Soon, the doors of the trucks open and the stillness is further broken by the work being carried out by a handful of students and their instructor. Work that may seem simplistic at first sight, but tests all involved. It is work that, in the hopes of the Nez Perce Indian Nation of north central Idaho, will benefit the entire tribe.
This work carried out in the early morning hours, was work toward a stronger Nez Perce Nation. The Nez Perce Nation and its Young-Horseman Project are reestablishing a quality horse-breeding program. A new registry, the Nez Perce Appaloosa, will be launched, using western Appaloosa mares and four rare Akhal-Teke stallions from Turkmenistan, Central Asia.
The Young Horseman Project has won the blessing of the Nez Perce Tribal Executive Committee. In addition to breeding horses for sale, the Nez Perce will be offering trail rides in the rugged and breathtaking country where the Salmon and Snake rivers run, according to Young Horseman Project coordinator Rudy Shebala.
From the beginning, the primary goal of the program has been to recruit Nez Perce youth, ages 14 to 21, to learn the art of good horsemanship, horse management practices and the business opportunities available via horses.
The recent early morning work conducted by Shebala and four of his Young Horsemen, was in preparation for their first project trail ride. Shebala feels the ride was a success and he believes his Young Horsemen were mature and responsible. Riders trekked up into the mountains of the Clearwater National Forest, on the same trails which Nez Perce ancestors traveled in 1877 in their retreat to the Canadian border.
Horsemanship, such as the Young Horseman Project is striving toward, was once the Nez Perce's forte, before the tribe melded with the new cultures of the settlers. Meriwether Lewis of the famous Lewis and Clark Expedition to the American West, noted the grand horses of the Nez Perce in a February 15, 1806 journal entry:
"Their horses appear to be of an excellent race; they are lofty, elegantly formed, active and durable; in short many of them look like fine English corsers and would make a figure in any country."
The Nez Perce are striving to regain that fine horse through their Apaloosa-Akhal-Teke cross. Their chances of success are improved thanks to the breeding stock they are starting with.
The Appaloosas the tribe is starting with are strong and enduring. Although breeds such as the Quarter Horse have edged out Appaloosas in popularity among American equestrians, Shebala believes it's a good breed. In the lush green rolling hills of the Lapwai region, they have been breeding their Appaloosa mares with Akhal-Teke stallions. The Akhal-Teke is an heirloom breed from the desert of the former Soviet Republic of Turkmenistan. Akhal-Tekes may well be the progenitor of the English Thoroughbred and have been revered by horsemen for 3,000 years, for their mobility, strength, iridescent beauty, and phenomenal endurance. In his travels on the Great Silk Road to China, Marco Polo even suggested that Alexander the Great's horse Bucephalas was a Turkmen steed.
The Akhal-Teke gets its name from the Akhal oasis, where the nomadic Teke people live. The Teke are the majority tribe of Turkmen, who adopted the Akhal-Teke horse as their national symbol when Turkmenistan gained independence from the Soviet Union in 1990.
The Akhal-Teke now residing in the Young Horseman Project barn at Lapwai were acquired from Hans Sprandel, a German businessman, whose late brother Eberhard, was a breeder of Akhal-Tekes. Sprandel entrusted the Nez Perce with four purebred Akhal-Teke stallions. "The Nez Perce were as good as any group to do these horses justice," said Shebala. Further, he added the Nez Perce are the best choice, simply because of the tribe's history as skilled horsemen.
In the Nez Perce breeding program, the very epitome of fine horses from Central Asia are being put to the cultural symbol of Northwestern Native American nation. The swiftness and endurance of both breeds will be combined in what the Nez Perce Nation hopes will be a stunning work of nature and humans.
Shebala said the tribe will forever be known for their skillful horsemanship and the Nez Perce are going to use that as a "springboard."
By reaching back into their cultural history, the Nez Perce are springing into a new era for the Appaloosa, the Akhal-Teke, and the Nez Perce Nation.