Less than an hour from the capital Sofia, near the village of Skravena at the foot of Stara Planina, or the Balkan Mountain Range, I discoverd the marvelous “Zdravetz” horse riding-school. The owner and horse trainer, Zdravko, believes that nothing relieves the stress and charges us better than a “journey in time on the back of a horse”.
There are no laptops or cell phones in Zdravko’s home. There’s only the mountain, the horses, the tents, and the good friends.
Zdravko’s front yard is in fact an open-air horse school. His guests can put up tents near the horse rink. There is also bar with a grill and a pool table for the tired cowboys. I didn’t take a dip in the swimming pool because it’s for the kids from “Zdravetz” children’s summer camps, but I did take an arching lesson with Zdravko’s son. We used an old Bulgarian recurve bow with rabbit fur decorations on the sides. Such a bow is very suitable for horseback rider hunting in the forest and was used by the Proto-Bulgarian Bulgar nomadic tribes (see pictures of the Bulgar warriors).
Zdarvko’s twelve horses roam free in the field and the wood behind his house. In the distance, there is an old church and just under it, the remnants of another, ancient church where archaeological excavations are soon to begin. We climbed a little bit further up and saw the breathtaking view of the valley’s fifteen villages. On the sides of every mountain passages, there were ruins from old Thracian and Roman watchtowers that used to guard the road passing through the valley.
This time when I went there, Zdravko showed me how to balance on the horse, amble, and trot. He promised me that in only a few more lessons, he and his friends will take me on a ride up the mountain trails. On a horse in Stara Planina, he said, you will remember your true Bulgar past.