A Man and a Horse: Traveling around Kyrgyzstan with Scott Turner

American photographer Scott Turner set off to Kyrgyzstan and traveled around the country on a horse in order to conquer his fears of the new.

Scott Turner Age 28

American photographer, living in Shanghai. Works on stories about people from all over the world, inspired by mountains and the underwater world, has traveled around nearly all of Asia. Winner of the VSCO Artist Initiative 2015 grant.

When I left the USA in 2014 to travel around Asia for a year, Kyrgyzstan wasn’t at the top of my list of countries to visit. The most beautiful thing about traveling, however, is the inspiration it gives you. I met a friend in Mumbai who had been to Kyrgyzstan, and he told me about how great the country was. Simple landscapes had become too impersonal for me. I decided that I would create my own story and try to tell it.

Buying a horse in a strange country and traveling through the mountains in complete isolation was the wildest thing I could conceive of at that moment.

My friend looked at me and just said, “Do it,” as if he were giving me permission. This was a way for me to look my fears in the eye. I’m not just talking about the fear of danger, but also about being afraid of something I have no clue how to do.

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I was able to buy the horse quickly. Filled with adrenaline, I came to the bird market before dawn and within half an hour I had the chumbur (reins) in one hand and an empty wallet in the other one.

I was nervous, worried and completely frightened of the animal I had just bought; she was big enough to trample me to death.

After leaving a passing group I had been traveling with for five days, I set course west towards Sonkyol, a high-altitude mountain lake in central Kyrgyzstan. Riding alone through a huge valley day after day was boring, and the best things that happened in the course of the journey were stops to speak to the shepherds. Even though I couldn’t speak their language, they always invited me in for tea and told me stories about their lives. The simplicity of their lives is beautiful, as are the places in which they live. The majority of shepherds enjoy all of it.

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There were a lot of challenges along the way: for example, my horse Mescalito ran away in the middle of the night, and one time he got stuck in a pile of mud. There wasn’t much grass in the pastures, because it was a dry year with sparse rainfall, and at times it was hard to feed the animal. My supply of food also dwindled at times, and I had to ration the rest for an entire week until I found a village. For me, learning how to control an animal with its own mind and way of thinking, which is completely different from that of a human’s, was the biggest challenge and the most valuable experience. Horses are emotional animals that run away at the first sign of danger rather than sniffing everything out and then making a decision. When I realized this, I allowed the horse to be itself and didn’t try to change its behavior.

The trip got me acquainted with Kyrgyzstan and gave me a unique experience – it showed me what I am capable of as a human.

Once I got rid of my fear of the unknown and forced myself to get into all the details of a problem, all my fears left me. Learning to ride a horse is my metaphor. I’m going to use it as a reminder of my limits, because the only things that hold me back are the fear of failure and a lack of desire.

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