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Pioneer Farm: THE HORSE WHISPERER

11/12/2012

A friend told us there was a small horse farm very close to Sofia, about 25 km away. All of us adore horses, but almost no one has one – breeding is hard and very expensive. So we are excited like little children when we arrive at the farm, a lovely family house with a beautiful garden, and a few Karakachan dogs living in the backyard. To our surprise there is also a pigeon-cage, accordingly inhabited. All the animals are pure Bulgarian breeds, including the pigeons; they are called “kabatci”, a special selection breed known for over 300 years.

Standing in the middle of the yard, surrounded by animals, cute puppies crawling in my feet, I felt truly happy. And as always in such situations, I asked myself why aren't there more farmers taking care of livestock? The media keeps telling us how bad things are, we constantly hear stories how one can almost never get the grants promised by the government… but is it really about that? I asked the owner and without hesitation he answered: No. I do not need their grants. What I need is fair trade. Simple as that. I produce milk. And I need to sell it at normal price. Not at a 1/3 of the price of a mineral water bottle. And this is how much I am being paid now.

This is happening to almost every small farm, day after day, a struggle to survive.

Back to the horses. Our hosts take us to the end of the neighborhood where the six horses are. The owner`s little son is just feeding them, serving their favorite meal - fodder, in the stables. We are stunned by the animals` beauty, so gracious with their elegant long feet, symmetrical muscular bodies and perfect posture. Absolutely enraptured with the mighty animals, we are quietly watching as the owner saddles one of the stallions and tells us a fascinating story.

70 years ago four Hungarian stallions were imported in a Bulgarian stud, all of them Nonius. This breed has been specially selected in Hungary for over 360 years. The idea of bringing them here was to interbreed with Bulgarian mares and thus create a new, better selection. This is how the Danube horse was born. Along with so many other things, the stud is extinct after the political changes in the country. All the horses, more than 2000 animals, are exported to France, Italy and Greece… for their meat. Only very few of the magical creatures are saved, thanks to the workers, among which is our host, Zakhari. He is now on the stallion`s back and we expect him to slowly walk the horse around, but we are stunned as instead he performs the so called “dressage”. Just like us, most of you have only seen this on TV; they demonstrate this elaborate performance usually at big international competitions. Dressage requires more than perfect synchronization of the horse and rider. They literally become one.

The more we stood there, observing those out of our world creatures, the worse we felt for the difficulties Zakhari has to endure in order to take care of them. The Danube horse is endangered of extinction and no wonder that is so – there are very few of them left and the government is making no effort whatsoever to help. And the species` destiny is in the hands of brave men like Zakhari, whose life is now dedicated to breeding them. And not only his, but the life of his entire family, from the eldest to the youngest. His 12-year old son, together with grandpa and grandma, wake up at dawn. Until dusk they take care of the horses, clean the stables, and repair them with whatever material they can find…

It is only by extremely hard work that the family manages to keep their farm. The food for one horse for the month costs approximately 200 EUR. It takes 10 bales of lucerne a month and 4 kilos of oats and barley to feed all six horses. And it takes endless patience and love to train the horses.  Our host does that as well, in a calm and non-violent manner, following the method of Monty Roberts. One might wonder how do he does it. We will tell you how. With passion. They never give up no matter how hard things seem. And it works.

Zakhari`s dream is to see his son as a jockey in an international contest, riding one of the then already certified and officially acknowledged Danube horses. Fulfilling this dream would take about 10 years. Zakhari already knows which of his horses will father the future champion stallion that his son will some day victoriously riding . Will it come true? It depends on all of us.