Exhibit Has History of Horses & Men

MTThe theme of horse-and-rider is really about the development of human civilization.
A 12th-century drawing by a Novgorod boy depicts him and his father riding a horse. Above the scene, the boy, apparently learning to read, has scrawled the Russian alphabet.

This sketch is one of the many artifacts now on view in a new Historical Museum exhibit that explores the centuries-old intimate role that horses have played in the everyday lives of humans.

"The Horse and Rider" celebrates this special connection with artifacts collected from across the former Soviet Union, dating from the Bronze Age (4,000 B.C.) to the 16th century.

"The theme of horse-and-rider is really about the development of human civilization," exhibit curator Alexander Moshinsky said. "Themes of work and war, for example, are closely connected to horses, making the exhibit more universal than it might seem."

Although the exhibit focuses on the horse, it manages to evoke a bygone romantic era of archeological adventure. And in fact, "Horse and Rider" opened last month in conjunction with another exhibit celebrating the 100-year relationship between the museum and its most celebrated archeologist and adventurer, Vasily Gorodtsov.

A devoted student of early civilizations who specialized widely in eras from the Stone Age to the Middle Ages, Gorodtsov was particularly interested in the horse as an engine for human advancement. Often traveling on horseback himself, Gorodtsov trekked from the Caucasus to the Far East, unearthing ancient treasures and ultimately receiving tsarist and Soviet accolades for his achievements.

Among the chipped pieces of tack and ancient objects, visitors to "Horse and Rider" get a sense of the great archeological game that Gorodtsov and his colleagues played, when work conditions were more primitive and major finds were theirs for the taking. Gathering the museum's material on this theme, collected over the years by many different archeologists, provides a fitting tribute to this Russian Indiana Jones.

Mingling cultural history and archeology, the exhibit begins in a small room on an upper floor at GUM. The main hall explores cultural perspectives on the connection between horse and man. Meanwhile, two interior halls display equipment such as whips and bits used to forge the physical relationship between human and animal throughout Russian history.

Horses were a main focus of ancient religious cults, Moshinsky notes, pointing out an aged cosmic calendar ringed with equine etchings. In another display window, there are significant finds from an archeological site in Kerch. A number of vases dating from around 500 B.C. were found there with intact markings, many featuring Greek gods commanding chariots.

The culture section's final display highlights the role of horses in the Russian Orthodox Church. Certain saints, including St. George and the Archangel Michael, were often depicted on horseback as a sign of their strength in war.

The two interior halls are more earthly, containing bridles, bits, saddles and stirrups found in various parts of the former Soviet Union. The exhibit's curatorial team have constructed a model of a horse's head to show how the pieces once looked on an actual animal.

Display windows break down the curiosities by region and time period. Moshinsky said one of the most interesting suggestions the pieces make is that little differed across the expanse of the former Russian empire.

From European Russia across the steppe to Siberia, Russia's rulers and their subjects used horses for similar purposes. And technological developments, such as stirrups, often occurred regardless of locality at around the same time.

Moshinsky chalks it up to the eternal allure of horses.

"Having a personal horse is always better, more prestigious than having a personal Mercedes," he said. "Horses have always been connected with wealth and the advancement of the human condition, and will continue to be so."

"Horse and Rider" (Kon i Vsadnik) runs to Sept. 29 at the Historical Museum, located at 1 Red Square, Bldg. 2. Metro Ploshchad Revolyutsii. Tel. 292-3731.