The filly was bay in color and, like a little imp, was rushing across the field. Gracefully (the breed was felt!) it pawed the ground with its slender legs, tried to shake its yet non-existent mane and kick up, imitating adult horses.
It was only three weeks old, and it was childishly happy about everything that it saw around: a green field with juicy grass, a fiery and hot circle high in the sky, its little brother frolicking in the same field, and the thin neigh of its mother Aysere, which in the language only they could understand meant: “Do not run far, stay near me. You can be hit by other horses inadvertently, and then you will be hurt. And me too”.
Suddenly it heard other sounds that seemed familiar. The baby mare stopped, the sharp ears instantly turned in the direction from where the sounds were coming, and it saw an elderly woman at the low fence, enclosing the horse farm field. She leaned on a stick with one hand, and stretched out the other towards it. There were pieces of sugar on the wrinkled palm.
The filly remembered that it had already seen this woman with a kind face. Recently she came here and called it, but little horses may not approach strangers, and then two grooms themselves brought it to the woman. She pressed her cheek to it, gave it a pat on the head, and whispered something. And then she treated it with something crispy and very tasty.
This delicious food, seductively white, was now on a palm darkened by time and the sun… What to do? Having overpowered the temptation, the young mare shook its head and rushed for cover under the warm mother’s belly. Its mother Aysere that was looking askance at how its daughter was struggling with doubts, nodded approvingly. The woman smiled, and wrinkles scattered like rays across her kind face. The little horse did not yet know that this old woman was not at all a stranger to it. And their names are the same – Aysoltan.
Once, I noticed an elderly woman at the Ashgabat hippodrome, who was feeding a horse with sugar. “Eat, my darling, eat, my sonny”, the old woman was saying, taking out new sugar cubes from the bag. With soft lips, the horse carefully took the sugar and nodded its head gratefully. It was an amazing sight. Akhalteke horses never take food from the hands of strangers, and this one crunched refined sugar to its utmost.
Having fed the horse, she patted it on the head and went to the stands. The horse snorted loudly to express its gratitude. The old woman turned around and waved her hand. Then, leaning on a stick, she walked slowly through the crowd of spectators, and people respectfully parted, giving her way.
Someone said, “Look, Garader’s mom is coming”. The stands were overcrowded, but a chair was specially brought for her and placed closer to the racing circle. I was amazed at the respect that this elderly woman was surrounded with.
The gong rang, and a group of riders rushed from the starting line. The horses swiftly galloped in a circle, throwing up dust, encouraged by the shouts of the fans. The woman closely watched what was happening and whispered something.
Later, when we met, I asked her, what was she whispering? I encouraged one of the horses – Garadem. I told it: race, my darling, race faster, my sonny! “It was not by chance that she called the horse a son, since she had the right to do so, because Garadem was the son of famous Garader, the legend of Turkmen horse breeding. But we will tell more about it later.
The races ended, the woman approached the winner that had stopped in front of the stands, it was Garadem, and, taking out a large Turkmen headscarf, she covered the neck of the horse, which was still warm from the race.
Mother Aysoltan is a woman of rare destiny and amazing devotion. She has always loved horses as long as she can remember. She lived in Kahka as a child, where her uncle had a horse. In 1935, her uncle and his two daughters took part in the Ashgabat-Moscow horse race. Aysoltan really wanted to go with them, but there was no question of taking a twelve-year-old girl on such a difficult trip. But the adults always took her with them to the local hippodrome, and she watched the races with pleasure.
At the age of 18, Aysoltan got married, and a year later she became a widow: her husband did not return from the front. She never married again. In 1944, her family moved to Ashgabat. They bought a small house on the outskirts of the city. By chance or not, there was a racetrack next to the house.
Aysoltan got a job at a silk-reeling factory. She liked her job, and yet she looked forward to when the work week was over and she could go to the races. On weekends, having dressed more smartly, Aysoltan took a place on a bench and, just hearing the thud of horse hooves, forgot about everything in the world, plunging into the atmosphere of a swift race.
At first, spectators threw bewildered glances at Aysoltan, but she did not pay any attention to them, busy with her favorite show. Then the audience got used to her, and they continued to look at her only as at a young, beautiful woman.
Not a single Sunday went by without her coming to the racetrack. When the racing season ended, Aysoltan took passing cars to get to the stud farm in the village of Bikrova to look at her favorites, pet the foals, treat them with carrots and sugar. She could no longer imagine her life without them.
One day Aysoltan had a dream. “I was pasturing sheep by the river, and suddenly the sheep disappeared”, she said. – It seemed to me that they crossed to the other side. I wanted to go after them, but suddenly I saw a horse next to me. It was white, and only its head was half black. The horse shook its black and white head, as if to say: do not go there, stay with me. It put its head on my shoulder, then turned and walked along the river. I followed it. The next day, meeting the mullah, I asked: why is this dream – for good or bad? This is a good dream, the mullah said. If the horse touched you, it means that it touched your soul, which now will stay with it forever”.
The years passed. Once, having come to the stud farm, Aysoltan noticed a small foal in the herd. It was only a few days old. It was just like the other foals: funny, with long thin legs, sticking out ears and a funny elongated snout. But the color… The foal was black, without a single bright spot. Its name was Garader. Looking at this baby horse, black as a raven’s wing, with huge curious eyes, Aysoltan did not yet know that at that very moment fate was already tying their earthly existence with invisible threads for years to come, for life.
When Garader was two years old, it was entered for races. From a funny foal, it grew into a well-shaped handsome racehorse. Even many years later, Aysoltan eje clearly, with all vividness remembered the day on which Garader’s first race took place.
“It was the most beautiful and fastest”, she said. “It had no equal among other horses. I looked at Garader and couldn’t take my eyes off. It fascinated with everything – grace, stance, impetuosity, proud set of the head. Garader looked like a fired arrow. He rushed across the field, and it seemed to me that my soul was flying with it”. From that day on, Aysoltan could no longer live without Garader.
Proud, full of self-esteem, Akhalteke horses are reluctant to let strangers approach them, let alone taking food from their hands. They feel a person and trust only those from whom good comes.
Garader immediately recognized this unfamiliar woman who approached him after the races, covered him with a warm carpet or a bright headscarf, and whispered some kind words. Then she came to see it at the stud farm. At the sight of a familiar face, the horse, like a child, put his head on her shoulder and she pressed her cheek against it and patted his strong velvety neck. She treated it with carrots and sugar, gave it a favorite delicacy – a drink made of honey and water.
It was also jealous of her. Having fed Garader, Aysoltan eje gave the rest of the sugar to the horse in the next stall, but Garader resolutely pulled her hand away with its head, preventing her from approaching its neighbor. “Garader, sonny, this is your brother, Keimir, let me treat him”, she used to say. Garader reluctantly turned away, but at the same time snorted with displeasure, as if saying: “he is my brother, but you came to me”.
Garader was a true equestrian star. He had no equal at long distances. This enduring stallion with a majestic stance was not only a decoration of international competitions, but it also often win in them. When Garader left, Aysoltan eje was bored, looking forward to its return. To pass the time and drive away melancholy, she wove adornments for her pet such as neck, chest and leg ribbons.
The years flew by, racing like horses across the steppe. Aysoltan eje retired after working at a silk-reeling factory for nearly half a century. Time has not spared Garader either. Once, the first sad day came when he was not taken to the races.
Garader did not understand what had happened, why the jockey, as usual, did not take it out of the stall and they did not go where there was a ringing gong, the noise from the stands, an extensive field that it will be first to finish and a kind, tender woman will look at it… Maybe there was a mistake? But it was not taken to the races either another time or after.
Garader was yearning. Seeing how the horse suffers, Aysoltan eje begged the trainers to take it to the field. Let it look at the races, and people look at Garader. And so they did. And Garader came to life. It played like a little foal, rose on its hind legs and waved his front legs, greeting the audience. And people looked at it, laughed and applauded.
He saw that he was still loved. However, he was not allowed on the racetrack anyway. Looking at how fast young horses galloped, Garader understood: time is ruthless, and takes away strength. It will never be able to rush like that, nor will it be the first again. Quite recently, it seemed that the wind would flutter its dense mane for a long time to come, strong legs would never get tired, and a big heart would continue to beat evenly and powerfully.
But it still remained undefeated. Its children and grandchildren are now racing there, and its blood flows in their veins, which means that a piece of it flies across this field, pulling forward to the finish line.
And the finish line was really approaching. Garader grew weaker. Teeth fell out, and now Aysoltan eje brought her pet granulated tather than refined sugar, which it licked from her palm. It was still moving the feet and shaking the head just seeing her, but not as fervently as before. And it was almost not jealous when she fed his brother Keimir. What should they, the old horses, share now?
Aysoltan eje herself was not immune to ailments. For the first time in many years, she fell seriously ill and could not visit Garader for a month. She lay at home, and the horse languished in the stable and called her. And she heard it, felt it with her heart.
Still not fully recovered from her illness, she got ready and went to the stud farm. “Garader was lying in the stall, and could no longer get up”, Aysoltan eje recalled. “The oats and hay in the trough were untouched. The horse did not eat anything for several days. When it saw me, it tried to get up, but could not. I sat down next to it and asked: my darling, my sonny, what happened? Has anyone offended you? It put the head on my lap and began to cry. I pressed my face to his wet cheek, stroked his soft plush lips and cried too.
It was already dark. It was time to go home. “Garader, my sonny, I will come tomorrow and bring you honey and sugar”, she said as she left. The horse whinnied. Maybe it asked: “Don’t leave…”, but, most likely, it was parting. At night it died.
When the next day Aysoltan eje, still sick, came to Garader, it was already buried. She could not calm down until the end of her life that she was late to say goodbye to it”. “Allah did not give me a son, but he brought Garader into my heart”, Aysoltan eje said. “Why did I love it so? I do not know. How can a mother explain why she loves her children? She just loves. And she is happy with this. Garader was a very devoted horse, and what could be more valuable in this life than devotion?”.
For all those years that Garader competed, Aysoltan eje did not miss a single race. And she always gave the jockeys rugs and headscarves, bought for her own money. Even when the children and grandchildren of Garader began to take part in the races, this tradition remained unchanged for Aysoltan eje.
The time has come, and Garadem, the grandson of Garader, has a nice offspring – a bay filly. The experts unanimously acknowledged that it possesses the most excellent characteristics of the outstanding breed. When Aysoltan eje found out about this, she immediately came to look at her great-granddaughter.
She immediately liked the filly, because there was Garader’s blood in it. She covered the mother mare’s neck with a large beautiful headscarf, and tied an aladja, a lucky talisman, around the filly’s neck. It did not have a name yet, but expert horse breeders had it long ago: it was named Aysoltan.
Horses are often given female names, but, as a rule, these are abstract. It was the time that a representative of one of the famous dynasties of Akhalteke horses was named after a specific person. Aysoltan eje has deserved this award with her devotion to Garader.
“I am happy that my little namesake appeared in the big family of Garader, whom I have always loved and will love”, Aysoltan eje told me then. “That old dream was not accidental: if a horse touched you, then it touched your soul. My soul is calm; it will forever remain here, among the most loyal, beautiful and noble animals in the world – the Akhalteke horses, which I loved with all my heart”.
…Aysoltan eje watched as her little namesake rolled sugar in her mouth in a funny way, and wrinkles scattered like rays across the face of this old woman. What was she thinking about? Who knows? Maybe she rejoiced at another sunny day presented to her, warm, tender lips touching the palm of her hand, the thin neigh of foals, or maybe she thanked fate for the fact that there was a devoted friend, a bright and pure love in her life that will remain with her forever, till the last day of her life.
Aysoltan eje passed away in August 2007. She was 85 years of age.
Having tamed the horse many centuries ago, man has found not only a reliable helper, but also a loyal friend. Horses are devoted to man until death. And it is difficult to say who was the first to set an example of devotion – whether a man, or a horse. However, it doesn’t matter.