The Long Riders' Guild

My Kingdom for a Horse


Basha O'Reilly


Sometimes our soul's song stirs. The ice that has confined us begins to crack. Lethargy burns off in the heat of a newly discovered passion. Gypsy blood, long denied, sings to a moon, long ignored. And our life is suddenly taken galloping away from where we lived, from what we knew, from who we were.

This is the word-song of Basha Gypsy Moon, as I call her. Here is the tale of how she discovered a half-wild horse that took her past frontiers, both physical and spiritual, into a new history, a new life, and a new name.

The tale unfolds in 1994. The Soviet Union has disintegrated and a swirling political landscape allows the European equestrian adventuress to journey into previously off-limits Russia. Late that fall, Basha went riding and hunting with a group of Cossacks near Volgograd. Seeing their hardy horses running free on the fence-less steppes, Basha conceived what many would say was a crazy plan -  the idea of buying one of these magnificent horses and riding it home to England.

Now, in deep December, Basha returns to Russia with her adult daughter Katie. Their mission is to choose suitable mounts from the wild herds running across the snow-covered landscape. Basha does not realize she is about to locate Count Pompeii, the Cossack stallion who will take her not just 2,500 miles back to faraway England, but on the adventure of a lifetime.

I don’t know why, but as Katie was mounting I turned to look at some more horses tied to an old cart.  There I saw a small scrawny chestnut with white legs and a huge white blaze on his face.  His flaxen mane was full of burrs.  The bottom of his pale tail had been hacked off with a knife.  He was pathetically thin.  Physically there was nothing to recommend him.  Yet the chestnut looked at me, not in supplication but as an equal – and the expression on his face quite clearly said, “Oh, here you are at last!”

I turned to Vassily.  Vot etat, pajalusta.  Kak yevo zavood?”  (This one, please.  What is his name?) 

Vassily turned ““Count Pompeii.  No – astarojna!  On darogy – y ny loshad dla jenshina!”  (“Count Pompeii.  But be careful!  He’s expensive – and not a horse for a woman!”)

I determined to ride him immediately.

Reluctantly, Vassily gave me a leg up.  He then jumped onto another horse and shot off across the Steppes at a gallop, leaving Katie and me to follow as best we could.

Count Pompeii’s head shot up.   His small ears turned back and we set off in hot pursuit, with Katie just behind us, trying to keep up.  

On the horizon the enormous blanched sky blended with the infinite snowy Steppes.  There were no fences.  No hedges.  No obstacles at all.  I felt as if I had been transported onto the film set of Dr Zhivago. 

I crouched down in the saddle and gave Pompeii his head.  The wind whistled past my ears, Pompeii’s hooves drummed on the Steppes.  My stirrups were too short.  I hardly dared breathe the sub-zero air which was burning my lungs.  My face, the only uncovered part of me, felt like a block of ice.  Tears of cold were blurring my vision.  My fingers and toes had lost all feeling. 

Pompeii didn’t care.  In spite of his obvious lack of condition, he required no encouragement from me to catch up with Vassily, three hundred yards ahead.  He was thoroughly enjoying himself. 

So was I.

Soon we drew level with Vassily, who stared in astonishment when he saw me racing Pompeii along beside him.  I grinned happily at him, then suddenly remembered I was a mother!  I turned guiltily to find Katie right on our heels.  Her flushed and ecstatic face must have mirrored my own. 

Hard-d2.jpg (29359 bytes) "On the horizon the enormous blanched sky blended with the infinite snowy Steppes.  There were no fences.  No hedges.  No obstacles at all.  I felt as if I had been transported onto the film set of Dr Zhivago."   

Click on photo to enlarge

“Now we return,” announced Vassily, and reluctantly we turned and headed back towards the barn.

“Isn’t this amazing?” I said to Katie, as Pompeii pranced beneath me. 

“Yes, that was a fantastic gallop,” she answered, grinning.

“Look at the Steppes all around us – have you ever seen anything so beautiful?”

“It’s wonderful.  Why don’t you choose this horse?” Katie pleaded.

“No, darling, sorry.  Look at the way he sticks his nose straight up in the air.  Anyway, I have set my heart on this one.”

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