From the campsite near Mesudiye outside Usak (Donna and Mac write):
Today we will speak of Sedat. We are in the heart of Turkish and Ottoman horse country here. Tricia, who first came to Turkey in 1960, and can make comparisons between past and present the rest of us cannot match, says that the cavalry always came from around Usak. Back in Banaz, the next town to the East, Evliya reported the region to be inhabited by sipahis (the famous Ottoman cavalry officers), so the region has long been a home to equestrian cultures. Many of the villages now have cirit clubs, and we went to a practice match at Kediyunu ("cat fur", so named after the huyuk or tumulus alongside the village) last night. Andy had a go and did not disgrace himself (photo to follow).
But first we must speak of Sedat. (Metin comes later.) Tricia observed that Sedat was "absolutely indispensable, a good horseman and a real friend. He has maintained the horses so well in difficult conditions." The whole logistical team has been impeccable, in fact. Sedat hopes he can join the cavalry training unit when he does his military service. We too hope so. He would be a real asset. He adopted two puppies in Buyuk Oturak. Initial sceptics are now their biggest fans. As Caroline observed, Mac has become a wet nurse (photo to follow).
Sedat Varis is a national treasure. His contribution is one that the army should not waste. His potential to contribute to the maintenance and improvement of equestrian culture is unassailable.
Followers of the map will notice that we have arrived at Usak rather suddenly. When we left Afyon we decided to follow Evliya's path to Boyali and Banaz, followed by Usak, rather than going eccentrically south to Suhut and Sandikli as he claims he also did. Time is pressing and the weather, currently golden Indian summer though cold at night, could be about to change at any moment. We must get into the mountains near Gediz as soon as possible.
In the last few days we have made some amazing discoveries. Fortunately we not yet had the Banaz itch Evliya spoke of, which could only be cured by taking the waters up in the hill country. Perhaps camping near Kucuk Oturak and then at Ovacik has inoculated us against it. We fell foul of the newest muhtar at Ovacik after receiving incredible hospitality from the previous muhtars and their families. Banished to the village common by the former after having been first offered the misafir hane, the village guesthouse, by the latter, we were then awoken in the middle of the night by the jandarma and yeni muhtar in case we might have been sheep rustlers. This muhtar is giving the wonderful village of Ovacik a bad name! The village is beautiful and most of the people most hospitable. The landscape looks like a painting by George Stubbs or Breughel. The ploughed fields and harvested stubble fields are still dotted with veteran trees, old oaks of many varieties and black pines. There are also signs of replanting, and maintenance of patches of woodland and hedgerows. Although many farmers have tractors, many also plough and harrow and harvest with teams of horses and mules. We have ridden through the first real galloping country we have come to during the last few days. For once there were not so many gelincik holes, so many stones, as there have often been. The terrain we have been traversing since Kutahya gave way, from mountainous prospects and the Frigian (Phrygian) plain, to the volcanic landscapes around Afyon, and then to this rolling hill country just north of Banaz and Usak. It is no wonder so many Turkish horsemen come from around here.
Tonight we will go to another cirit match at Susuzoren, south of Usak. This javelin hurling mounted game is exciting, bloody, and very popular here. The horses kept for playing the game in Usak all seem to be former Arabian racehorses. Many have come from the hippodrome at Izmir. Last night's practice match featured eight stallions, all very good looking and in beautiful condition. The tack is based on Ottoman saddlery and still made locally. The riding is probably no rougher than in polo, according to Andy, who plays, though the bits and the sharp stirrups are severe. When the horses themselves take a hit from the javelins, there can be blood. Evliya himself lost some teeth playing cirit. Andy knows players who have lost an eye. Lodged between the cushions of the Ottoman or Circassian-style saddles, some riders drew blood with their stirrup edges, which function like spurs. The players played with sharpened sticks of apple wood. The horses spun and galloped, spun and galloped, turning from riders' legs. One player leaned from his saddle and retrieved a stick from the ground; another cued his horse to rear on command. As dusk fell, the audience of all ages accompanied the horses back to the muhtar's office for tea. There were many girls at the match, walking horses and looking after them, though none were playing the game. Andy had put his polo training to good use, galloping and hurling his stick with the best of them. He said that the horse he was given to ride, a dark bay, was beautifully trained, a really nice horse. Perhaps Andy will have another go tonight before he and Tricia and Therese depart from the group. Susan, sadly, left us last night to return to New York. We await her posting of her wonderful photos. We and the horses miss her company very much already.