The Long Riders' Guild

My Kingdom for a Horse - page 2

The three of us cantered back to the barn, where Anna was waiting for us, stamping her feet on the frozen ground and smoking irritably.  She was cold, bored, impatient, and totally uninterested in horses.

“Keep that stallion away from the mares,” she shouted at me.

Oh no, I thought – not a stallion?  I couldn’t possibly buy a stallion!  I had visions of riding a rampant sex-maniac across the whole of Europe. 

In addition, there was no way I could keep a stallion once I got home.  I had hardly ever seen a stallion in England, where they were considered fearsome, oversexed creatures, to be kept for breeding purposes only. 

A mad trip was one thing, but arriving in a sleepy English village with a half-wild stallion was quite another.  And yet… despite the voice of reason, I knew that I absolutely had to have this little horse that had stolen my heart in one madcap gallop. Something unique had passed between us out there on the snowy Steppes.  I couldn’t define it then and I can’t define it now.  But whatever it was, I could not ignore it.

Before I had time to say anything, Vassily said something in Russian. 

“Do you see anything else you like in the corral?” Anna translated. 

We looked over the rails to inspect the herd in the corral.  How on earth could one choose from so many?  When I looked more closely, however, I realised it would not be too difficult.  Several of the mares were obviously in foal.   A considerable number of the horses had saddle sores.  A few had poor feet.  I dismissed about thirty for the simple reason that I did not like the look of them.

Gradually the number of potential candidates grew smaller, until, of the sixty animals in the corral, only a few were left to consider.

“I like that big black mare, and the grey mare next to her, too.  Could I take a closer look, please?” I asked 

The black one was tall – nearly 16 hands – and raw boned, with very little white on her, and the biggest mouth I have ever seen on a horse.  The grey was slightly smaller and finer boned, obviously devoted to her companion, and with a knowing look about her.   

"I liked the look of those two mares: therefore that was good enough reason to buy them.  After all, the trip itself was based on instinct, so why not choose the horses on instinct?

Cossack-Mares.jpg (20404 bytes)

I started climbing over the fence.   Vassily looked aghast and shouted something incomprehensible.  

“Stop!” Anna shrieked.  “He says you cannot go in with the horses – those two have never been touched and they’re dangerous!”  I stopped, unwillingly.

I have been around horses for over forty years, my dealings with them are entirely intuitive.  I liked the look of those two mares: therefore that was good enough reason to buy them.  After all, the trip itself was based on instinct, so why not choose the horses on instinct?

Before buying a stud, I should have discussed it with my husband.  I couldn’t telephone him, however, because there were no international telephone lines from Alexikovo. 

That evening, Katie and I sat down to discuss Pompeii.

“Mummy, obviously it’s your decision, but you know it will be very difficult to keep him in England?”

“Yes, Katie, I know there are a load of complications.  But I have GOT to have him!  After all, he seems very quiet, for a stallion.”

“And what about riding him back?  What will you do when the mares come into season?  Or you meet other mares along the way?”

“I’ve thought of that, and Anna assures me that Russian mares only come into season in the Spring.”

“He will undoubtedly be much more expensive than the mares!”

“Yes, but then stallions always are!  And perhaps I can get the money back in stud fees when we get home.  And, ” I was warming to my theme, “I want to cross this breed with English horses, and Arabs, to produce great endurance horses, and what quicker way to bring new blood in than via a stallion?”

The next day we went back to the stud.  There we huddled in Vassily’s office, a bleak, brown box of a room with scarcely enough room for the four of us, but it had a heater!  After half an hour of haggling we had agreed on a price for all three horses – a fortune by Russian standards.  The mares were, I considered, reasonably priced, but Pompeii cost five times as much as they did.  Although I didn’t understand then quite how much too much I was paying, I did realise I was paying a “tourist” price.  But Count Pompeii was a very special horse.

So it was that I bought one very young stallion, and two mares as wild as deer, from a man I had never met before.    

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