The following is reprinted with permission from Rob's Blog, a blog about rural and traditional life in Serbia. If the beautiful Serbian landscapes and lost-in-time rural life appeal to you, Rob and his wife (who are British) offer a rental cottage and rural tourism activities for visitors. There are more lovely photos on both websites.
Out on the Atar - by Robert Maccurrach - May 23, 2009
across Djordje Novaković and his daughter Eta drawing some fresh hay
home with his Lipizaner mares Sonja and Beba I discovered that next day
he was making a long journey. With mares, foal and fijaker
he was setting out for Subotica to carry bride and groom and guests
from the church to the wedding feast. This, it turns out, is his summer
work. Once or twice a month he is on duty with his beautiful old fijaker and perfect team. When I asked if he would like some company he welcomed me to join him. “Hvala Bogu,! Dobro došao!” What a privilege it was!
heat of the day, not long after noon, we set off with feed, hay,
festive clothes and everything he needed for a 2 night stopover in the
old Empire's Baroque city of fine buildings and churches. It is a very
long way to Subotica by road but it turns out that an abandoned railway
line takes you there over 40km across country in a straight line. This
makes all the difference. On the way out of the village every time a
car or truck came towards us the foal, only 5 weeks old, shied
violently. “He's got to learn!” said Djordje with a reassuring flick of
his whip. The fact that no one slows down for horses shows that drivers
and horses are quite used to each other.
we were heading out along a hard and good track, leaving our
neighbouring village Pacser behind us, striking out across the atar
as the open farmland is called. The land spread away to an infinite
horizon with a wide open sky under the hot May sun. A breeze kept us
cool and the land rolled slowly by to the sound of iron rims on sandy
gravel and Djordje's constant talking to his horses. The foal, tied to
Sonja's harness, settled down and jogged along happily. A horse drawn
cart is surprisingly noisy. The background murmur of bird song from
trackside cover was only occasionally obvious. Nightingales sang and
bee-eaters sailed bubbling in the blue. Red-backed shrikes flitted from
the tops of rose thickets. I even spotted a pair of wheatears. Alas no
chance to stop and investigate things. On we walked steadily passing
bright pink wild peas, yellow Euphorbia and purple sage.
crops looked very dry and many were also dirty with weeds. Was this a
result of credit squeeze or cost cutting? It is disastrous not to weed
maize and soya. Winter wheat and barley were almost ready for harvest,
but very short and probably very poorly cropping. This sandy ridge of
land that arcs out from Subotica for about 50 kms is what Djordje calls
“hungry land”. It is light and easy to work, but it needs manure. When
rain doesn't come the crop is quickly burnt up. Under such conditions
the traditional wheat and barley do better while the non-native maize
and sunflower shrivel up.
long ago the land would have been full of people hoeing and weeding by
hand. But they have left. Everywhere there would have been thriving salaš ,
the little farmsteads of the open plains. Few have survived the process
of post WW2 collectivisation and industrialisation. The places where
they sank back into the ground are marked only by old fruit trees or
scrub, much favoured by shrikes. Occasionally we passed a salaš
where the mud brick walls where collapsing, paint as bright as hope
still visible. Nearer Subotka, as the city is called in Magyor, the salaš became a little more prosperous. They could sell milk and cheese and peppers in the town. They even drove cars observed Djordje with what might have been envy. This whole salaš culture is best preserved in a host of traditional and contemporary songs; from Djordje's stories of his travels by fijaker it seems that life is often little changed along the “summer tracks” across the atar.
in the shade about every hour to let the “little one” suckle we finally
approached the city. It is a sight no longer possible in the urbanised
West to see a city's cathedral and art nouveau “rathaus” from 8 km away
across open farmland. As we crunched our way along with a lowering sun
and cooler breeze the city's skyline drew us ever closer. Away to the
left were blocks of flats looking straight out over the crops. To the
left was the centre, a red roofed Reformed church with spire, the more
sombre twin spires of the Catholic cathedral and a host of old shady
Djordje and his team to overnight with friends and prepare for the next
day I went off in search of a bus, feeling a little light headed and
hungry but very happy! “Then man goes out to work, to his labour until
evening. How many are your works, O Lord!”
Horses in Russian Art is a fantastic book - one of my favorite horse art books. It is pretty much nothing but pictures. The wide variety of paintings, sculptures, and even old photos include scenes from battle, horses in harness, rural and farm horses, and even a whole set of illustrations of the finest horses at the old stud farms. The art includes a lot from the 19th century, but also some more modern paintings.
It's really neat to see the Russian breeds, traditional tack, and old riding costumes. I'd highly recommend this book for anyone interested in the Russian or old Soviet breeds, historic tack and costumes, or horse art in general.
Dario's Caballeros is a really unique blog - by a Polish guy who specializes in beautiful illustrations of ancient horses and traditional horsemanship, based on his research in old texts. The blog is mostly in Polish, although a few posts are in rough English more and more of the recent posts are now in English. Nonetheless it is worth a look to see Dario's gorgeous art. There are depictions of horses and riders from all sorts of historic eras, and he takes the time to research the apparel, tack and style of each as accurately as possible. Pop over and take a look!
This horse has some lovely traditional tack - woven wool saddle cloths with pom-poms, metal ornament on the bridle & breastcollar. Tusheti is a rugged, mountainous region in northeastern Georgia. Photo from Lydia Ilona on flickr.
So you like to trail ride? Maybe you do some endurance riding? Yeah, yeah, that's fun. But have you ridden across Albania? Didn't think so.
Take a look at this adventure - a couple riding from the wild mountains in the far north of Albania all the way to the southern coast near Greece. Albania, due to years under a very isolating and repressive government, is one of the least developed European countries. There are wild forests and mountains, and there is still a heavy reliance on horses for agricultural work and transportation, although with economic growth these things are changing.
The website documenting the TransAlbania Ride, which took place in 2007, has links to dozens of high quality video clips showing scenes from the grand adventure. Of particular interest to rare breed fans is footage of the little-known Albanian horse - both the small, sturdy mountain horse, and the taller, leaner lowland horse.
The couple undertaking this adventure - Robin and Louella Hanbury-Tenison - are known for previous long horseback expeditions, including across France, along the Great Wall of China, and many others.
This performance is unusual and lovely - a dance between horse and rider. With careful study you can see the cues in the dance - often Ms. Fedotova's arms are moving in bold gestures, but it is her legs which are actually cueing the horse. Other times it is the position or movement of her whole body which guides the horse's movements. This is a really beautiful performance.
This illustration, entitled "Horse Trappings, Fourteenth to Eighteenth Centuries" depicts a military horse with an entire bearskin (head and all!) as a saddle pad. Unfortunately there is no detail about the design and use of this exotic saddle pad. I noticed the horse is also wearing decorative "bracelets" on all four legs, just above the knees and hocks. Perhaps they are bells? The plume on the horse's head is quite elaborate.