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Traveling Will & Robin

Current travels: Three months in the wilderness of Siberia, Mongolia, and the South Pacific

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Wed
18
Jul '12

Equine dreams

“Our songs are about the same things that everyone else’s songs are about: Lost love, and somebody stole your fastest horse.” –Mongolian singer 

Horse riding in Mongolia isn’t a hobby. It’s transportation, a survival skill, a job, and a sport. Horse milk is used to produce a favorite Mongolian alcoholic drink. While I found it an acquired taste, it is a taste Mongolians have acquired.

“Move over this way, as quickly as possible.”  Our guide’s voice betrayed no fear, which surprised me, because from what I could see, a Mongol horde on horseback was descending on us. It’s now very clear to me why the Mongol hordes were so intimidating: they shriek across the steppe at enormous speeds, leaving a massive dust cloud behind them and shaking the ground as they run. The riders, faces rock solid in concentration, push the horses at speeds of up to 70 km/hour.

Last-minute practice

Last-minute practice

That is… their faces were rock solid in as much concentration as they could muster, but this Mongol horde was a group of kids about eight years old. Many of them were riding bareback. Cars with horns were warning us (the only people around) out of the way. A minute later, they reached their starting point, turned around, and the horses took off so fast that their hundreds of legs were a blur of speed and dust. I barely knew what was happening before that Mongol horde was over the horizon and out of sight.

We had stumbled across a practice run for the upcoming Naadam, the Mongolian festival of the three manly sports:  horse racing, archery, and wrestling. The sports didn’t seem so manly to me, since the archers were both men and women and the horse racers were kids no older than thirteen (and as young as 5). But the Naadam festival is the biggest sports event of the year in Mongolia, and these kids had to be ready, lest they fall off during the incredible 13-19k race. It’s all about the horse here, though, and even a riderless animal that crosses the finish line can win.

Luckily for us at the actual Naadam race the finish-line audience stood behind barriers, which helped limit the feeling of being descended on by a Mongol horde… a little.

The hordes approaching

The leaders approaching

 

The fight for the finish

The fight for the finish

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