Join us on a trip to one small village, away from the noisy world out there, hidden behind the hills, a stone’s throw away from the city of Sighisoara: Prod.
Prod is a village hosting for the last four years the most popular equestrian event with international participation in Romania. Why here, you may ask yourselves. Because this remote village, without paved roads, but full of soft spoken people, is the place where Mihnea Virgolici from Bucharest, an animal husbandry graduate and great horse lover, has chosen to move one day.
Mihnea Virgolici: “For a few years, I owned a small club around Bucharest, near Otopeni Airport, but 13 years ago I decided I had to do something closer to my dreams. I found by chance this farm near Sighisoara. It was in shambles. In the evaluation papers it said that the farm was 90 to 98% degraded, so you can imagine what it looked like. There was no roof that wasn’t leaking, there wasn’t even a footpath, there was no running water, no toilet, no doors, nothing. I was very nervous making this step, especially since I had no financial support. Basically I sold everything I had in Bucharest to buy this farm, and at that moment the money ran out too. I had no other means of making a living, and initially I came here with one horse, and a car worth 300 dollars.”
Even though his friends had nicknamed his farm Utopia, since it was so run down and far from his dreams, Mircea Virgolici never quit. He knew what he wanted clearly: equestrian tourism, accommodation for horses, training, and especially large scale and ambitious equestrian competitions. For that, however, he had to work and keep his belt tight for seven years.
Mihnea Virgolici: “I went through several stages: apprentice potato farmer, something I never got the hang of, at some point I had some cows and sold the milk. I had to sell a cow to pay for my referee courses for the 2004 Athens Olympics, I was plowing people’s fields, I was training horses, sometimes I rented a horse out for movies, but it’s a long way from one horse to 25 horses.”
As he was plowing, sowing and selling, the farm in Prod was growing. From Maur, his first horse, a gift from his parents on his 18th birthday, the one he brought first out here in the back woods, Mihnea came to have between 25 and 30 horses cared for at the highest standards, much appreciated by the tourists who little by little came there, falling in love forever with the picturesque landscape, the well groomed horses, and this long haired dreamer full of energy and humor, but also highly professional.
Mihnea Virgolici: “In 1998, together with my brother, I organized the first university competition in Romania, and the management of the National Equestrian Federation were so impressed by our work that, the very year that happened, I was already a part of the team organizing international cups in Romania. In addition, I came to be a sort of referee with the International Equestrian Federation, I was selected for the 2004 Athens Olympics, and I was involved in organizing some very large scale events. At the same time, the people I worked with in Germany kept inviting me to all kinds of five star competitions, where I was sitting behind the scenes taking notes.”
It is no wonder, then, that the Transylvania Horse Show proved to be a real triumph since its first edition in 2011. Three years later, the event was gathering competitors from 19 countries, around 3,000 spectators a day, and a team of around 250 people. The 2014 edition had three competitions: Romania’s Cup, the International Complete Competition, and the now well known International University Competition, which the International Association of Student Equestrians awarded as the best university equestrian competition in the world in 2011 and 2012.
However, in addition to fame and success for his projects, above even the joy of seeing his dream come true, Mihnea Virgolici has great inner joy: “I would like to change people a bit. I was very surprised this year when the son of a local shepherd, used to just throw a candy wrapper over his shoulder, came to me and asked: Uncle Mihnea, would you like me to help you gather up this garbage near the stalls? And, together with other kids in the village, he cleaned up, and that means that we have a bit of hope of changing things and complain less.”
Mihnea Virgolici certainly has no reason whatsoever to complain. Sighisoara is a stone’s throw away from the farm in Prod. There he can take a train which takes five hours to get to Bucharest, where he comes every time he misses an opera or theater show, or to catch a movie and hang out with his friends. After that, however, it’s back to the train station on the double, because people in Prod wake up at the crack of dawn to get working. For someone who gave a kingdom for a horse, the early bird gets the worm.