Morning Warm-Up

Nea Costel comes trotting on his semi-heavy mare, Ionela. His large, Russian-style hat and the muffler hide most of his face. He closes his eyes as a gust of wind covers him with snow. The sun is up, but it’s bad weather alert, with -16 Celsius degrees temperature and 60 km/hour wind gusts.

I had arrived at Rusetu Stud Farm, in Buzau county, just before dawn. The highway was closed because of the heavy snowfall the previous day. My 4am drive, which started with negotiating the 60cm fresh snow in Bucharest, turned into an adventure in the Baragan Plain.  There, in the middle of nowhere, in the dark, the piles of snow flanking the road were many times higher than my car windows.

By 9am, the 30 semi-heavy young mares are ready for their morning warm-up. Nea Costel yells, lifts his short whip into the air and the race is on. Four laps at full speed, through fresh snow and sharp wind. It feels like watching a classic Western movie, where cowboys drive their herds no matter the weather.

At 48, nea Costel has been doing this job for 17 years. His face is tough, but his eyes are soft. Every morning, he runs a few laps with the young mares and then repeats the story with the 60 pregnant mares. In summer days, he and his colleagues take the entire herd outside, in the plains, looking for fresh grass.

By the fourth lap, the mares are tired. They breathe white steams like dragons and head to their stables at a slow pace.

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Magda Munteanu