|2005-01-20 - The Yakuts - part 1
The Yakuts - a legendary horse people
20 Jan, 05 - 08:42
GPS-pos: N67°28´ | E153°42´ | Alt: 11 M
It is the 19th of January today, -33°F, clear with a light southerly wind and we´re keeping our fingers crossed that it will stay this way. We´ve put a pot of fresh caribou meat cooking slowly on the stove. Acquired during our visited to Nalimsk yesterday. The local animists are down by the river all day talking to the river Gods. I hope those prayers will help us as well, when we leave Srednekolymsk the 1st of February, on our way north-east heading on skis for Kolymskaya. In any case we´ve located 6 kg:s of oats in a hidden away store today!
Part 1 of 2 (second part tomorrow)
´´The horse is my God´´ ,Vasili declares: ´´I admire it and I have lived with horses all my life. It is my best friend, my partner and it feeds me and my family. Both through it´s work and because I eat its meat.´´
In the small village we´re in, Nalimsk, Vasili is considered the real expert on horses. Like the other old yakuts in the village, he speaks only Yakut. Therefore we need two translators. One who translates from Yakut to Russian and one from Russian to English. This is no problem, really, as long as you avoid telling jokes. Which is hard, since the yakuts are a joking people. So am I. The problem is that either it takes three minutes after you´ve finished telling your joke to get a laugh or the translators mess it up and you end up getting a blank stare of misunderstanding. The yakuts always do understand horses, though. Almost everybody in the village is the owner of at least one of the legendary Yakut horses. But it is only Vasili who´s old enough to have lived like many yakuts did in the old days, namely a lonely life in the great wilderness, hunting, fishing and setting traps far away from other people, exploring new areas by horse.
´´Most people travel by snowmobile in the winter nowadays, and by jeep in the summer when hunting and fishing´´ ,Vasili explains, ´´and if they run into trouble, like a vehicle breaking down, they´re in big trouble. Some of them die out there in the wilderness. This never happens if you travel by horse. If your horse runs out of fuel, the horse will find its own food by digging deep in the ground to find what it needs to survive. Grass and roots. No matter what time of the year.´´
However, there´s always an exception to the rule. About ten years ago, it was such an odd winter, that the ground froze in such a way, that more than half of the more than 8000 wild Yakut horses in this vast area, perished from hunger. A catastrophe of course. Because, the Yakut horse isn´t only stunningly beautiful, almost like a fairy tale horse, it is unique in many ways. It resembles the Icelandic horse, but has much thicker fur, it is sturdier and, of course, handles cold far better. It is a fantastic survivor and even the tame Yakut horses find their own food most of the time. This area around Srednekolymsk and the Kolyma River have developed an own breed of this legendary horse. It is called the Kolymskaya horse, it´s height is168 cm, and is developed to better handle the specific surroundings of this area. The immense taiga, the eternal permafrost and the extreme cold.
´´When the foals are old enough, we put them through severe tests´´ , Vasili informs me, ´´to see if they´re strong and clever enough to handle these demanding surroundings and see if they can survive by themselves, just in case the times get much harder and we cannot feed them anymore. We´re extremely to choose the right horses. Those who can´t make it, end up being our food. So the horses you´ll come across here in the village, they´re all the strongest and the best to be found.´´
Most locals use the horse every day. Either when they ride down to the nearby lake to fetch ice to make drinking water from, since there´s no running water during the winter season. Or to fetch hay, timber or any other essentials for their daily survival. They don´t walk next to the horses or sit at the back of a sledge and steer, no, the Yakuts always ride their horses. They´re very proud over their own history and ability to handle horses. Vasili is a symbol for this reality and when he sits up on his horse, it´s hard to believe he´s 75 years of age, he swings himself up into the saddle. At least the first time. The next one, he climbs up on a haystack and takes place in the saddle. His horse wasn´t in the mood for tricks today. This irritated horse apart, most Yakut horses are very relaxed, easy going and calm.
´´I once had a horse which passed 30 years of age´´ ,Vasili tells me whilst I am walking by his side, on our way down to the frozen lake, in -51°F, ´´oh, he could handle the cold, well, everything! That horse was my all time favorite. His name was Hannanaq. He turned old, he did, even though most horses here never get older than 20.´´