“The best thing I’ve done in my life was driving across the United States”, Lviv businessman Ostap Lun says. After Ostap had returned from the trip in 2012, he realized that he needed to do something more than just business. This realization prompted him to launch a ranch called “Skarbova Hora” (Treasure Mountain), which combined Ostap’s inspiration from the trip to America with his childhood dream to ride a horse. “Skarbova Hora” did not just become a usual ranch which accepts guests; rather, it grew into one of the centers of horse breeding. Besides, it is the place of hippotherapy for children, as well as the starting point for horse tours across Halychyna designed by Ostap himself.
Since childhood, Ostap had a dream to ride a horse. When he was 14, he earned enough money during Christmas caroling to pay for two months of riding courses. After that, Ostap’s parents could not pay for this hobby of his, so the boy had to abandon his interest in horses for some time.
Yet, the childhood dream became alive again in twenty years. For the first time in a while, Ostap rode a horse in Lviv:
— I stumbled upon a stable accidentally and asked to mount a horse. It kinda kicked off a mechanism, little by little.
In 2012, Ostap Lun traveled across America for a few months and visited a lot of rodeos and other competitions, which are highly popular in the United States. It was in the US when he for the first time came up with an idea to build his own ranch so he could spend time outdoors, working with animals.
— [Back in Ukraine], I accidentally stumbled upon a house over that hill. Gradually moved there. Then, I managed to reach an agreement with the local community, and I received a piece of land here. I started building a ranch. First, I built a house and eventually moved there. There are two sheds on that mountain; those were first two sheds to which I brought my first two horses. In 2013, we started to erect our first big building. We started from building a stable so the horses have where to live, and then gradually finished off the guest house.
Ostap started with buying a saddle. Then, he purchased his first horse called Tristan. Today, “Skarbova Hora” is home to a dozen of horses; three of them already were born here. The horses spend nearly all their time on grassland, their natural habitat. Throughout spring and summer, the horses eat only grass on the meadows, and they are fed with hay and oats in autumn and winter:
— It’s the hayfield I mow. All this field from over there to the forest gets mowed every year. We gather enough hay for my ten horses. We’ve had a bad season this year ‘cause half of all hay went moldy because of rains. I gathered only half of the hay, so I’ll have to buy it additionally. But typically we have the whole shed packed with hay.
There also is a stable where horses spend winter and sometimes hide when the weather is especially bad:
— They say that a stable is not for horses, it’s for stablemen. Horses don’t need a stable, it’s more convenient for people who care for horses.
For horse tours in the country, which Ostap planned to organize from the very beginning, he purchased required ammunition, namely Western saddles, which can be used to attach a lot of necessary equipment for an autonomous multi-day tour.
Ostap Lun says that all locals have long called this place Treasure Mountain (Skarbova Hora). Ostap himself believes that the biggest treasure is people’s harmony with nature, as well as the peace and energy of this place:
I’m happy about my way of life. I’m not your typical downshifter, but I leave in a perfect place where everything is authentic. I think it’s really valuable nowadays because there’re so many fakes around, from all sides. We all are subconsciously manipulated by politicians, companies, other people, social networks. Here, everything’s authentic. And I just notice this force of nature, which is very delicate on one side but so powerful on the other side.
Ostap actively participates in the community’s life. He erected a sign “Lopushna” near the entrance to the village, initiated cleaning of the garbage dump nearby, installed solar panels and tries to develop his business as eco-friendly as possible, with minimum interfering with nature.
Before he founded the ranch, Ostap Lun had been working for almost 20 years in a form that sells tableware and electric appliances. Ostap is a founder of a small sewing company which specializes in manufacturing corporate clothes. It is this enterprise which provides him with means to do his favorite job:
— It’s a dream! It turns out I had horses in me since childhood. It’s just that it didn’t have a chance to manifest itself earlier. I was born in the city. My parents effectively were born in the city as well. We never had contacts with the country.
A horse is a proud animal with its special character.. He cannot be forced to do something you need. You can only negotiate with the animal. That is why Ostap learned a certain language of communication with horses, which mostly consists of body language because animals react best to movements and the changes in the human body’s position, in distance. When a trainer reaches harmony and understanding with a horse (it is not something that can be achieved in the first training session), the horse is allowed to lessons, and then to work with children. This educational process is quite long because since it can take up to four years since a horse is born until he can be saddled.
When I bought my first horse, Tristan, I had a feeling after four months that I knew everything about horses; I read so much, knew so much! Nine years passed since that time, and it feels that I know less about them than I used to in the beginning. It’s always something new. Every horse has its character, its own moods, its type of behaviour. And it’s always interesting. When you enter the “barrel” (an enclosure where horses are trained — ed.) with a horse, you really forget about time.
Out of ten horses who live in Skarbova Hora, nine are mares. Tristen, Ostap’s first horse and the only stallion in the ranch, is an authority for the whole herd. In case an obstacle appears, he shows that there is no danger and all horses can move behind him.
— The first lesson can end before it even begins. Because the first task is for me to reach the “barrel” with the horse, without the herd. The worst thing you can do with a horse is to frighten it with some action. Then, it’s very hard to undo it. That is why, when a horse doesn’t want something, you have to ask, not force the horse. As soon as it does what you are asking about, you have to praise him. Horses, as well as people, can be very stubborn and deliberately refuse to do something. Then, you can, of course, prompt it: come on, behave yourself.
Hippotherapy is a unique set of treatment and rehabilitation which is based on a person’s interaction with a specially trained horse. This method has long been famous in the world, and it has been widely used since the 1950s. In Ukraine, hippotherapy gained popularity only throughout the last decade.
The range of illnesses, which can be effectively treated by hippotherapy is quite broad, from pathologies of the gastrointestinal tract to malfunctions of the musculoskeletal system. According to Ostap, this treatment method impacts human health through training a person’s basic reflexes of maintaining balance of the body. For a person not to fall off a horse, they need to repeat the animal’s movements in three dimensions: up-down, right-left, back-forth:
— We began to do hippotherapy ‘cause I started riding a horse and was feeling fantastic, both physically and emotionally. I became interested in how can it be. Then, found that there exists such as thing a hippotherapy, such a method, and I decided that I want to start doing that or providing such an opportunity.
A few years ago, Ostap organized on the ranch his first three-day camp for integration of children with special needs and their parents to the society. The kids enjoyed horse rides, went for a drive to the forest on carts, and had other kinds of fun together:
— The camp’s aim was integration; actually, not so much integration of children ‘cause there aren’t a lot of problems with children, but rather integration of parents. Parents who have children with special needs require the most support, help, and socialization.
According to Ostap, hippotherapy is most often used in the work with children who are diagnosed with cerebral palsy: affection of motor and muscle activity along with the malfunction of motor coordination. The temperature of a horse’s body is 1.5-2 degrees higher than the human one, and thus the exercise helps warm up the rider’s leg muscle. Horse sessions have also an emotional effect, not only a mechanical one. While contacting with a horse, children relax and forget about the pain. During the session, little patients get in a positive mindset, show more independence in their actions and movements, feel less worried and more self-confident. Besides, it is just exciting for a child to sit on the top of a large animal and explore this amazing world, perhaps for the first time in their life.
From the start, Ostap even wanted to make hippotherapy free, available to everyone who needs them. But later he gave up this idea so people could value this opportunity. Because maintaining a horse is no easy task; apart from financial investments, it requires a lot of time. Every day, a horse eats 6 kg of hay and 4 kg of oats. It can be allowed to work with kids when it is at least 4-5 years old; before that, you need to regularly train the horse. Ammunition for horse riding and equipment for therapy sessions are also not cheap, as well as the services of professional child rehabilitology specialists.
Despite all these seeming difficulties, the enterprise is alive and well.
Having spent five years in a cozy place on Skarbova Hora, Ostap Lun decided to unite like-minded people around himself. Today, he is working on designing the projects and models of future buildings, which, he plans, will organically fit in the landscape. Overall, the ranch’s owner plans to erect 10–12 buildings and form a community of young people who have already achieved something in life and business, live in Lviv, but want to live outside the city, staying in harmony with the nature:
There’s some special treasure here, everyone feels good here. I haven’t met people who would come here and would go back without some kind of peace and fulfillment. That’s why I think it’s a treasure. Because peace is the most valuable treasure.