The Gallop Bet

It was 5.30am when the phone alarm rang. It was still dark outside. My plan was to be at the Sambata de Jos stud farm, in the middle of Romania, just before sunrise. The lake in front of my hut was frozen and a white frost covered the trees around it. I drank my morning coffee and started the 20-minute drive on the icy route to the farm.

The entry gate to the 300-Lipizzaner ranch, which is to be included in the UNESCO heritage, was open. The stable men were waiting for me. They knew I wanted to take a photo of the pregnant mares running at sunrise.

It was -11 Celsius degrees. The meadow facing the Fagaras Mountains was slippery, covered with frost. The grooms were concerned that the mares could fall and hurt themselves. Especially the eldest groom couldn’t see the point of so much fuss for a photo and was constantly complaining.

With the first rays of sunshine, we were ready. Five stable men were helping me to direct the mares on the meadow. My hands were almost stuck to the camera because of the morning frost. The 40 horses ran out of the stable into the field and then came back towards me in full gallop. I had to make a quick choice: retreat so that I wouldn’t get hurt or stay and take photos. I chose the latter. The mares came running and avoided me at the last minute.

We repeated the procedure for three times. They were tired, steams coming out of them as they were resting under the trees. I had my shots.

The elder groom came to me smiling. I didn’t know at the time, but the stable men had made a bet: will I have the courage to stand still or will I run like a chicken in front of the running herd? I had won their respect.

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Magda Munteanu