Carefully selected over many centuries by Central Asian nomads for endurance, agility, high-altitude adaptation and the ability to dig through snow for winter feeding, the Kyrgyz horse was nearly bred out of existence during Soviet times. Without their horses, and with the disappearance of the Soviet Union and its subsidies for fuel and vehicles, transhumant nomads were unable to move their herds into the high mountains in the summer, which caused sheep, cattle and yak herds to overgraze the lower and more accessible areas.
Today, a small NGO called the Kyrgyz Ate Foundation is rehabilitating the high-mountain horse breed and the rich cultural traditions surrounding it. By celebrating the horse of The People in cultural festivals, the related practices around clothes, food, music and sustainable landscape management are revitalized and breeders are empowered to restore the pedigree. Revitalizing the Kyrgyz horse is also improving livelihoods, both for herders and new ecotourism providers. The project is an integral part of the major progress the Kyrgyz are making to re-establish a landscape approach to land management that integrates everything from traditional knowledge to land tenure. For more information on this approach, visit the Rural Development Fund.
Photos: Jacqueline Ripart & The Christensen Fund