The Cowboys Of Cappadocia

untitled-6955Strabo must have scrambled his way to the peak of Erciyes, one of the Volcanoes that surround the tectonic crossroads of Cappadocia in the heart of Anatolian Turkey, scribbling in his ancient notebook he could see both the Black sea to the north and the Mediterranean to the south, he was less than three hundred kilometers from his hometown and no doubt the journey by horse would have been arduous, whatever that shimmer was he saw in the distance, it was unlikely to have been either of the seas, Strabo the cross eyed geographer had made mistakes before, his seventeen volume Geographica  was fastidiously complied yet littered with errors, the scholarly Greek had traveled far and wide in his valiant attempt to record and acquaint us with lands distant.

The land of lava and ash stretched out below him is peaked and dotted with cinder cones and fairy chimneys, the rock so soft it was easy to carve caves and provide shelter and sanctuary, new age Neolithic revolutionaries had settled thousands of years before Strabo arrived a little over half a century before the birth of Christ, the Assyrians and the warrior Hitties too would carve their homes here long before horses of the Roman legions marched across this rugged land.

Ekram leans nonchalantly against the entrance to his cave, sipping tea and smoking a cigarette, a lined face and hippie hair only partially covered by his cowboy hat, he surveys the corral of wild Anatolian horses, Ekram is slowly building their trust and will, when the time is right, break them and put them to work on his ranch, it’s hardly a surprise to learn that Ekram is known as the Horse Whisperer of Cappadocia.

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It’s the land of beautiful horses Ekram tells me, referring to the meaning of the name Cappadocia, some say it derives from the old Persian name of Haspaduya, the true meaning is something of academic debate but the tour guides will tell you with fervent enthusiasm the name does mean the Land of Beautiful Horses, and why wouldn’t it? Well one reason is the admission by a prominent Turkish photographer who claimed he used the term to save a project he was working on, the disgruntled top brass of the military who had recently claimed power via a coup d’état didn’t like the sound of the Persian version.untitled-5922

Cappadocia is without doubt the land of beautiful horses despite it being better known for its hot air balloons and fairy chimneys, tourists fly in simply to catch a dawn flight over the magnificent otherworldly landscape, another tick on the bucket list, the real way to experience the nature of Cappadocia is as Strabo did, as the conquering armies of the Hittites and Persians, the Assyrian traders following the Silk road, the Byzantine Fathers when they built their labyrinth of underground cities, as almost every visitor until very recent times did, by horse.

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In the corral down below a one-eyed puppy wrestles with a cat, the cat chases some pigeons, chickens peck and some geese flap near a water bath and the stable boys begin preparing the horses for a day’s ride, saddles rest on the fence, Canan grooms a mare, while most of the youth of Anatolia turn their backs on rural life and move to the cities Canan who quit his job in IT and moved from Ankara to Cappadocia to ride, when not leading tours into the Rose valley he races and takes pride in his horsemanship.Untitled-9

Across the valley Irfan is parking his battered Peugeot outside a fairy chimney, his Kangal strains at his leash and barks ferociously, he will feed his chickens before letting his horses into the field, soon he will buckle his chaps and set about re-shoeing one of his horses, the first time, he tells me it took him ages and the horse was kicking and struggling, now though his horse is calm and lets Irfan hack at the fillings in the hoofs, I learned from YouTube he says. Ekram told me the same thing while I watched him clean the teeth of one of his horses, the culture of keeping horses has somehow missed a generation, Ekram is in his 40s and Irfan only just into his 30s they didn’t inherit this knowledge, the tourist industry has taken over traditional farming a long time ago but these new age Cappadocia cowboys are turning the clock back and keeping alive a noble culture.Untitlesd-1

Irfan’s eyes are sad and his eyebrows droop and it’s only the sight of his horses that his face lights up, you can see the affection as he strokes its mane and whispers in Turkish, I’m not sure there is room in Irfans life for any other girls.

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We sip Nescafe on the porch of his fairly chimney and he tells me of his ambitious plans, the political situation in Turkey meant fewer tourists have been passing by so he wants to invest in some sheep and a plough, really, I ask, a plough? Well the tractors just cut through the roots but my horses know better, I will rent it out to the local farmers, I live a simple life and want to be self-sufficient.

Ekram is something more of a businessman, a regular flow of day tripping Turks arrive for a quick trot into the valleys, the wild horses when tamed will be sold on, his heart is of a hippie but he his head a capitalist, his horses are healthy and well looked after, I feed them grapes he tells me, I have vines in the other valley, all organic, I can tell when a horse is getting sick, I can feel its heart rate or from the way it walks and I know what I must feed it to help it recover, nature provides the answer and I don’t need artificial antibiotics.untitled-6585

When Strabo descended mount Erciyes and finally got around to recording his observations he would talk of the importance of Cappadocian horse culture for the Persian economy and military, these days the only Persians visiting are tourists and but on the foot hills of mount Erciyes Ekram is wrangling mares to do his best to continue the legacy.untitled-6944

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Middle East Photography

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50 thoughts on “The Cowboys Of Cappadocia

  1. Juanita

    Incredible images and what a great article, I didn’t know about the horses of Cappadocia! Must be an amazing experience riding these trails.

  2. I came late! Just saw the new post, I wish I could get a notification on my phone when a new post is added, anyone know if this is possible? Anyway, I just read this with my morning cup of coffee and enjoyed the vibes, the story…it was like being there. Beautiful words complemented by beautiful images, thank you!

    1. Thank you 🙂 I was enjoying your street photography adventure while drinking my morning coffee! Am glad you enjoyed it. Easy to get notifications, I don’t post very often so just enter your email into the box just to the right of the post, just below my profile 🙂

      1. I see some kind of coffee theme here (or addiction 😂☕)… I’ll do the subscription thing then, so please post again soon cause I want to try it out 😬 Have a good day John, and thank you so much for reading my posts, I really appreciate 🙏

  3. John, I will say it again. I really believe your work is so important! It seems like the world needs reminders, people need reminders – right now – we all need reminders of our humanity.

    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    If I could buy you a thousand cups of coffee I would. And maybe someday I will! You truly inspire me.

    Now, it’s time for me to get off the internet and make my own art.

    Om shanti ~

    1. Oh Holly 🙂
      You are so lovely. The world does need reminders and your words always remind me of the good in this world. The coffee is a bonus!
      I just do the things that I love-as much as I am able, making a living this way is as you well know not easy but just every so often someone such as your good self understands, I mean really gets it, that really does meas everything to me.
      Thank you 🙂 x

  4. These are gorgeous photos. I loved Cappadocia when I visited there in the early 90’s but I don’t remember much about the horses or cowboy culture…fascinating and refreshing angle. Happy New Year!

    1. Thank you Caroline.
      I think the horse culture has always been there but now its gained some traction-probably you didn’t see the ATVs either which are now blighting the landscape in places. Thanks for dropping by and happy new year to you too 🙂

  5. They call them cowboys, but really they’re horseboys. Either way, folks like that are attuned to the land and the things in it. Thanks for the nice photos, and the sense of place from which they came.

  6. Pingback: The Cowboys Of Cappadocia — John Wreford Photographer – The Wild Coach

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