A man with his horse in Micloşoara © Lucy Mallows
There are around 750,000 carts registered in Romania. However, a recent law (November 2007) banned horse-drawn carts and wagons from all main roads because they were blamed for 10% of all road traffic accidents in the country. Many believe it is not the horses and carts that cause accidents but nouveau-riche Romanian businessmen who have suddenly updated to a much more expensive, foreign-built car after decades of rattling along in an ancient Dacia, without learning how to drive such a powerful vehicle. Horse-and-cart drivers may be hard to spot at night, but many are now wearing reflective jackets. The horses are hardly to blame. From time to time a cart driver falls asleep at the reins, but even then the horses usually know where to go.
If the police follow through on their threat to confiscate horses and carts found using the main roads, locals fear that many peasants will die through not being able to continue their livelihoods. Many horses have been abandoned since the law came into force and in March 2008, hundreds of stray horses were roaming the towns including 15 starving creatures found abandoned in central Bucharest.
The horses are the victims of a disastrous law brought in to bring the country in line with EU transport regulations. Winter in Transylvania lasts seven months and horses are vital for everything from travel to ploughing to transporting timber down difficult thoroughfares from the mountainous forests to the plains to sell or use for heating. A significant proportion of Romania’s population lives from subsistence farming.
The new ban will be especially problematic in places where the main road runs right through the middle of the village. Local mayors are now busy trying to gather funds to build alternative side roads, but in some villages this is not viable as the villages are surrounded by steep mountain sides and the only possible entry point has already been taken.