Warmed by a love of horses

The equestrian competition is in full swing in Novosibirsk. Source: Focus Pictures / Andrei Shapran

The equestrian competition is in full swing in Novosibirsk. Source: Focus Pictures / Andrei Shapran

Russian children learn riding lessons to participate in the annual equestrian competitions that run through February in Novosibirsk.

Outside the doors, it is -26ºC (-15ºF). The light is dim and the building is unheated. But it is not cold – the heat inside the buildings of the riding school comes from the horses themselves. There are 70 of them here. These Novosibirsk stables, some of the oldest in Siberia, have been in operation for 80 years. Today nearly 300 children regularly come here for riding lessons.

In February there isn’t enough light in the arena, and the hastily erected indoor facility is in a constant state of semi-darkness. It’s definitely not the best time to take photos, since the movements of both people and horses cause photos to come out blurry. But it happens that February is the beginning of the first equestrian competitions.

I’ve been coming here for several years in a row; my aim is to take a few good shots, to capture an interesting face, a moment in time, or the general mood. Sometimes I think that my camera is just as old and worn out as these stables – it freezes up very quickly in this weather, and the batteries tend to stop working. 

I always dress as warmly as possible; making sure I wear a thick hooded pullover and a big jacket. I wake up knowing that I’m going to be out here all day; the competition begins early in the morning and can continue into the night. The stables sometimes set out a buffet table, and then at least I can warm myself up with some hot tea from a plastic cup. But the cold soon sets in again. I don’t know how all the little boys and girls survive out here all day – no matter where competitions take place, the same rules apply, and the participants must wear appropriate equestrian attire, which is not at all warm. Nevertheless, the children seem to manage. It is as if their love of horses warms them from inside. And the horses radiate heat. 

I never tire of seeing the heroic determinism of the children. And I am convinced that just being present to watch counts as some moral support. In February, the glass in the stables and the indoor arena is covered in a thick layer of frost that the artificial lights hanging from the ceiling are unable to melt. But in March, when at last the sun’s rays become brighter, the snow on the windows starts to melt, and shadows dart and play around the arena. The tones and shadows constantly change as the sun changes its angle. And the mood at the stables also changes – the spring is a time of joy, activity and hard work.      

The riding school has been in a state of serious disrepair for the past 10 years, but it doesn’t bother the horses or their riders. If the school closed down, there wouldn’t be anywhere to train or hold competitions, the children would no longer learn to ride and no place for the horses to live. So the fate of the children and the horses is bound together in this place.

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