A resident of Great Britain, Nikita Gretsi, is about to go on a trip from Magadan to London. The traveler says that he is going to overcome this whole path in two years on Yakut horses.
Your people are strong in spirit
I have long wanted to visit Yakutia. For the first time I learned about your republic in childhood. I was told: “In Yakutia, the Sakha people live in very harsh conditions. If you complain, we will send you there so that you know what real difficulties are.”
You live in really harsh conditions. And such difficulties temper people - your people have a strong spirit. Yakuts are very welcoming and hospitable. Everywhere I go, people invite me to their home.
Your culture is somewhat reminiscent of the Mongolian. The Mongols are hospitable; they are also used to difficulties. And they venerate horses just as much as the Sakha people.
“A great journey from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean”
I want to ride on horseback all of Eurasia from the Pacific to the Atlantic Ocean. Such travels - from the shores of one ocean to another - are called "great." In America, many people made such horse trips, and in Eurasia no one even tried.
Now I am supported by the international movement of equestrian travelers The Long Riders' Guild and Egor Makarov (entrepreneur, producer of the documentary film ‘24 Snow’ - ed.note). The Long Riders' Guild consists of riders from 48 countries. All of them are great enthusiasts of long horseback riding.
For the first time I learned about Yakut horses from CuChullaine O'Reilly, the founder of The Long Riders' Guild. He talked about Colonel Dmitry Peshkov, who in winter alone went on a horseback trip from Blagoveshchensk to St. Petersburg. Peshkov covered all the way on a Yakut horse.
I also learned about Egor Makarov from O'Reilly. In the world, Egor is known as the main promoter of the Yakut horse. When I saw his book (the photo album Sakha Sylgyta, released in 2013, - ed.note), I felt compelled to meet with him. I wrote to him, told about my trip, and he immediately answered me: “Come! I will help." Few can so easily volunteer to help a stranger.
Route: from Magadan to London
The starting point of my journey will be Magadan, and the final - London. I will leave from Magadan to Oymyakon, then to Yakutsk, from here I will go to Baikal, then I will get to Moscow. I’ll go to Europe from Russia, it will be much easier there.
I’ll ride horses all the way. Only once will I have to catch a ferry to sail across the English Channel between France and Great Britain.
The most difficult part of the route will be Yakutia. Your horse breeders overcome 50 kilometers a day in severe frosts. That is why it is so important for me to consult with them and learn from them. I'm going to do everything exactly the same way as they do.
I’ll start next year. This journey will last approximately two years. I do not set any clear deadlines. For me, the process itself is much more important. And I do not want to rush anywhere.
Preparation for the expedition began in the summer. I flew from London to Moscow. Then from there I went by train to Ulan Bator, spent two months in Mongolia. Mongols are some of the best riders in the world. I did not know Mongolian, and they did not speak English. We communicated with gestures, but at the same time perfectly understood each other.
At the end of August, I arrived in Yakutia and immediately went to Yuchugei (a village in Oymyakon ulus - ed.note). There I met with horse breeders, consulted about the upcoming expedition, and traveled on Yakut horses.
Soon I will go to Verkhoyansk district. I want to buy two Yakut horses there. Your horses are unique. They are incredibly powerful, just like small tanks. Only they can live in such extreme conditions: not survive, but live.
It is important to let the horses get used to the new owner. We must establish a relationship with them so that we understand each other well. Horses are just like humans. Imagine the situation when a person suddenly comes to your home, without any explanation drags you to Africa. You will be at a loss. And the same with horses. They have a home to which they are accustomed, their own family - a herd. Horses are very smart creatures. They fret and worry just like us, and they feel human emotions well.
The final part of the preparation will be held in January-February in Oymyakon. I’ll stay one or two months with horse breeders, I will do trial trips - for 30-50 kilometers. This is necessary to understand whether the horses will cope and what will be the main difficulties during the expedition. I don't want the situation like this happen - that I’m traveling from Magadan in the cold, a problem arises, and I: “How did this happen? I didn’t even think about it!” I understand that the journey is very difficult and I need to prepare for it as carefully as possible.
“And what horses did this guy ride all over Eurasia?” Where did he find them?”
I will have one riding horse and one cargo horse. And that’s all - no fallback options.
They also have their own hierarchy. A freight horse follows a riding horse. So, a riding one must be very confident and strong. If you need to cross the river, and the riding horse is scared, then the freight one will not go there either.
Will horses take such a long journey? It is not distance that kills them, but the need to carry too heavy stuff on themselves for a long time. Then I will need to bring along a minimum of things and equipment.
When I finish my journey, people around the world will ask: “And what horses did this guy ride all over Eurasia? Where did he find them?” In order not to get confused and answer these questions well, I need to study your history and culture.
How to choose horses
The first thing you look at when choosing a horse is its physical characteristics. How the horse behaves, how it stands and moves.
After that, you check the individual characteristics (say, character) of the animal. You approach a horse to saddle it, and you look: whether it is nervous or behaves calmly.
Best horses always test you. Some are too gentle: they are slow-goers, do everything as you tell them. Definitely such horses are not for my expedition. I need a horse with a strong character. They get the length of your foot - trying to throw you out of the saddle or trying to be difficult. They agree to obey you only if they like you and you inspire respect.
Ideally, the rider and the horse should trust each other. You are at a crossroads and want to go one way, and the horse feels it. A horse can turn its head in the other direction, as if telling you: “Look here. You better go this way.” It turns out that together you decide which route is better. And the longer you ride together, the better you understand each other. There are many horseback riding enthusiasts in England. Prince Charles loves to talk about harmonious horsemanship. Literally translated, this means "harmonious art of riding." There must be a peculiar energy balance between the rider, the horse and nature. You must respect them. If you litter, beat a horse, behave as if you are stronger and smarter than nature, you will not go far. In Yakutia, you feel this careful attitude to nature, especially in villages.
About tourists and travelers
Tourists and travelers are completely different types of people. When a tourist arrives in another country, he stops at a comfortable hotel, tries to eat what he is used to at home. But for the traveler it is important to see how people really live in this country. He communicates with locals, tries to understand their way of life and traditions, wants to see everything with his own eyes and experience everything himself.
And tourists always see only one side of life in another country - this is not interesting. I always go to places where there are no tourists, where everything is real, where nature is wild and untouched.
Sometimes it’s hard for me in London: a lot of people, very crowded, you don’t even hear your own voice, not to mention others. And in places like Yakutia, life is calm. I really liked Yuchyugei: nobody around, so quiet and peaceful.
“I invested everything I had in this idea!”
I was born in Estonia. People often ask what my nationality is, and it’s difficult for me to immediately give one answer. Mom has Russian and Ukrainian background, and Dad has Russian, Uzbek and Estonian. Until the age of seven, I lived between Ukraine and Estonia. We spoke Russian in the family, so now I am fluent in it. Thanks to the fact that I have so many different bloods, I have always been interested in other cultures, especially those that the world knows little about.
When I was seven, our family moved to England. Now I live in the small town of Welwyn Garden City near London. Worked as a manager in a restaurant. Last year I decided to save money and quit everything. At the beginning of this year, I quit and began to plan my trip. I invested in this idea everything I had! So I have nowhere to retreat. Even if it is scary and difficult, I will still go forward step by step.
Documentary film about life in Yakutia
Now I’m looking for a director and a film crew to shoot a documentary during my equestrian trip. This film will be not so much about me as about Yakutia, the Sakha people, their traditions, beliefs and, of course, the Yakut horses.
I myself would not be interested in watching a documentary about how a person gets from point A to point B. It is much more interesting to find out what motivates this traveler and who helps him. Behind every person who has achieved something big, there is always a whole army of people - family, friends, mentors. Take any champion, for example, Muhammad Ali. His wins are a merit not only of himself, but also of the coach and relatives who supported him.
I want as many people as possible to learn about Yakutia. Recently, my friends from Germany, Australia and New Zealand came to Yakutsk. We were at the same meeting with them, and they asked me to translate what the locals were talking about. I told them: "They speak their language - Yakut, I do not understand them." Friends were very surprised: “Wow, so this is not Russian? Do they have their own language?” I explained to them that the Sakha people have their own language, culture, traditions. I have already learned several phrases in Yakut - “makhtal” (thanks - ed. note) And “minnigestik utuy” (sweet dreams; good night - ed.note).
Of course, I am not a stranger to fear. I'm an ordinary person, not some kind of superman or extreme sports lover with many years of experience. But if you are afraid of something, you should do it anyway. It helps you grow and develop.
I hope that young people will be inspired by my experience and think: “People travel, and even on horses. So we can do it as well.” So, I believe that it is important not to lie and honestly say: I am also afraid. I'm afraid that it will be difficult or will not work, but I'm not going to back down.
by Maria Alekseeva
Photo: Vadim Skryabin, Nikita Gretsi’s archive