Riding the storm: unique horse theater’s mounting costs

A unique horse theater in North Ossetia is the only theater in Russia where horses act as part of the performance. But a series of tragedies has put this artistic endeavor in danger.

Nart, which means “knight” in Ossetian, is the oldest horse in the company. His owner, Eduard Bazaev, proudly says they have been working together since Nart was born.

Eduard explained the secrets of his successful work with Nart:

"It's important not be afraid of him and try to understand him. And also try to please him in every way, but if he shows some character, then you need to be a bit tougher with him. But generally he’s a good boy."

The theater company was established about 20 years ago with nearly 40 horses. Then it owned a large stable and a training area. Now there are only five horses sharing space in a rented stable.

The theater's troubles started when seven leading actors with their horses disappeared in an ice fall during filming for a movie in 2002. After that, the actors say, the theater’s fate was been sealed.

During a tour in Iran, the theatre had to sell some of its horses. The organizers didn’t know that, according to the Russian veterinary law, no animals were allowed to enter Russia from Iran.

So a rich Iranian helped out by buying all the horses, as it was much more expensive for the theater to stay in the country waiting for the situation to be resolved. Thus, the theater lost 14 of its best horses.

The art-director of this studio, Aslambek Galaov, is desperately trying to revive the theater. He confides that the state of affairs is depressing. With a budget of just a $130,000 a year, it’s almost impossible to survive:

"The people that you've seen here are pure enthusiasts. Despite the tiny wages, they still come to work with the horses, feed them and take care of them."

Aleksandr is a riding-master in the theater. He has to support his wife and two daughters on just $140 a month. Aleksandr has looked for a better-paid job many times, but can't give up working with his horses.

"If someone gets involved, they can't just leave – it becomes a life-long passion,” Aleksandr confesses.

“It's like taking the woman you love into your arms and taking here somewhere. Same thing when you work with them, when they understand you. You don't even have to tell them anything – just make a certain gesture, and they'll know what you need."

Having spent 20 years training horses, Aleksandr knows all their habits.

He's anxious that officials pay close attention to solving the theatre's problems, as his enthusiasm and that of the cast and crew won't be enough to save the horses. Officials of the republic have promised to support the company financially before 2010. The theater will celebrate its 20th anniversary by then.