Galloping along frontier

Horse patrol for Belarusian borders revived
By Marina Rasolko

Saveiki border post, in the Verkhnedvinsk District, has been trialling horse patrols for the past two years, amid picturesque forests and meadows. The pure air is scented with wonderful natural fragrances and the silence broken only by birdsong and hoof beats. Wearing camouflage jackets, with guns on their shoulders, the sight of the border guards could surprise the unwary but the officers are just doing their job: patrolling the border area for signs of smugglers or poachers. Foot prints, cigarette butts or lighters, plastic bottles or broken branches give away the presence of those who would rather hide themselves.

Riders were used before the Great Patriotic War, of course, so the idea is nothing new. In fact, Osveisky equestrian school operates in the area, providing suitable horses (a Belarusian light draft breed). Chosen for their easy disposition, they remain calm even on hearing gunfire. Osveisky also provides ammunition and other necessary equipment.

Senior warrant officer Sergey Petrukhin tells us, “Our area is exotic, with endless marsh lowlands, hills and mixed forests. It’s hard for vehicles to gain access and a true challenge to cross dozens of kilometres on foot. After rainfall, your legs simply sink. Unlike all-terrain vehicles, horses can travel quietly and, naturally, hay is cheaper than fuel. Importantly, horses are also eco-friendly.”

Saveiki is situated in the north of the country, protecting 50km of Belarusian-Latvian border. Belarus, Latvia and Russia meet at the site, encouraging the joke that a cockerel’s dawn cry can be heard in three countries. Moreover, the state border starts at this post: a pole featuring a number one inscription is found there.

“All our guards can shoot while seated on horseback,” continues Mr. Petrukhin. “Our horses are well-accustomed to gun fire, so are unafraid of sudden noises or explosions. Only officers who’ve passed special training at the local equestrian school are allowed to work with horses, having learnt cavalry and veterinary skills, besides others.” They train in an exercising ring, practicing walking, trotting, cantering and galloping. They also learn how to tackle sudden rearing, if a horse should become spooked by a reflective object. Soldiers with veterinary or zoo-technical education are first in line to be sent to Saveiki. Officers also learn tracking skills, which can show them how many people have passed and when. They can even define average height and weight and can spot ‘tricks’ (misleading prints such as false hoof prints).

Those who live near the border are most likely to be crossing, of course. Fishermen and those with relatives near the border are frequent ‘visitors’ but, for some, the temptation to smuggle is overwhelming: last year, around six dozen were detected. Illegal smuggling of cigarettes and alcoholic beverages (from Belarus to Latvia) is another problem, with ‘box drops’ common. Saveiki is a relatively calm post but enterprising smugglers are detected. One section of the border passes along a river — around 20m in depth. Criminals once ‘bridged’ the banks of our two states with a rope, fixed to trees, using it to smuggle commodities to Latvia. In fact, officers tend to pick up criminals every two to three days, testing their strength and nerves.

It’s hard not to feel philosophical about the use of horses, who have been true and faithful friends to man for centuries.
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