Russian born adventuress, Ksenia always dreamed of moving to a sunny, beach paradise. Her dream came true when she moved abroad to live in Vietnam, but she soon realized that her paradise dream came with a price. Horses in Vietnam were not very common or in poor health. How could she settle in a country without horses? How would she find a vet or farrier? What if she needed supplies which did not exist there? Would her love of horses have to disappear forever? Or would it be possible to turn her beach life into a true paradise?
Author: Krystal Kelly
Dreaming of Faraway Lands
Ksenia grew up in St. Petersburg, Russia. She loved horses since she was a child but there weren’t many opportunities for her to engage in the equestrian sport. She opted for working at stables instead and finally was able to buy a pony of her own.
Ksenia always found St. Petersburg to be a beautiful city, but the weather can be cold and she always had a dream of living somewhere warm near the sea. “As it turned out,” she shares, “my husband’s brother offered to open a bar in Vietnam, in a quiet village by the seashore.” The village was called, Mui Ne and it was to be her new home and adventure.
“My beloved pony stayed in Russia because we were afraid for her health because of the flight and climate change,” she explained. Her husband and her decided to send money for her pony’s care back home in Russia instead of exporting her to a new country. It wasn’t long before Ksenia was anxious for another horse in her life. “Probably every horseman will understand if I begin to tell how hard it is to live without horses nearby. And so we started looking for horses in Vietnam.”
“While we were looking for horses, we saw a lot of unpleasant things, like how the Vietnamese treat horses. Most of the horses look thin and tortured and under-developed. It didn’t seem to matter if it was riding in the park or at the equestrian club or just private horses in the village. Then I had the idea not just to buy a horse for myself, but to create an equestrian club where people can see beautiful, healthy horses and learn how to care for them correctly.”
Vietnamese “Hmong” Horses
“Vietnamese horses are descended from Mongolian horses, they are small but strong and very hardy horses and easy-going in maintenance. One of the features of this native breed is that it can survive on poor feed and under hard work, but it stops growing and developing. But, with good feed and care, the next generation can grow more than their parents.”
Vietnam has its own breed “Vietnamese Hmong,” this breed has only one characteristic, the quote “these are white horses with blue eyes and pink skin around the eyes,” in fact, this is just an cremello color that occurs in many horse breeds.
A Horse for Her Daughter
Ksenia and her daughter have a shared love for horses. Since moving to Vietnam, their passion for horses didn’t falter. “My daughter began dreaming of having her own horse and asked Santa Claus to please give her a horse of her own. So, we decided it was time to look for a horse! In search of a horse, we drove 1,350 kilometers in 2 days. We saw very different horses than what we would have found in Russia.”
“In Vietnam, we learned that horses are considered adults from 1 year old. And many horses do not have documents and vaccines! Vietnamese people are actually proud that their horses have never been seen by vets. And since many of them have parasites, the horses fight against them, eating some kinds of poisonous grass to relieve their pain. I was shocked by such circumstances, but nothing could be done!”
A Difficult Quest
As their journey with horses began, they began finding more and more horses. They found riding clubs, horse riding in the park, and also horses in the villages. “Many horses looked very bad, either very thin, or plump, maimed and sick. But not long ago we learned about the Hippodrome. There you can watch horse racing and there is also riding in the arena. Horses there are imported from other countries, mostly purebred horses.”
“Recently, we went to Dalat and were pleasantly surprised to see some clean and well-fed Vietnamese horses riding around the lake. We noticed that the employees really took care of their horses.”
“In the Valley of Love Park there were also several horses that looked decent, but after a while I noticed that one horse had a bad wound on its front legs. This is not the result of a clean ride, and the young man didn’t care about the horses’ health, since it brings him money.”
“On the Mekong, things are very sad. There, village people allow tourists to ride on small skinny horses.”
They wanted a horse for their daughter, but they knew they couldn’t save all of them. They decided to focus on finding a young horse, with the most healthy condition they could find. But this task turned out not to be so simple. “A suitable horse is expensive in terms of price and quality. And if horses are older, they are even more expensive, but with health problems. We were completely tired and lost hope, but found another address. There we met our horse.”
A Patient Foal
“She was so thin, with a huge belly (these are obvious signs of parasites) and sad eyes. My husband wanted to talk me out of it, but I felt so sorry for her, she was just a child (11 months). I thought it was a good idea, our daughter would get a true friend, and her friend would have a new life. We bought her and went on the road, waiting for the car. At first she was frightened, but then calmed down and came to me. She snuggled with me and waited patiently, she seemed to trust me. She was so thin that two men were able to pick her up and put her in the car.”
“When we arrived and took her to her new home, she was not even nervous but just stood and slowly ate the hay, which was too much compared to her size.
The next day we immediately gave her anthelmintic to try and kill the parasites. We had to take a whole dose of medicines to get all the parasites out of the horse’s body! I have noticed rickets in many horses here, this is a result of not only poor feeding, but depletion of the body due to a large number of parasites. After that, we made our own formula for feeding horses.
A New Name, A New Home
In Vietnam, all animals are fed rice, but for a horse they usually only feed a little. We added soy and of course a vitamin supplement so that the body gets everything needed for recovery and development. We named her ‘Fortuna’ and she began to change very quickly. Her eyes lit up.”
“Now Fortuna lives in the courtyard of the house, in the morning she calls us to feed her. This is not an ordinary feeling when a horse lives so close. She is still a child, and behaves accordingly, everything is interesting for her, she is fooling around a lot. To help develop the foal we do a lot of light training. Now we do not have our own large territory, so the training takes place on the field nearby. We also study some elements of dressage. Gradually, the load will change according to age as she matures.”
No Veterinarians Around
“Here in Vietnam we face such problems as the absence of veterinarians in our district, so when we were looking for a young horse to buy we wanted to be sure we could cure her on our own. We’ve also had veterinarians from other countries help us remotely. And we did not find any equestrian stores in this country. All vitamins, anthelmintic and equipment are brought to us by friends and relatives, or ordered from Europe via the Internet. Right now it is not so much supplies but I’m sometimes afraid to imagine what will happen next!”
“I have a lot of experience with horses, with different conditions. Since childhood, I had to invent and do many different things depending on the situation. But in this situation, it was the first time to have no means of support or supplies and it was a unique experience. Everything is not as I was used to back home, or even assumed. But I like that based on my experience I can find an alternative solution. Now I know even more and I will be glad if one day local horsemen will hear me. If they need my help, I will gladly do it!”
A Life Without Horses No More
“The biggest stress for me would be a life without horses. Three years of living in Vietnam had passed where I only occasionally saw horses in parks or villages, or when we went to Russia. But horses were in the air for me and my daughter. It is not just a pet and entertainment. My friends asked me “how can you live in Vietnam, there are no horses in the same place?” I always answered that “we will find them and create our own paradise.” We found one horse and this is the first step to our paradise.”
“If someone wants to help local horses and equestrian culture in Vietnam, you just need to have experience with horse care. We also offer our help and we will be happy to unite. Here horses really need help and protection. Even though Fortuna is just one horse of many, she is a happy horse and will live a wonderful life which she might not have had otherwise.”
Fortuna’s and Ksenia’s adventures are documented on their Instagram. Feel free to connect with Ksenia and support her in improving the life of horses in Vietnam.
If you’re interested in more stories about the different horse cultures in Asia, browse through all our articles with the tag Asia.