It’s been a couple years since I wrote an article about travels overseas and interfacing with horse breeders, trainers, veterinarians, and owners. But that’s because I am much more than a traveler and not journalist at heart and seem to get caught up in business when returned and miss the deadline for submission!
Last June we traveled to Lipica, Slovenia, and I got to have a week of dressage and driving lessons at the world’s oldest breeding farm (since 1580) that of the world famous white Lippizaners, while Rob got to hike in some of the most beautiful mountains we’ve ever seen.
Posted a lot of facebook pictures but sadly didn’t get an article written for our newsletter about that incredible experience.
But our recent trip halfway around the world, to Burma (official country name used by the US State Dept), also known as Myanmar (ancestral name) with hubby Rob, was so exotic/remote/unusual that I am wanting to share what I saw, learned and experienced with our members…and those who maybe didn’t see my numerous postings on my facebook page!
We were asked by the International Fertilizer Development Center (IFDC) based in Muscle Shoals, Alabama to travel to Yangon (capital city) and then spend 2.5 weeks “up country” in the largest agricultural area called “dry zone” on an agricultural and finance consulting project managed by the United Nations. The project is aimed to strengthen a network of providers of agricultural inputs and services to enable commercial agricultural production with the ultimate aim of improving smallholder farmer incomes.
As our trip took place only a few weeks before our USEA national eventing championships (AECs) August 30 to September 4 in Tryon, NC, I started immediately doing research into where and how I could find horses over there to ride and maybe even jump!? To keep myself in shape for this big event that I plus my two wonderful “dressaging and jumping” pintos, Monty and Jet, had worked so hard in the preceding 12 months, to qualify.
Before leaving, I found that there was a Myanmar Equestrian Federation and they had a facebook page. So I sent them some messages and started to get a feel of what was going on there with equestrian sport!
I packed my jodhpur boots, half chaps and one pair of breeches and once there, I hoped (and was indeed able to) borrow a helmet and even a vest for jumping on a strange horse in a strange land!
Over the three weeks that we were in country, I managed to find and ride at, and even got to do some jumping, as well as spectacular trail riding (near ancient city of Bagan with 1000 of pagodas over 2200 years old!) three of the only four riding clubs in the entire country.
Two of these riding “clubs” were near Bagan…this very famous and one of the only very few in the country tourist destinations … across the two mile wide Irrawaddy River from the town on Pakokku where we were based with IFDC.
The first one is near Mount Popa and Bagan was “MO Riding Club”. The manager U Thein Win competed recently in eventing and ASEAN games in Indonesia let me ride his dressage horse and his best jumper. The stable helpers rolled trunks of palm trees and stacked them up for me to jump.
The second riding club is near Bagan named U Pong Kyar, where I got to go on spectacular ride and had another jumping sesson! Like the other MO Riding Club, they had many stallions for breeding, They mostly need hardy Anglo/Arabian type horses for pulling carts and there is some local horse racing too. Horses at both these clubs go into full work for the trail rides during the high tourist season (mostly arriving in Yangon by cruise ship then river boat) (Jan-Mar)
Most of the agriculture is done by hand and/or with oxen in the second poorest country in Southeast Asia.
I was thinking the British might have left more of the equestrian culture with a few polo clubs, like over in Thailand, India, and Singapore. But they left the country over 70 years ago and since that time until a few years; the military apparently has a mounted police and type of Calvary, but I was not allowed to visit those facilities, even though the main post and breeding farm was very near Pakkukoo.
As I looked at the huge mural in the Yangon airport before we flew home, I could see that horses have long been used in traditional Burmese ceremonies with young people called Shinbyu Pwe which is a novitation (ordination of a boy which happens before the age of 20) the most important event of a male in their culture.
We had business to finish in Yangon and that gave me just enough time to track down the owner and longtime developer of the only riding club in the vast city area: The Yangon Equestrian Club owned and developed by Mr. Nyein Kyaw.
He has been promoting horses in Myanmar for over forty years starting the mounted police himself.
He is now a lawyer and loves dressage. He had just bought a horse from pictures only from Pakkukoo (20 hour truck ride) and I had a chance to check her out with him as she first arrived. They also had a gorgeous black Thoroughbred stallion that was recently imported from Japan.
The Burmese people were some of the kindest, most beautiful and peaceful people I think I’ve ever met. The horses I saw were generally well fed and taken care of. The cart drivers in Bagan (where there are over 400 such horses) keep their horses underneath their small “houses” (nipa hut) as part of their family.
Unfortunately, veterinary medicine and veterinarians are in short supply, (although they do have a vet school which I didn’t have time to visit, and organizations like FAO have veterinarians working more with poultry and livestock species) but I did get to visit with the only Burmese DVM Than Naing in the Bagan area and promised to send him information about our UGA distance diagnostic system (telemedicine) because the country, even though impoverished and other “development challenges”, has a huge number of people proportionally with smart phones.
As the country has moved into a new openness and democratic government, I feel there will be a “rising of all boats”.
We plan to visit again next April and this time will take more GDCTA bags to share!