I thought I’d repost this – had a read and chuckled, so why not! And I’ve added a picture of me on a horse in Mongolia…what more could you ask for?
In a fit of eccentricity my wife and I decided to go on a vacation to Mongolia to have a look around. After all it is the place that produced Ghengis Khan, Kublai Khan and Tamerlaine, home of the Gobi Desert, as well as being the centre of one of the largest empires that the world has seen. After the initial three weeks of festivals, mountains, lakes and open plains, we then left our group and went off to see the remote Tsaartan people who live in the extreme north of the country. However to do this required a significant horse trek…and I had done next to no horse-riding. I looked forward with some trepidation to the 60 kilometres of travel that awaited me. Needless to say the Tsaartan had moved and the ride extended to over 120 kilometres!
Day 1 – consists of two lessons and a practical session
‘Have you ever ridden a horse before?’ the Trek leader asked me through the interpreter.
‘Uh…no not really. Well once when I was about nine years old I did, but only for about 15 minutes.’ I replied.
‘Nevermind. It’s easy. Just get on the horse and we’ll go from there.’
‘What about a safety hat of some sort?’ I enquired only to be met with a blank look.
‘Just get on the horse and don’t fall off.’
I proceeded to get myself up into the saddle and found a set of leather reins begin put in my hand. They were more like shoelaces in my opinion.
‘OK Peter, tug left and right to steer and tug back to stop.’
I nodded and made some tugging gestures to show that I had understood.
‘To get going say “Cho” and give the horse a good jab in the ribs with your heels. If you want to go faster just dig the ribs some more and say “Cho” some more in a louder voice.’
I waited for some more instruction…but I waited in vain.
‘Right. Off you go and try to keep up.’
Lesson 2 (5 minutes after lesson 1)
Learn to trot and then fast trot as other horses begin to disappear into the distance.
Practical: Ride for six hours until it is time to reach camp and on the way see one of your guides thrown off a spooked horse. But we don’t talk about that because you just don’t fall off horses in Mongolia, and anyhow she was ok. So no worries! And while you’re at it cross a couple of rivers and learn how to hold on as your horse occasionally decides to jump over things for no apparent reason. At the end of the day it is compulsory to open a bottle of vodka and consume its contents prior to going to bed.
Day 2 – consists of two lessons and a practical session
Lessons 3,4 & 5 (Duration 9 hours)
‘Stop complaining about your sore knees and get back on the horse.’
‘And good morning to you too!’
Time to get back on the horse, which is now looking at me in a scornful way. I could swear that it’s smirking and I know that it’s thinking “Right sonny Jim, you thought you had a tough time yesterday, but just you wait. Hahahahahaha!’ Perhaps this paranoia is just part of the training? The trek leader tells me that lessons 3, 4 &5 are to be combined in one mornings’ riding, which will incorporate theory and practice.
Enter forest – not just any forest either. The forest will be dense and have muddy and downright boggy areas, and a path that winds its way up and down very steep and slippery slopes between the trees – the gradient must be up to 1 in 4. Some trees will have spaces of approximately one metre between them through which the path will go. The horse may try to scrape you off at these points so you will really need to have mastered the basic steering technique by now or be good at putting your knees back into place after such events!
Now you are out of the forest. The next lesson is riding up precipitous rocky slopes trying to ignore the long drop off to your left. A useful hint here is to pray that the horses instinct for self-preservation is greater than its desire to unseat you and send you tumbling into the raging mountain river some hundreds of metres below.
Negotiate severe boggy ground not less than 2 km in length where you horse may find itself up to its backside in the mud. The landscape will be such that it will be impossible to tell which bits of ground have a covering to 6 inches of mud or which may be a metre or more in depth. You may find that your horse decides to ignore your yelling and screaming at this point and just stand still while wondering which way to go. If all else fails get assistance from and experienced horseman to find another path. This is likely to be almost as muddy and boggy and further ‘cement’ the relationship that you have developed with your horse.
After a short break for lunch and some photo opportunities with cute reindeer, some entertaining repartee with the local people, and hopefully a blessing from the local shamen, you will repeat lessons 3,4 & 5 in reverse. Note that your horse will ensure that it takes every chance to bruise and batter you on the return journey – so beware! It is permitted to be led by an experienced horseman during some of the more challenging parts of this journey, but of course this is only if you are a nancy who can’t ride and it is never admitted to.
At the end of the days lessons and nine hours of riding it is time to dismount. No cries of ‘Ahhhh my knees’ or ‘I have chafing’ or ‘I can’t walk anymore’ are permitted. You must walk confidently to your tent showing no signs of protesting joints. In fact you may be expected to go through two or three rounds of traditional Mongolian wrestling with your guide, who will probably be shorter, broader and much more suited to the sport…as well as knowing the techniques. Landing on your back a few times may in fact loosen up your aching muscles and prove beneficial. Failing this the bottle of vodka that follows will certainly prove beneficial.
Day 3 – consists of one combined lesson and practical session (4 hours)
Lesson 6 (The final step of the beginners course)
Buy now you will realise that any sort of complaining is simply ignored and so you will stoically get back into the saddle with a look of supreme confidence.
While riding back to your transport you will fast trot and canter. Your guide will give you a withering look when you say ‘This is murder on my backside’ and tell you to grip with your thighs and half stand in the saddle, using very clear sign language. He will then shake his head and laugh at your attempts to do this as you canter along at a steady pace hoping that the torture might soon stop!
The ride will be very quick and once it is over you will be able to call yourself a beginner at horse-riding in Mongolia. Your horse will quickly distance itself from you to avoid the shame of carrying a beginner. You will now have travelled over 100km on horseback across some of the most difficult terrain known to man!
For those who wish to take the intermediate course, which consists of galloping, shooting a bow from a galloping horse to hit a target, herding yaks and other livestock, and cracking walnuts between your thighs, further information can be obtained from your local nomadic family.
To celebrate the successful completion of your journey it is compulsory to open a bottle of vodka and consume the contents.