Website designed by Basha O'Reilly
A Russian Military Study by Lev Feofilovich Fostenko translated by Walter E. Gowan of British Military Intelligence based in Simla, India, in 1883.
[Importance of horse-breeding to the natives of Central Asia - Breeds of horses - Argamák, the Uzbek breed - Kárabairs - The Kokhandi and Kirghiz breeds - Detailed description of the Kirghiz horse - Its training - The Baránta - Endurance of Kirghiz horses - Diseases most common amongst them - Importance to Russia of Kirghiz horse-breeding - Fitness of Kirghiz horses for Russian cavalry remounts - Establishment of a stud near Táshkand - Object of this stud - Prices for horses at various points of Turkistán.]
Horse-breeding is extraordinarily well developed in Turkistán. To the natives horses not only serve as beasts of burden but also afford them food and yield milk, out of which they prepare, amongst other things, the widely diffused and favourite beverage called koumiss (fermented milk of the mare). The hide too of the same animal provides them with leather. Hence the natives of Turkistán generally, and especially the nomad portion of its inhabitants, breed horses in vast numbers, but of their treatment and care they have scarcely any idea.
We have given above the number of horses in the various localities of Turkistán. The most common breeds are the Argamák, the Uzbek, the Kárabair, the Kokhandi, and the Kirghiz.
1. The Argamák or, in other words, the Turkmán horse, comes of Arab stock. This breed is distinguished for its good proportions and comely shape. In height an Argamák stands four or even five vershóks. [Translator's note: Sic in original. As the vershók only equals 1.75 inches, the author would appear to have made some slip of the pen.] Its back is very handsome, vertebral and croup being straight as an arrow; tail well set, neck high, long and fine; head rarely large but muzzle inclined to be round; eyes large, chest narrow, legs fine with long pasterns. The pace of this breed is extraordinarily even, and this kind of horse does not know what stumbling means. The Argamák cannot, however, stand long marches, especially when such involve scarcity of food and other privations. Still this horse is distinguished for an unusually rapid stride, and in this respect would rival an English racer. It is quite unfit for harness work. The same breed is distributed over Turkmenia where it receives the greatest care. In Turkistán it is not very common, because the natives do not know how to train good horses and because the richer people only keep them at all.
2. The Uzbek is of somewhat smaller proportions than the preceding, and although it yields greatly to the same in point of beauty and slenderness of limb, it is vastly superior to it in respect of strength. Generally speaking, this breed resembles the ordinary horse in use by Russian peasants, and is more adapted for the saddle than for purposes of war.
3. The Kárabair. This breed is a cross between the Argamák and the Kirghiz stock. Kárabairs are strong and fairly well proportioned, and as a rule their legs are short, their chests broad, and their quarters powerful. They are moreover capable of great endurance, and therefore the natives put a high value on them.
4. The Kirghiz. This breed is the most common and best distributed throughout Turkistán. We will, therefore, speak of it in greater detail.
It would be difficult to define with exactitude the origin of the Kirghiz horse: still more difficult would it be to trace the gradual improvement or falling-off of the same stock; difficult because the Kirghiz have no sort of history of this horse. The traditions current amongst them, which are of the nature of pure fiction, do not admit of the construction of any proposition at all approaching to the truth. Nevertheless the qualities of the Kirghiz horse at least testify that it has sprung from a noble breed.
In height it does not exceed 14 hands. Kirghiz horses of 15 hands are very uncommon, and when these are met with the crossing of a larger stock is shewn to be of later date than is usually the case.
The head of a Kirghiz horse is a little large and straight in proportion to its height. If it be Roman-nosed it is but slightly so, and only in the lower part of the frontal bone, just for instance as is the case with Russian horses from the Don. The head is generally lean and expressive. It is only in the case of stallions, which the Kirghiz do not as a rule ride much, and which are almost always kept for breeding purposes, that the head is weighted with a coarse and fleshy jowl. The ears are moderately long, lean, well put on, and sometimes of very beautiful shape. The eyes too are often very fine, but in some cases a very convex arch detracts from their size and expression. Horses with an ugly or small eye are rare. The nostrils are tolerably large. The central portion of the lower lip is marked with a lump, and often when the horse is resting this will cause the lip in question to fall at least a finger's breadth below the upper one with which, whilst in movement, it is even. The neck as a rule is well proportioned, but in the case of horses of great speed it is rather long: indeed animals with too short a neck are very rare. The occiput is generally long and the head well set on. Although Kirghiz horses have a soft mouth, there are pullers amongst them. Inverse and arched necks are met with, but they are generally light and lean. Only the entire horses have a thick neck, the coarse crest of which gives them an awkward but not a disagreeable appearance. The neck of the Kirghiz horse may, generally speaking, be said to be well put on, for it is only in certain parts of the steppe country that we find horses with too low a bearing. The withers are fairly high. Animals with low withers and forequarters are rare. The back is of moderate length: the rump small but the barrel sometimes protrudes greatly. Only those who have witnessed the sort of loads that the Kirghiz put on their small horses, and in some instances during fabulously long marches, can thoroughly estimate the strength of a back that has never known a saddle. The croup is of average length and sometimes of very good shape. Kirghiz horses with sloping quarters are rare. The chest is broad and sometimes extraordinarily so with very projecting bones, one of the distinguishing properties of the Kirghiz breed. It is also rather deep. The ribs are flat; tail and mane are long and thin; and especially so in the case of stallions roaming loose about the country. Manes may be seen that reach half-way down the forearm and tails that sweep along the ground.
But what is especially noticeable in the Kirghiz horse are the legs. The forelegs are very straight with a long shoulder and a short forearm, proportions that favour a long stride. The pasterns are short and well set; hoofs very good and firm. The Kirghiz of course never shoe their horses, and Cossacks who assemble for service with shod horses, when reaching the steppe country, find it more expedient to take the shoes off. The legs of the Kirghiz horse are, as a rule, very lean and of average thickness, extreme thinness being never the rule, and extra thickness the exception. The tendons stand well out on the fetlock. The hind legs are, generally speaking, very straight. When curved, they are not much so. They are very well set without being turned out or clubbed. The hind quarters are broad, sometimes with very pronounced buttocks and of extraordinary strength. It is very seldom that a Kirghiz horse is seen with anything like a spavin, or indeed with any excrescence on its legs. Owing to the considerable length and comparative small size of this breed of horse, its legs seem to be somewhat short. To any eye that has not for a long time witnessed any but Kirghiz horses, the large breeds that we see, for example, in the streets of St. Petersburg and Moscow, or in cavalry regiments, seem to be long-legged and wanting in muscle. It may, however, be boldly affirmed that amongst the latter class we can never find that relative and absolute breadth which is the characteristic of very many Kirghiz horses. The general impression produced by the best of these may be thus summarized: a small and very long animal with proportionally short legs, lean by expressive head, short back and distended loins.
Speaking generally, if we except its head, and in some cases its neck, the Kirghiz horse may be called of good proportions. Its development of muscle is so great that one may confidently state [that] in no other breed possessed of the same lightness of movement can we find such a number of compact animals. This circumstance makes the Kirghiz steed in the highest degree capable for the performance of every possible requirement.
Having become acquainted with its exterior appearance let us now pass to its paces.
The Kirghiz horse can be much easier recognised by its movement, which is a very peculiar one, than by its exterior. We will admit that an untrained eye, especially in the winter when the animal is covered with long hair, will not recognise it from any ordinary animal of the same size that is also destitute of breeding, and yet a peculiar tout ensemble and lightness of movement, which is perceptible in all its paces and which is characterised by an unusual action, so soon catch the eye that even a stranger will hardly fail to notice that the animal so moving cannot be an ordinary animal, such we everywhere see amongst the peasants of European Russia.
The walking action of the Kirghiz horse is pretty, and its pace sometimes very rapid. Eight versts (5˝ miles) per hour is not considered anything out of the way, if the animal be considered active and well broken into saddle. Ten versts (6˛/3 miles) per hour and upwards is reckoned very quick. All the higher officials, and many of the officers of the Turkistán military circle, have animals with the latter pace. Sometimes, instead of the ordinary walking action, the Kirghiz horse moves with a sort of amble during which the feet on the same side of the body touch the ground almost simultaneously (in every such case the animal's hind feet over-reach the fore). This pace is called the khod. It is not so even as is the ordinary walk, but nevertheless it is much more agreeable than a sharp trot which, in the case of the Kirghiz horses, however, is very soft.
The latter pace in respect of this breed is sometimes very swift. It would not be difficult to find animals which in harness would get over a verst (˛/3 mile) in 2˝ minutes.
The gallop of the Kirghiz horse is likewise very easy. Although these animals are not celebrated for speed in racing they can endure labour with peculiar ease, and can, moreover, cover vast stretches of country without food, without water, and without rest. Instances, indeed, have been known where these animals have gone 100 versts (66˛/3 miles) without any harm.
To what we have said above we must add that all the paces of the Kirghiz horse are very true, and if their feet were not spoilt, and they were not ridden to excess, they would rarely stumble.
Amongst horses of this breed an animal with an amble (jurga) is very common, and a pace of this description is very swift and sometimes remarkably so. A very good ambler moves so quickly that the animal, on which a Kirghiz mounts when he wants to catch the horses in the different runs, not being fit for racing, cannot keep up with an ambler for more than 1 or 1˝ versts (˛/3 to 1 mile). If we further remark that the latter will traverse one verst and more in 1˝ minutes, it becomes clear that no trotter will compete with an ambler.
The Kirghiz are very fond of an ambler, and the price therefore which they put upon one is always high. [Author's note: From 100 to 400 roubles (Ł12.10 to Ł50). Editor's note: Ł12.10 in Britain's pre-decimal currency was twelve pounds and ten shillings: there were twelve pennies to the shilling and twenty shillings to the pound.] Quiet though an ambler be, his rider is not always at his ease, and hence Russian officers do not care for one particularly, the more so as the belief generally prevails amongst them that an ambler is a stumbler.
The life of a Kirghiz is so bound up with the prosperity of his stud that the individual only is rich whose stud is a good one. The Kirghiz lives by his horse which brings him in profit likewise at the baiga. [Translator's note: Or great national sport of Central Asia - see pages 41 and 268-269, Vol. I, Schyler's Turkistan, for a detailed account thereof.] Thanks to his horse too the nomad gets over a vast stretch of steppe and ascends the highest mountain. The Kirghiz loves not to move about on foot - a method of progress to which he resorts only in the absence of any sort of four-footed beast. If he has not a horse he will mount a camel, an ox, a cow, or it may be an eighteen months' old calf. The Kirghiz is fully aware what he owes to the horse, and exercises therefore every endeavour to improve his stud.
On account, however, of his peculiar mode of life, he succeeds in doing so but little. In the winter season, when the scanty grass of the steppe is covered over with hard frosts and deep falls of snow, the Kirghiz will search out for his horses some sheltered valley or glen, wherein the snow will admit of the animal digging out some coarse stems of grass with his hoofs. Under such conditions the richer folk will lay in for themselves a winter store of hay, but this is very rarely the case. Indeed it generally happens that those horses, which during the winter season carry their masters to the various portions of the vast steppe, have to satisfy themselves with the snow-hidden grass. The Kirghiz householder does not make the supervision of his stud his own special care; and so it often comes about that a drove of several hundred horses will be left in charge of two boys. Hence, no doubt, is the cause of that development, in the steppe, of horse-lifting, or in local phraseology the baránta. Properly speaking, this tem amongst the Kirghiz implies the forcible removal of cattle in return for a herd that has on some occasion or another been driven away. In such cases the Kirghiz make not only that party responsible who has done the deed, but all his kith and kin as well. They will sometimes drive off a whole herd, sometimes a portion only; thus perhaps 200, 300, or even 500 horses will be removed, for the party of lifters must be a small one which is satisfied with a tenth portion of the drove. In the steppe a renowned master of the art gains by his skill amongst the people the seductive title of batír or bogatír. [Translator's note: i. e. a hero.] When the Russians established themselves in the steppe country barántas occurred but seldom, at least not nearly so frequently as formerly. Still in every district the number of horses and cattle generally that are lifted yearly is considerable. The act of baránta is unattended with any very cunning preliminaries. Three or four men creep up to a herd, each jump up on a horse, and then with shouts drive off as large a proportion of the herd as they can manage.
If the number of lifters be larger they will mount and approach the drove. But now begins the second and most difficult part of the baránta, viz., the getting away from the inevitable pursuit, since one or other of the care-takers of the drove will have certainly used every endeavour to gallop off to his aul, [Editor's note: encampment] where with wild and piercing shouts of "atan" (mount) he will rouse all his neighbours. Every careful householder will keep both day and night, fastened to the door of his yurta, one or more saddled horses, an arrangement which admits of the possibility of pursuing robbers very expeditiously. Woe be to the plunderers if they once fall into the hands of the pursuers even if they do not give themselves up an easy prey. A regular fight now begins, and the whole arsenal of Kirghiz firearms is brought into play. Several fall on either side, but it must in truth be added that the lifters are but seldom overtaken in the pursuit. The raider will as a rule mount the best horse, leading another by the bridle. During the pursuit, and whilst the pace is a frantic one, he will jump from one animal to the other. This enables him to ease each horse in turn and to thus distance his pursuers who, as a general rule, have but the one horse to carry them.
It is remarkable what importance the Kirghiz attach to the weight which a horse in flight should carry. If the race be swift and protracted the rider by degrees casts forth everything possessed of the slightest weight. Indeed, sometimes he will throw off his own clothing, his shirt included, leaving but his whip, and this too perhaps he will discard, so that he may lighten his horse as much as he possibly can. If the lifted drove be not taken across the frontier line, it rarely happens that the plundered horses escape, or the thieves themselves ultimately. Unfortunately the lengthened procedure of the popular tribunal for the trial of the robbers and the award of the Judges (biłs) are very unfair as regards the suffering party.
On the approach of an early spring, the droves of horses are conducted to localities less confined than the autumn and winter quarters. Here the foaling of the mares takes place, and with this season begins the best time for the Kirghiz owner of the drove, for now he can ferment pailsful of his favourite drink, koumiss, which indeed at this period of the year constitutes his sole sustenance. The colt or foal remains with its dam not longer than ten days, after which period it is driven from its mother and tied with specially arranged ropes close to the yurta. The mares are then driven off in patches, each headed by a stallion. Every such batch is called a Kosyák, and the number of mares allotted to each stallion does not exceed 15 or 20.
Three times during the 24 hours the mares are driven to the yurtas to be milked, and before each operation the colt or foal is allowed about a couple of minutes with its mother. All the time, however, the Kirghiz is ready to take care that only a few cups of superabundant milk falls to the lot of the suckling. Hence it is that the Kirghiz colt is very thin, and far from having that playful nature so noticeable in the colts of European Russia. The richer Kirghiz sometimes allow the colt to be with its dam during certain hours, principally at night. As soon, however, as the young one is able to munch the grass its moment with its mother are but fleeting, and they are only allowed to prevent the dam running dry altogether. To enable the colt to get any sustenance at all grass is placed for it near the owner's yurta, the surroundings of which afford but scanty herbage, because the surface of the ground is nearly always worn and trodden down.
The colt is ridden at an extraordinarily early age, and before its bones are set, viz., in the second year. This is no doubt one of the causes of the small size of the Kirghiz horse, the more noticeable from the fact that the mares, which the Kirghiz seldom ride, excel in this respect either the geldings or the entire horses. The Kirghiz maintain, however, that if they did not begin to ride their colts thus early, they would not be approachable at the age of three or four.
During the spring and summer Kirghiz horses become so fat and improve to such a degree as to become unrecognizable.
This is especially the case with horses that are ridden to the mountains. Amongst the Kirghiz who roam on the higher lands the horses are distinguished by their better condition, the beauty of their form, their powers and capability for lengthened journeys. Such animals freely cross terrible and rocky summits, during the progress over which the rider will sit with peculiar skill as though his steed was going over the most even ground, and did not occasion him the very slightest jostling or uneasy movement of any kind. On mountain paths fissures about 2˝ feet wide, and even more, are often met with; these are flanked by a yawning precipice whilst the track itself is very narrow. To the Kirghiz horse the obstacle is of the most ordinary description, for he will carry his rider across it with such lightness as scarcely to shake him in the least. The aptitude too with which an animal of the same breed can cross a rapid mountain torrent constitutes a priceless quality of the stock. In defiles, and sometimes in valleys, such streams are encountered which, though but two feet in depth, will carry any man off his legs. These the Kirghiz horse will cross, nay channels of greater depth, even say to 3˝ feet, will not stop this surprising animal. For be it remembered that the bottom of such streams generally consists of huge smooth boulders over which it is difficult to move, not merely when the velocity of the water has lessened, but when the bed is altogether dry.
In consequence then of the light movement of the Kirghiz horse, its indifference as regards any particular food and its unusual powers of endurance - the results of a good constitution and severe training - this animal is simply priceless for rapid movements over desert and waterless steppes where it often happens too that green fodder does not exist. A good Kirghiz horse is so unwearying that 100 versts (66˛/3 miles) can be traversed daily for six, seven, or even ten days in succession.
Between Peter-Alexander and Kázalinsk [Translator's note: Fortified points on the Amu-Daria and Sir-Daria respectively. Kázalinsk is also known as Fort No. 1 ] there is no post rode, correspondence being maintained through the medium of chabars (mounted messengers). Kirghiz are hired monthly for the purpose and receive 25 roubles (Ł3.2.6 - Editor's note: Three pounds, two shillings and sixpence), providing their own horses. They are obliged to carry the post in eight days. By the map the distance between the points named is about 500 versts, (333 1/3 miles), but roads which should go perfectly straight do not exist, hence the nearest way involves a distance of at least 500 versts (366˛/3 miles). Moreover the Kirghiz seldom adhere to the most direct route but make long détours for the purpose of visiting the sparsely scattered auls in this neighbourhood and their acquaintances, with whom a rest and a good meal await them. Almost the whole of the route in question lies along shifting sands, and on it is a waterless stretch, extending for 130 versts (86 ˛/3 miles); and if the fact can be taken into consideration that in the well furthest away from the Amu Daria there is often no water, the whole journey may be held to be a great undertaking. To complete the picture let us add (1) that the Kirghiz horses in question are poor and emaciated in consequence of the extreme poverty of the pasture that they get; (2) that they carry along this steppe not a light but a very large load. Of green fodder along the route indicated there is none, so that it is necessary to carry on and for the horse from 1˝ to 2 puds (54 to 72 lbs.) of barley besides the necessary food for the rider, the more so because auls are not met with in more than two or three places during the journey. In winter too a felt covering must also be carried to put over the horse on coming to a halt, besides a proper store of clothing for the rider to prevent his being frozen on the setting in of a sharp frost or the bursting of a storm. If in addition to all this we further include the rider's fire-arms, the nose-bag and the vessel for drawing water from the wells, besides numerous smaller articles that are necessary in a desert country, we may boldly affirm that the lightest load on the horse will never be less than 8 puds (288 lbs.). It follows, of course, that the chabars are sometimes behind time, but such instances are rare, and then the horses are not in fault.
Russian merchants do the same distance in five days and even less, but then, of course, their horses are better, having to carry far greater loads than do those of the mounted messengers of which we have just been speaking. For instance, no Russian merchant ever rides a journey without carrying his copper or brass tea-urn (samovár), pails &c., &c. If there be a spare horse there will only be one amongst several men, and the poor animal will be loaded as much as possible.
Between Kiva and Bokhára, a distance of 450 versts (300 miles) the journey is performed in a time not exceeding four days, 200 versts (133˝ miles) of the route lying over loose sand and very uneven ground that constantly dips and ascends over high sand drifts (barkháns). On this route the loads are even heavier than on the one previously described, because here no one can travel without a large supply of water, if we except those occasions on which the journey is performed with fabulous speed, the stock of water being then confined to a small leathern bag (tursuk) attached to the saddle bow.
Between Petro-Pavlovsk and the town of Turkistán [Translator's note: In the province of Akmolinsk and Sir-Daria respectively], a distance of 1,500 versts (1,000 miles), the agents of the various trading houses, who are for the most part Tatars, ride in three weeks, sometimes a good deal less. Along this route regular supplies of forage can only be reckoned on for about half the distance, i.e., as far as Fort Ulutavakoye. [Translator's note: This point does not appear on the Russian map of 1877, but Arrowsmith's map gives it. The latter, notwithstanding its small size, may be said to be the only good English map of Central Asia in existence.] Beyond this point djuzán (polin or absinthe) alone grows, and even this very sparsely, in places there being no sort of vegetation. To carry corn for such a long journey would not be possible, and so every endeavour is made to travel as lightly as possible. Very curious information as to how a Kirghiz horse behaves under variable circumstances can be found in an interesting article by Mons. Vogak. [Author's note: Vide Voyenni Sbornik No. 9 for 1873.]
In the autumn of 1869, during the insurrection on the Orenburgh steppe, a detachment under Mons. Vogak himself, consisting of two Orenburgh sotnias, 120 riflemen, mounted on Kirghiz horses, one three-pounder gun and two rocket stands, traversed in the course of a month about 1,500 versts (1,000 miles) and only lost three horses. It must not be forgotten that about half this march lay over deep sand (the Greater Bársuks in the neighbourhood of the Sea of Aral.)
The Cossack leader Bobroff, who was in pursuit of some raiders, frequently rode with his Cossacks, from 120 to 150 versts (80 to 100 miles) in 24 hours. They would in many cases return the same distance to the Fort the next day, and on the first rumour of the reappearance of the freebooters would again gallop off in pursuit.
The following is a striking instance of the rapidity with which one or more horseman can get over a distance of from 150 to 250 versts (100 to 166˛/3 miles). In May 1869 Mons. Vogak, accompanied by an interpreter and two Kirghiz, rode from Kára-Butak to Irgiz, [Translator's note: Both fortified points in the province of Turtai; the latter is also called Fort Ural] in a direct line 160 versts (106˛/3 miles) in less than 12 hours. The horses and saddles belonged to Kirghiz and the animals in no way suffered from this rapid ride.
In October of the same yaer, Mons. Vogak left his detachment to come on by regular marches along the Greater Bársuk sands and rode on to Irgiz, attended by thirty Cossacks as a guard. Half way he left his escort because he wished to spare their horses that might otherwise have suffered on account of the ceaseless pursuits after freebooters. He himself rode one horse into Irgiz, a distance of 250 versts (166˛/3 miles) in 34 hours.
Rides by the Kirghiz themselves, always on two horses, are still more striking.
For instance, in April 1869 a Kirghiz, who had been sent by Mons. Vogak with a packet of ltters from the natural boundary of Aral-Chil (which lies to the north of the Greater Bársuk sands) returned in 37 hours, having ridden his two horses 400 versts (266˛/3 miles) in that time. Messengers, sent by Colonel Count Borch, commanding a detachment, from Djebeske, came to Orenburgh in six days and took back an answer in 14 days, during which time they had ridden 900 versts (600 miles).
As another instance of a peculiarly rapid ride, I will adduce the following: After the fight on the heights of Chupán-Ata before Sámarkand in 1868 a jigit (mounted messenger or sort of militia man) was sent to Táshkand, where he arrived in 24 hours having ridden one horse, a stallion of four or five years, 280 versts (186˛/3 miles). [Translator's note: At the rate of about 7ľ miles per hour. ]
Notwithstanding their strength and power of endurance, Kirghiz horses are nevertheless subject to various ailments occasioned by causes above indicated. Siberian plague or yázva likewise destroys not a few. The latter is cured by one very expeditious method: the horses thus affected are kept standing in water up to the belly for a lengthened period, during which food is only given to them at night and then heated salt is mixed with it.
Of other diseases the following are the most frequent:
Parsh or itch, a disease which is peculiar to steppe horses. It appears as a rule after the winter emaciation. A horse afflicted with it is rubbed over either with tar or salt and kept apart from the drove until the scabs have dried.
Nógot (ul) or horny excrescences, which are cured by bleeding the ear. Blood-letting from the several parts of the body is mostly practised by those who do not understand the diseases of the equine race.
Manam, a suspicious looking sort of flux. Besides a discharge of pus from the eyes and nostrils, subcutaneous ulcers not unfrequently show themselves. In the latter case the disease bears the name of chilchige, but even if unattended by the latter complication it is held to be incurable, although certain Kirghiz do endeavour to keep up the horse's strength by pouring koumiss into its nostrils.
Glanders are likewise treated by pouring koumiss into the horse's nostrils and by puncturing the muscles of the breast in various places.
Jamandat is a disease which the Kirghiz hold to be one of the most dangerous. Its signs are tumours in the chest which, if they reach the windpipe, cause the animal's death. On the appearance of swellings the place is at once lanced, but if after this operation the swelling is seen to extend upwards, further treatment is deemed useless, and the horse is killed and eaten.
It is remarkable that hoof diseases are almost unknown amongst Kirghiz horses. This is, perhaps, explained by the fact that the Kirghiz do not shoe their horses either in the plains or in the mountains. Hence the hoof of a Kirghiz horse is remarkable for its unusual hardness. One of these animals will go for hundreds of versts over rocky mountains and valleys covered with pebbles, and yet its hoofs will not be in the least injured. Perhaps it is because of the quality of its hoof that the Kirghiz horse is of such extraordinary value, and really one cannot be surprised at this when one sometimes beholds some Kirghiz valiant, weighing from 7 to 8 puds, [Translator's note: This, and indeed the whole statement, must be exaggerated for since a pud equals 36 English lbs., the author would have us believe that the "valiant" spoken of weighs from 18 to 20 stone. (Editor's note: 252 to 280 pounds)] getting his horse to clamber over high rocks forming an angle of 30 degrees and maintaining this incline it may be for several versts. We have ourselves happened to see tracks having the appearance of being worn by the passage of chamois or marál freely and easily traversed by Kirghiz, who call such "kára-jol" or the "highway."
They must have great presence of mind and confidence in their horses to go over places that for the most part lie along a narrow rocky cornice, on the one side of which is the overhanging crag and on the other a precipice. And yet in spite of all this, occasions of misfortune in such passages are of the rarest occurrence. The rider then thoroughly trusts his horse, and the best will throw down his reins preferring that his horse and not he should select the proper road.
Kirghiz horse-doctors have from of old been celebrated for their great knowledge and skill in operating on horses - operations which they effect entirely with the aid of an ordinary knife attached to their girdle called a psiak.
Many diseases, such as diarrhśa, piles, windgall, &c., the Kirghiz consider so unimportant that they do not treat them at all. The castration of entire horses is carried out in the most negligent manner, in consequence of which the percentage of mortality is a high one. In the operation, which takes place generally at the age of 2, the Kirghiz use only a twist, cinders and the psiak above mentioned. After it is over the animal is driven straight off to join the drove.
Although the sport called baiga amongst the Kirghiz is not designed for the trial of the respective qualities of their horses, under a certain stage of the development of the business of horse-breeding, the custom might receive another bent more intelligible and useful. Amongst the Kirghiz the baiga is a great affair. The birth of an infant is celebrated by it; in it the memory of a departed relative is honoured; it awaits too the arrival of a distinguished guest. The more important and wealthier the Kirghiz who institutes a baiga, the more considerable are the prizes and the larger the number of the competitors. But however modest be its proportions a vast mass of spectators will always come to witness it, perhaps 1,500 or 2,000, and of these the greater part will come from afar, it may be 300 or 400 versts (200 to 266 ˛/3 miles). But of course the larger number will only come a long distance when the baiga is a rich one, i.e., when the number invited is a large one and the prizes numerous and of value. On the occasion of a grand gathering the value of these prizes will sometimes amount to several thousand roubles. [Author's note: Thus at one of these baigas which we attended the first prize consisted of 100 camels, 100 horses, 100 cows, 100 sheep, 100 roubles (Ł12.30.0), 100 kokandis (about Ł2.5.0), 100 arshins cloth, 100 arshins of a material called shai or kanaus, and 100 pieces of máta. The second prize is usually of considerably less value, and may consist of two or three horses. Such an infinite difference between the first and second awards induces all to struggle for supremacy.]
In the training of a horse for a baiga, the Kirghiz hold that the animal should be relieved of all superfluous internal fat that otherwise would press on the lungs and hinder the free breathing of the animal. They at the same time endeavour to make the whole body of the horse lighter and to give it a greater amount of strength.
Amongst the Kirghiz, as everywhere else, the training of a horse for racing consists in trying its paces and regulating its food; but this process with them is otherwise and more simply conducted than on the flat. The preparation of a horse for the baiga begins about two months and never less than four weeks beforehand. The longer the distance to be run over the more protracted is the period of the horse's training. But some Kirghiz are of the opinion that the horse is ready to take part in the trial when its sweat loses its salt taste and becomes like water.
Baigas as a rule take place during the summer or winter, prior to which the horse ceases to be let out to graze and is given from one to two wooden cupfuls of barley (weighing about a garnet=0.34 peck.) [Editor's note: one peck is equal to 16 dry pints, so 0.34 peck is almost 5˝ pints.] With this allowance it gets at first a little dry grass, the amount of which is reduced little by little, and altogether stops within a period of from four to five days of the great event. The horse is now fastened to a long cord stretched between two stakes in such a way that, though it can move freely from one stake to the other, it cannot munch any grass. The fastening is always made where there is grass, so that the animal in its desire to get it shall always keep on the move. Endeavour is made also to deprive the horse of water, and a substitute they give it the fresh or fermented milk of the mare. At first the poor beast will not take it, but at last its thirst is so great that it accepts readily, whereupon its Kirghiz master looks the more eagerly for success in the race.
In the opinion of the Kirghiz, the horse acquires through the medium of the milk that strength without which they could not take it to the course, because the distance to be traversed is great, extending sometimes to 80 versts (53˝ miles). The riders are generally small boys of not more than 10 or 12. There are some remarkably good riders too amongst them, who would do honour to any European race-course. These Kirghiz striplings are in no way trained, and when they get down from the horse after a gallop of some 50 versts (33˝ miles), they do it as jauntily as thought they had not ridden more than half a verst. [Author's note: These boys always race without caps, the head being fastened round with a cloth, bound very tightly. At first the pace is not severe, an easy gallop or perhaps a trot, but on returning towards the goal they let their horse out, especially as it draws near.] Prior to the commencement of the race, all the horses competing are collected at a given point, where a large concourse of Kirghiz awaits them. The horses have to reach a given point and then race back. During the race to the place indicated, umpires attend the competitors, and it is their business to see that each one fails not to go up to that point and to traverse exactly the same distance as the others. High ground is usually selected for the judge's box, whence a good and extensive view can be gained of the road leading back to the goal. When it is thought that the competing horses are on their way back to the goal or prize-stake, there go forth those interested in the race, several men devoting themselves to each of the running horses which they rush to drag in, in case it may grow weak just as it draws near to the goal. As they await the return of the horses from the baiga, the Kirghiz have lotteries amongst themselves, each prize consisting as a rule of an archin (28 inches) of chintz. At last a cloud of dust appears in the distance, the crowd gets thicker, and several horses are seen coming up at a fast gallop. Those Kirghiz who are nearest to the course rush forward to their respective favourites, and seizing them by the tail and mane, begin to drag them forward, thus trying to make the jaded animals move, if possible, the faster. The leader is mercilessly beaten by his backers, until at last he reaches the goal amidst a perfect throng of Kirghiz. Of course under such circumstances the conscientious judges find it difficult to decide in what order the horses have arrived, and hence, in the awarding of the prizes, a most frightful wrangle generally ensues, which often ends in blows. One of the principal reasons for appointing a long distance for the baiga is that the horses may not come up to the goal at one and the same time, for the longer the course, the easier is it to determine the order of the competing horses.
When the baiga is over the horses are unsaddled and unbridled. Any animal that is to take part in another race is given a little grass during the space of two or three days to make it fresh, and then it again undergoes the training that we have described above. In any case, after a race of unusual length, the horse is kept standing without food or drink for at least 24 hours, and if it be very tired even more, for the Kirghiz are convinced that the best way of bringing a horse round after excessive work is a lengthened period in the standing position. Even after an ordinary quiet ride of 10 or 12 versts (6˛/3 to 8 miles), a Kirghiz will make his horse stand for at least 10 or 12 hours, principally at night.
The Kirghiz never trot their horses on the steppe, the invariable pace being a quick firm pace which enables the horse to move at the rate of from 6 to 7 versts (4 to 4˛/3 miles) per hour. Hence a Kirghiz horse is never tired by a ride of from 20 or even 30 versts (131/3 to 20 miles). Nevertheless a very lengthened stand is in such instances considered necessary.
Regarding the swiftness of the stride of Kirghiz horses we will here give some details borrowed from an article by Mons. Garder in the Voyenni Sbornik for 1875.
Amongst the Inner Kirghiz Horde, races for prizes were instituted by the Minister of State Domains beginning with the year 1851. On 22nd September of the same year a circular course measuring 6 versts (4 miles) was made, and round this the horses had to go five times. The horse which carried off the prize did the 30 versts (20 miles) distance in 48 minutes and 45 seconds, giving an average of 1 minute 37 seconds to a verst (˛/3 mile).
Commencing with 1853 the races were held thrice, twice and once a year respectively, but always over a circular course measuring 20 versts (131/3 miles). Of these races we have only detailed information from the year 1869.
The greatest speed was recorded on 20th September 1858, when the horse which took the prize did the 20 versts (13˝ miles) in 27 minutes and 30 seconds, or one verst in 1 minute and 22 seconds.
The lowest rate of speed, on the other hand, was displayed on the 18th May, viz., 20 versts (13˝ miles) in 39 minutes and 30 seconds, or one verst in 1 minute and 58 seconds.
The Chief Administration of the State Studs did not credit the information sent from the Horde, so that in 1856 there was sent to the sitting committee a second metre, requesting that the speed might be followed on it, the circumference of the circle having been previously measured. The President of the committee reported that the measurement of the course was correct, except that in every 4 versts (2˛/3 miles), it was out 17˝ feet. The deficiency was then made good. Accordingly on 30th September a trial was held, at which the speed was checked with the aid of the second metre that had been forwarded and several watches with seconds hands. These showed a speed of 20 versts (13˝ miles) in 31 minutes, or 1 verst (˛/3 mile) in 1 minute and 33 seconds.
All the races over a course of 20 versts (13˝ miles), of which we have particulars, number 19. The average time in which the Kirghiz racers got over this distance was 33 minutes and 40 seconds, or one verst (˛/3 mile) in 1 minute and 41 seconds.
In 1861 a race was held over another circular course measuring about 3˝ miles. Round this the race was five times. The mare that won performed the distance (about 17˝ miles) in 48 minutes and 45 seconds, or ˛/3 mile in 1 minute and 51 seconds.
On 26th September 1863 the descendants of Khán Jehángir constructed a circular course on their estate on the river Torguna, which measured about 23 versts (about 151/3 miles). This course still exists and is marked with a ditch and bank. The distance over this was performed in 42 minutes and 20 seconds, or one verst (˛/3 mile) in 1 minute and 50 seconds.
For the race of 21st May 1861 they weighed the riders and found that their weights ranged between four and six stone. [Editor's note: between 56 and 84 pounds. ]
Races over a circular course of more than 20 versts (13˝ miles) have not taken place. In the Kálmak uluses (groups of nomad tents) of the Astrakhán Government, races over 15 versts (10 miles) have been held.
The greatest speed over this distance was recorded in 1864, viz., 23 minutes and 56 seconds, or one verst (˛/3 mile) in 1 minute and 35 seconds.
The lowest rate of speed over the same course was in 1864, viz., 27 minutes or one verst (˛/3 mile) in 1 minute and 48 seconds.
The time recorded between 1862 and 1865 and 1867 and 1869 was 25 minutes and 15 seconds, or one verst (˛/3 mile) in 1 minute and 41 seconds.
It is not possible to compare a 15 verst (10-mile) course with a 20 verst (13˝ mile) course, because the pace throughout, and especially towards the end, is different. But even if we were to essay such a comparison, the pre-eminence would be with the Kirghiz horses, since the highest rate of speed of the latter animals was 1 minute and 22 seconds, and that of the Kálmak horse, 1 minute and 35 seconds, while the lowest rate of speed of the former was inferior to that of the latter, the figures being as follows: 1 minute and 58 seconds and 1 minute 41 seconds respectively. Their averages are thus shewn: Kirghiz, 1 minute and 41 seconds; Kálmak, 1 minute and 41˝ seconds.
Russia, as regards her supply of horses, is remarkably well off. The southern steppes of New Russia were at one time more productive of horse-flesh, so that our cavalry never wanted remounts of the best kinds. But now, unfortunately, the once-inexhaustible supply of horses has begun to run dry, and that at a very rapid rate.
It would be worth while to trace these particulars out for the last 10 or 12 years when the swift economic development of Russia made it almost impossible to breed such a noble, and in some cases ignoble, animal as the horse, in the sense that is of a regular and well-considered item of rural industry. The development of railroads has had a still more destructive influence on the breed of Russian horses, as, apart from the fact that the iron road diverts all the economic forces to other more favourable localities, it, by its very property, renders the horse unnecessary as a motive agent, and hence the demand for horses lessens with the increase to the number of railroads, so that the breeding of this useful animal cannot but be restricted.
It is known that in Russia studs have never been paying concerns, at least the exceptions have been very rare. Prior to the emancipation of the serfs a stud-owner had at his command a large number of unpaid employés, but even then horse-breeding was almost the same exclusive passion (though perhaps a more noble one) as the fancy for keeping up packs of sporting dogs. In any case, economy scarcely ever entered into the question of horse-breeding. The most prosperous studs were those which were made the medium for the sale of all its produce, including oats and hay, the market for which was in certain localities almost closed; and since these articles were the products of enforced labour the stud-owner, when he sold horses, sold with them the unpaid labour of his own peasants. In such a case any price was advantageous to the owner which he might receive and even that which he got for supplying cavalry remounts. The question he kept before himself was how to produce the largest number of horses and to make their number indemnify him for the smallest expenditure. But besides all this a stud requires a number of employés to take care of the horses, and an owner could have as many as he pleased, of course without paying any of them anything. Now-a-days cheap production of remounts is in Russia almost an illusion, and this because now every, even the most infinitesimal, labour must be paid for. Stud servants are moreover very expensive to maintain, so that if we calculate all the items of expenditure in a stud and divide these by the number of four-year olds got ready for the market, we shall find that each horse will cost the breeder not less than 300 roubles (Ł37.10.0), i.e., if we leave out of the account rejected and undersized animals which are sold for a trifling sum. The remount price for the horses of the Russian Cavalry of the Guard (Cuirassier regiments excepted) has been fixed at 203 roubles (Ł25.7.6), and for those of the Cavalry of the Line at 125 roubles (Ł15.12.6). [Author's note: The Cavalry of the Guard, His Majesty's Horse, and Cuirassier Regiments, have horses priced at 235 roubles (Ł27.7.6). The Empress's Cuirassiers are mounted for 207 roubles (Ł27.17.6) per man, and all the other Guard regiments for 203 roubles (Ł27.7.6). The price fixed for the Cavalry of the Line, viz., 125 roubles (Ł15.12.6) has only obtained of late. Formerly it was from 60 to 85 roubles (Ł7.10.0 to Ł10.12.6) according to the distance to the depôt from the place of sale, &c.] These prices include the bringing of the remounts from the stud to the particular regiment - an arrangement which must involve a very considerable sum. Thus many of the remounts for the Russian Cavalry of the Guard have to brought from the south of Little Russia to St. Petersburgh. For the railway alone from Moscow to St. Petersburgh the charge is 16 roubles (Ł2) per head. although the original lprice paid for the remounts of the Russian Cavalry of the Line is not nearly so high, being almost half, expenses attending transport cannot but be very considerable. These questions then come to be asked - How much is the most conscientious remount agent able to pay the breeder? Can he give him any percentage at all in return for his wasted capital, and can he reimburse him for one such loss? From this we shall see that the condition of studs in Russia has become a very difficult one, and that in spite of all the encouraging measures of the Chief Administration for State horse-breeding, this important branch of state economy can scarcely be maintained.
It was only in 1864, at the Ilin fair held in the town of Poltáva, that the late General Aide-de-Camp Grinwald expressed himself in a statement of remarkable truth concerning the southern regions of Russia that were at one time so rich in horses, to the effect that "the sheep is everywhere driving out the horse." We must not forget that this remark applied to a time when communications were far from having the development that they now have, and consequently many other productive agencies had not received the tendency that subsequent events have perforce given them. So it has now come to pass that horse-breeding is only practicable for wealthy folk, an article de luxe, a destructive passion or hobby. In our day then there are not many fanciers who can make up their minds to sacrifice hard-gotten gains out of love of horse-flesh. The breeding of trotters and racers (thoroughbreds) is subject to the same conditions, but we are here speaking solely of the remount class of horse.
In truth we still have in Russia a vast source of supply for our cavalry remounts, viz., the country of the Don, which, were the question take up, could, in the not distant future, be made capable of producing a cheap breed of horse for the purpose in question. But we have indeed full ground for the belief that the Don will soon in this respect share the fate of Southern Russia, and that in this tract horse-breeding will on an early date be driven out by all other branches of rural industry.
In view then of such a state of affairs for Russia, there still remains a vast source of supply for cavalry remounts, viz., the Kirghiz steppe.
Kirghiz horses need not be subjected to trials before being admitted into the Russian army, because an honoured place therein belongs to them of right, and this they will assume of themselves. We should not forget that on these horses Kokand, Bokhára and Khiva have been subdued and pacified. On them served throughout Central Asia our cavalry, artillery, our officials, and our officers; that not one single movement has taken place in the same country without preliminary information brought on these horses travelling on some occasions a distance of 200 versts (133˝ miles) in the 24 hours: that, finally, all the hard-fought campaigns which have gained for Russia sovereignty in Central Asia have been carried out, without exception, with the aid of these horses.
If Kirghiz horses are suitable for cavalry, they are not the less so for artillery, since they are both light and compact, broad of beam, very skilful and well adapted for purposes of heavy draught. So for artillery, and especially for the horse branch of that arm, which should in war time be the very shadow of the cavalry, heavy horses are decidedly unfit, those being required which with unweariedness and lightness of of movement is coupled considerable power of draught. It may be permitted us to remark that Kirghiz horses can be said to be the very ideal of artillery remounts, especially if we add that they are quiet, very intelligent, and soon grow accustomed to firing of all kinds.
Kirghiz horses too would be specially useful in bringing up cavalry and artillery remounts to a war scale.
And animals of this breed would moreover involve another advantage, viz., a large and ready supply of trained animals, and of animals so well trained that any indifferent rider could, when mounted thereon, execute evolutions in the capacity of only a few, and those the most skilful riders of the present horses of the Russian regular cavalry. Every good horse which a Kirghiz rides is surprisingly skilful, active, teachable and obedient. This being the case, horses of this breed could at once be passed into the ranks of cavalry on active service - an advantage of which the adoption of no other breed of horse will put us in possession.
In proportion as buying of such horses were carried on, the prices demanded for them by Kirghiz nomads would no doubt rise, but the supply of such would not fail, because without saddle-horses the Kirghiz cannot continue their nomad style of living.
Thus these nomads would in time of war render us service of no slight importance, thus unconsciously taking upon themselves the performance of the rôle of reserve squadrons, from which, under present circumstances and even in peace-time, horses after a period of more than ten months pass into different regiments in the shape of stupid, coarse, intractable animals, in a word thoroughly unbroken steeds. These the best riders of a regiment, under a non-commissioned officer, are engaged in breaking in during a whole winter, and though this is the case even at the beginning of the third year of their service, they are still called young or recently-received horses, from which regular and masterly exercise cannot be required.
There is one other good quality which incontestably belongs to Kirghiz horses, and one that has been observed by many of those persons who have had to do with this breed of horse. This is, that when wild or afraid of the presence of man they are obstinate, strain at the rein in their endeavours to push forward, and during these attempts, although they may fall, they scarcely ever kick. So from all that we have said it is clear that there is no sort of obstacle in the way of admitting Kirghiz horses into our cavalry and artillery services, the more so because of their superiority over horses used in both these arms at the present day, Kirghiz horses being at once cheaper, incomparably more enduring and stronger, possessed of excellent paces, a quality so rarely met with in European horses. They would serve too longer because they are much more docile. All these superiorities Kirghiz horses possess, not only over the present Russian remounts, but over all other steppe breeds yet introduced into the Russian army.
We will hope then that animals of this breed which have rendered such service to our armies will at length draw to themselves just attention, and interest other than mere fanciers. We have shewn that in the event of war Kirghiz horses would be of great service to the State, because the Kirghiz studs, as sources of supply, present such advantages as could not possibly be expected of the studs and droves of European Russia. The sole defect of the Kirghiz horse, its small size, could be easily removed in the first generation by crossing the breed with a larger one possessed of like properties, or, as they say in horse-breeding parlance, by adding a good strain. This is the reason why the establishment of studs in Turkistán is so desirable.
The following newspaper cutting is interesting as showing the relative resources of the six great powers of Europe in respect of cavalry remounts:
"Austro-Hungary is said to possess 3,569,000 horses; Germany 3,352,000, France 3,000,000, Great Britain 2,790,000 and Italy 657,000; while in the Kirghiz steppes alone Russia possesses 4,000,000 riding horses. The excellent qualities of the Kirghiz horse have led to a proposal to use it for cavalry remounts. The provincial studs, especially those of the don, are in decadence; the price of horses is consequently rising, and the difficulty of procuring remounts is continually increasing. Sooner or later Russia must fall back on the studs of the steppes. The Kirghiz horses constitute a precious and abundant reserve. Most of these horses are small, intelligent, docile, of great speed, indefatigable, and very temperate - qualities which make them suitable for military service. The best are those belonging to the steppes of Orenburg and Turkestan; but only half of them are available for regular cavalry, the others being too small. It is also doubtful whether these horses, used to a dry, hot climate and the herbage of the steppes, could bear the damp which prevails in the greater part of Western Russia."
Readers will, of course, be aware that when this report was written, Russia and Great Britain were battling for control of Central Asia. For more information about this 19th century struggle, please visit Wikipedia.
© COPYRIGHT 2001 - 2014