Now, horses only get fed if someone's making hay

FOREIGN CLOSEUP

May 19, 1992|By Kathy Lally | Kathy Lally,Moscow Bureau

MOSCOW -- As the future gets sorted out here, suffering is inevitable. Russians bear suffering well -- they have had plenty of practice.

Their horses are forbearing, too. Quietly, without complaint, 40 horses are standing in stalls at the Izmailovo Horse Club, waiting for feed that rarely comes.

They are so hungry that the other day one of the horses broke its jaw gnawing on a metal gate in hopes of turning up something to eat.

Until Feb. 1, the horses were fed by the government. They belonged to the Moscow Federation of Trade Unions. Then the government subsidies stopped, and the horses very nearly stopped eating.

Every day they grow thinner, their bones sharply etched lines along their skin. Their coats are dull and full of sores.

But not for all of them. Among these orphans of communism are the healthy new offspring of capitalism. These are joint venture horses, and they are eating quite well.

Joint venture horses? An odd term, perhaps. These days in Russia, joint venture is nearly synonymous with privilege. It's completely synonymous with hard currency.

Joint ventures are the wave of the future. Foreign firms come in with hard currency and operate a business with a Russian partner. In this case, the joint venture is an Austrian firm called Inpro Trading. It has money to feed its horses, trotters, which are bought here and in Czechoslovakia, trained and then sold abroad.

Russians working for a joint venture tend to do well. They're often paid in dollars, which means access to stores that have plenty of food.

People working for the old state enterprises are barely making enough to survive. They largely do without such luxuries as sugar and milk, just as the horses working for state enterprises do without carrots and hay.

Until last week, Alexander V. Artemov was deputy director of the horse club. A couple of times, he fed the horses from his own state salary. Once, he bought up some bicycles for cheap prices after waiting in line at a state store, then traded them to a farm for feed.

Still, the horses were getting so weak he could no longer let them be ridden, which meant even less money to buy them food. "Cars can work without gas," he said, "but horses can't work without feed."

Then Mr. Artemov became part of a joint venture. He's still at the stables, but he's made the leap to the new economy.

The czars used to hunt here at Izmailovo. In a pond here, Peter the Great first caught sight of a small English boat that inspired him to open Russia to the sea and to the West and to modern times.

That was in the 17th century, and people are still waiting for modern times. Perhaps the horses have waited long enough. Finally, it is spring here. Grass is beginning to grow again after the long winter. For the horses, that is something.

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