyone there was delighted. Many who we met along the way really saw a Yakut horse live for the first time. Everyone wondered how they, being so small, could be so hardy. There were people who wanted to buy horses from me, they were interested in where they can be purchased. And speaking on a global scale, large Russian and international media have already become interested in my trip. We were supposed to have a meeting with ABC journalists in Oymyakon. We waited there for five days, but because of the bad weather they could not get to Tomtor and, alas, had to leave. But a lot of people and the media reach out to me through social networks. Our trip is monitored by TASS, Russia Today, National Geographic. The MIR TV channel wants to cooperate with us. So there is considerable international interest in the project.

Tell us about your horses – what are they like, how did you work with them?

I travel with horses Artyk and White. At first it was planned that I would ride other horses, but due to the postponement of the start, I had to look for others. This is how I acquired Artyk and White. The first two days it was hard for me with them. We got to know each other, but in the end we worked together in a month. They are very smart horses. Each has its own character – it is very important to understand it in order to establish communication with the horse. In addition, they are of different ages – Artyk is the elder, White is younger.

If they are of different ages, then the level of experience is different – is it somehow manifested?

Of course, Artyk perceives White as a younger brother and takes care of him in his own way. Once we stopped to rest in one village and began to feed them. I took White aside and hid it behind the fence. Artyk began to eat, but then he began to look around and look for White. He could not see him and began to worry – he began to call him. And although White heard him, he ate and was silent. Apparently, he realized that this was a joke and also played along. And so, on the way, I always tried to pass difficult sections on Artyk at first, because he was calmer about cars. Behaves more calmly around them. But here the drivers should behave normally. Alas, we often came across boorish behavior of truckers and taxi drivers.

How did it manifest itself?

On narrow roads and on bridges, many of them, seeing us, did not slow down. Although, as a rule, experienced drivers understand that horses can be frightened by large cars that pass close by at speed. The horse may panic and throw off the rider. Or to dash off the road to the side, but in narrow sections we walked at the edge of a cliff or at the edge of a bridge. And, only thanks to endurance and luck, no accidents happened to us in such situations. Moreover, the drivers of cars, on the contrary, passing by us, always slowed down. And they even stopped and asked if we needed something to help.

How did you calm the horses in such situations?

It all depends on how you built your relationship with the horse. After all, the Yakut horse, in contrast to the economic and domesticated ones, does not depend much on the person. A domestic horse without a man is nothing. For food and water in winter, it is completely dependent on the person. If a Yakut horse leaves you, it will find food for itself. Therefore, you need to make the horse feel the strength of your character, only then will it trust you. And in difficult and dangerous situations, he will watch how you behave. If you are in control and look calm, then he will calm down too. In such situations, they behave like children. If the child is scared and there is a calm and confident parent nearby, then the child ceases to be afraid.

How did you communicate with the people you met along the way?

Very good. Everyone is friendly and helpful. They were always ready to tell us the way. But then an interesting point came to light. Differences have arisen in how people who are accustomed to driving cars estimate distances, and how we – horse travelers perceive the distance. For example, people say: “Here you go along this road, there will be a village there in three hours. There is a shop – it’s not far. ” And for me, as a horseman, these few hours took several days of the journey.

Were there any accidents along the way with the horses, did they try to escape?

No, except for the cases with truckers, nothing like that happened. Unless, it happened, in search of food they went far. We hobbled them at night so that they would not go very far. But even in this form, they sometimes went 11 kilometers from the camp site in search of tasty grass. And then in the morning you get up, you go to look for them 11 kilometers in one direction. Then with them the same amount back – this is already 22 kilometers. But you still have to go on the road.

Were there any funny incidents?

There were all kinds of things, but I don’t remember anything separate now. Although, for example, I found out that White is afraid of tickling. When I removed the saddle, I checked the places under the belts to see if they had rubbed there. I touched the underbelly, and he began to bite. Thought he was in pain in this place. But it turned out that he was just ticklish. Then, when he was nervous and kicked, I tickled him and he calmed down.

In what condition did the horses complete the first stage of your long journey?

Surprisingly now they weigh more than they weighed at the beginning of our journey. I always made sure that they had enough food on the way, they carried about 600 kg with them to Kadykchan, then I transferred the horses to pasture. When we arrived in Myaungju, more than a hundred kilograms of hay remained.

Even before the trip, I thought about whether to shoe my horses or not. On the one hand, the horse shoes protect the hooves. But if suddenly a horse, for example falls on stones, the horseshoe can come off and injure its leg. Then we will not be able to continue our journey. So I decided not to shoe the horses. There were too many risks associated with horse shoes over which I had no control. But on the other hand, every day I checked their hooves to see if they were worn out or if they were damaged. The condition of the horses is very important to me. They are equal participants in the journey and their well-being is equal to mine. This is not only our journey. The Yakut horses must complete this journey safe and sound with us.

HRL sincerely appreciates Yakutia.Info’s generosity in sharing this fascinating peek inside the day-in-day-out of this incredible endeavor!

Cristina has been in graphic design and marketing since 2006, and was blessed with the opportunity to work with Barb to bring her dream of HRL to life! She lives in Central Florida with her cat and loves music, movies, and travel. cristina@nine31.com