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Kazakhs in the Saddle: The Equestrian Spirit

By Matt Schaeffer


Kazakh in the Saddle: The Equestrian Spiritorses are to Kazakhs as camels are to Bedouin or ships to the British and the Japanese: they embody and express the soul of the nation – and its most ancient and enduring identity.

For thousands of years, the nomad tribal peoples of the steppe lived and flourished with their horses. The small, tough, un-picturesque steppe horse was capable of unparalleled endurance. For the warrior Mongols, the steppe horse was their armored personnel carrier and tank, it was the means of transportation that made them, under Genghis Khan, the most successful and invincible warriors the world has ever known.

The Kazakh people, by contrast, were always a nation of peace and tolerance, coexistence, exploration and trade, and the steppe horse was their ship of exploration, beast
of burden, life support system and closest friend. And, however, strange that may sound to Americans, the horse was, and is, a source of protein and primary nutrition for the Kazakhs.

Today, the modern, 21st century nation of Kazakhstan is renewing its reverence and appreciation for the horse. Riding schools are proliferating around the nation. Agriculturalists and government planners are systematically and energetically looking for ways to expand the size of horse herds, preserve old breeds and import new strains to strengthen them.

Developing Kazakhstan’s horse industry is going to be a significant component of the nation’s 20-year agricultural development strategy to the year 2030. There is also vast
tourist potential for developing riding holidays across the steppe. Kazakh planners and entrepreneurs are just beginning to study the possibility of developing the hugely popular sports of show jumping and three day events. The physique of the steppe horse also makes it ideal for the sport, and recreation, of endurance riding.

For thousands of years, young Kazakhs learned to ride before they could walk. Modern scholarship has concluded that the peoples of the Asian steppe were the first riders and domesticators of the horse in human history. The early Equus ferus caballus breed was domesticated as early as 2000 BC, when the pyramids of Egypt were still young, and before the time of the Christian, Muslim and Jewish patriarch, Abraham.

Without the horse, the steppes of Asia could not have been explored and settled. Cattle and sheep could not have been raised and herded in such great numbers. And thousands of years before the invention of the automobile, the steppe horse was already the symbol and the indispensable enabler of human freedom. The steppe peoples fought the invaders, and, if feeling overwhelmed, could simply fold their tents and flee oppressive invaders, finding refuge and safety far away on the endless Asian Ocean of Grass.

Kazakhs in the Saddle: The Equestrian Spirit

Even the language of the Kazakh people bears abundant witness to their love of the horse and their reverence for its central role in their survival and history. Linguists have listed around 70 different terms in the Kazakh language for horses, differentiating them according to their sex, age, size, color, endurance, gait (manner of moving) and many other specifics.

There are as many Kazakh terms for the different physical movements of horse as there are in the Western discipline of dressage. Thus, “bulken zhelis” means a light trot, “boken zhelis” means a fast-paced trot and “zharka zhulis” means a piaffe.

Well into the 20th century, the Kazakhs remained the People of the Horse. They proudly and jealously preserve their nomadic tradition, trading expertise and way of life.
Only in the communist era, did Soviet planners succeed in imposing the constraints of urbanization and the tillage cultivation of grain crops on the Kazakh people.

Kazakh tradition and medical lore associate the continued riding of horses into middle age and old age with longevity, male potency and vigor. Traditional male names
include Alpysbai, Zhetpysbai and Seksenbai. In Kazakh, alpys means sixty, zhetpys means seventy, and seksen means eighty. The names were given to record that the
men’s fathers procreated them when they were already over 60, 70 or 80 years old.

Similarly, the ancient equestrian culture of Kazakhstan, probably the oldest in the world, continues to inspire and rejuvenate the Kazakh people.

To ride in the Astana area try the Kulager School.
Kulager Horse Riding School
Hours: Tue.-Sun. 10:00 am - 8:00 pm
Lunch 1:00 pm - 3:00 pm (closed on Mondays)
Prices: 1 hour- 1,800 KZT, 1 hour with instructor- 2,300 KZT
30 minutes- 1,000 KZT, 30 min with instructor 1,300 KZT
Contact: Andrey at 8 (702) 552 72 04
Please note: renting a horse while intoxicated is prohibited
For those interested in purchasing a horse, some of them are for sale.

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