Gill was a GB Modern Pentathlon team member (World Championships 1978/9), national-level runner and Advanced event rider. ME ended her sport as well as her career teaching Maths, leading her to embark on a new course: travel writing, with a horse-based theme.
Atamekan, or Kaan, was the Akhal-Teke stallion – descended from the Celestial Horses of antiquity – with whom she formed a close bond when travelling with him in remote parts of Turkmenistan. But he was more than just a travelling companion. For, with very limited mobility, Gill needed Kaan’s help to see the country widely enough to write her travel book about Central Asia. She owed him a debt of gratitude, and couldn’t just leave him in a country where horses frequently starve to death. Finding a way to bring him home took three years.
During that time he was badly ill-treated and nearly died from malnutrition. Pivotal to his escape was Turkmen Horse Minister Geldy Kyarizov, who was himself to come close to dying from starvation in a notorious Turkmen concentration camp ten years later. Kaan himself suffered a nightmare journey back to England at the hands of a rogue transporter. His survival of three years’ vicissitudes bore witness to the iron-hard toughness of these desert-bred horses. Just two years later he carried out the 2001 Odyssey for ME, a 500-mile ride across Britain from the south coast via the Welsh borders to Scotland, partnered by 19 riders and raising £14,000 for ME research.
Breeding commenced with the generous loan by Viscountess Bury of brood mare Kunzita, who produced Kaan’s first two foals. The arrival of the elite-graded mare Gulara from Stavropol Stud in 2000 expanded the gene pool, and her son Xanadu, by Kaan, is now Kyzyl’s pure-bred stallion, alongside the part-bred Kyzyl Double or Quits (by a stallion from the famous Welton sporthorse line). Pure-bred foals are given Turkmen names, or names associated with Silk Road history. Part-breds carry the Kyzyl prefix that recognises their Turkmen descent.
Kaan also covered a number of outside mares, siring foals that have been highly successful in eventing, show jumping, showing and endurance competitions. His own competitive life was severely limited by Gill’s incapacity, but on just a few outings he won several show jumping classes, and competed up to Open cross-country, with tremendous enthusiasm for his new career. His talent and enthusiasm for jumping are apparent in all his progeny. His descendants number twenty-six to date, covering four generations.
Kaan has thus fulfilled Gill’s dream: he has founded a line of Celestial Horses in this country.