Opposite the Russian Izba are the stables for the horses of Emperor Alexander II. This building, built like the first with round beams, is much larger and more elegantly decorated.
It is divided into about twenty compartments, each of which is to be occupied by a horse. These boxes are separated from each other by plank partitions, the top of which forms a finely cut open mesh. This ensures the free circulation of air, under a ceiling of seven to eight metres in height.
Around the roof runs a real wooden garland, the festoons and astragals of which are painted white, and behind which opens a row of small mansard windows, the frames of which are coquettishly carved and enhanced with white wooden ornaments, similar to those which form the edge of the roof.
The emperor's horses belong to that admirable breed which is constantly reproduced in this great stud farm called the Ukraine; it is there that the Russian cavalry recruits its mounts, whose beauty has become proverbial in Europe; it is there that the Mazeppas were able to accomplish their tragic equestrian odysseys, in the midst of the interminable steppes. The horse of the Ukraine is the familiar hero of Cossack legends; he is the friend of the family; he saves his master on occasion by the speed of his race, equal to that of the wind; and when he dies, he is mourned. How many honest people cannot hope for as much!
However, there is another breed of agile steeds in Russia, almost unknown in France: the Finnish horse. Their size does not exceed that of the long-eared servant that we like to mock. Donkeys cannot be acclimatised in the Muscovite empire; it is the Finnish horses that replace them in the farms, where we can appreciate their truly remarkable sobriety and their tireless activity. Finally, they are the ones who most often do the postal service. Their fine and delicate feet fly over the snow without leaving a trace, while the warm fur they put on each winter and shake each summer, like a disguised fairy shakes her rags, protects them wonderfully from the cold.
They are hitched to the sleds in groups of three or four, sometimes even more. Two are enough when the sled is small and it is just a walk, but a third is added on the right side and is bridled in such a way that it is forced to hold its head as if it were about to run away. It seems to run harder than the other two, because it lifts more snow. This is why it is called the trotter.
This team is charming: when these small animals, so lively, so light, so ardent, with their fine heads incessantly whipped by their long manes, are launched through a snowplough, the moving shroud of space, or in the midst of a pack of hungry wolves with red eyes, they really have the effect of a fantastic whirlwind.
©L'Exposition Universelle de 1867 Illustrée