Russian riders try to preserve tradition They spread message via horse-drawn wagon


There has to be an easier way to see the world than on a horse-drawn wagon.

Russians Petr Plonin and Nikolay Davidovsky began the American leg of their world tour in June. Since then, they have had to beg for food for their horses, eat cat food samples, sleep in a parking lot and work in a Bronx circus.

After a six-month delay in New York, they were on the road just a few weeks when one of their horses got sick and died of an embolism, leaving them with a $2,000 veterinary bill.

Now with a new team of horses, the adventurers are waiting once again -- this time at Goucher College in Towson -- while a horse shoe is repaired.

Still, Mr. Plonin and Mr. Davidovsky say they will plod on in their journey aimed at drawing attention to the need to preserve the environment, folk traditions and -- most important to them -- work horses.

"It's very important that animals help human beings," Mr. Plonin, 45, explains. "Human beings open up with animals in a way that cannot be substituted by other things. When little kids grow up with horses, they grow up with values like compassion and hard work."

Their strange odyssey started in 1992 when Mr. Plonin, a geologist, and Mr. Davidovsky, manager of a mayonnaise factory in their hometown of Ivanovo, set out from their homes in western Russia in a horse-drawn wagon. They traveled 8,000 miles to the Sakhalin Island in Russia's far east, earning, they say, a spot in the Guinness Book of Records.

But they didn't stop there. They flew back to Ivanovo, acquired a new team of horses, and headed west, traversing Belarus, Poland, Germany, Luxembourg, Belgium and France.

They completed that journey in April and two months later flew to New York -- their jerry-built wagon following by ship.

When all is going well, they can travel 20 to 50 miles a day in their wagon pulled by two Belgian draft horses, Jane and Andy, which they bought from an Amish farmer.

The outside of the wagon is plastered with signs and bumper stickers gathered along the way. Horse harnesses and a fire extinguisher dangle in front. Inside, through a heavily curtained partition, are five bunks, a small table and an electric space heater.

A dog, Chip, keeps them company. "He knows both English and Russian," Mr. Davidovsky says.

Throughout their journey, the Russians cite United Nations statistics showing that the number of horses in the world has fallen from 135 million to 54 million in the past 50 years. Mr. Plonin says Russia, which still occasionally uses horses for work in the villages, has only about 2 million horses left, compared to the United States, which has as many as 15 million.

"We are not coming here to lecture," says Mr. Plonin. "But we want to learn and see how Americans use horses."

Mr. Plonin, who grew up around horses in Ivanovo, says he doesn't expect the world to stop using machinery. "Progress is progress, but there can be some kind of balance," he says.

Despite their unusual mission, Mr. Plonin said most people they have met are supportive, donating money and putting them in contact with places like Goucher College, which has stables available.

"They would like to join us. They think our adventure is very romantic," Mr. Plonin says.

Scott Hoffman, an organic farmer from New Jersey, did just that. "I really like what they're doing promoting horse power," said Mr. Hoffman, 25, who joined the Russians in January and plans to cross America with them.

Although he speaks almost no Russian and Mr. Plonin and Mr. Davidovsky speak little English, they have gotten along fairly well.

Although a long American journey remains ahead of them, Mr. Plonin and Mr. Davidovsky already are contemplating their next adventure.

"We're thinking Australia," Mr. Plonin says. "They have lots of horses there."

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