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Monday, 31 October 2011

Why a Horse Riding Accident in Mongolia Is Good for the Soul - Page 2

Written by Mariusz Stankiewicz
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The Mongolian Horse, a domesticated variant of the last wild-roaming Przewalski horse, or, Takhi, as is commonly referred to by indigenous Mongols, is a stocky, low-shouldered breed with a large head and long mane and tail. Although the Mongolian Horse’s color is varied, as is the case with my mare being white, the Takhi has a primitive look with a sandy-colored coat and pale underbelly. Though extinct for some time, the Takhi has recently been reintroduced into the wild bringing its numbers back up to 450, still though, classified as critically endangered. Conversely, the Mongolian Horse to Mongol ratio is an astonishing 13:1 and the number of horses a family has is an indication of wealth and status.
Half the Mongolian population still resorts to a full or semi-nomadic lifestyle, packing up roughly two to four times per year in search of greener pastures or forgiving temperatures; and so, the native horse has proven over the centuries to be a central survival tool among the “five-animal people.” As essential as camels, sheep, cattle and goats, the horse  provides the most for Mongols for with its resilience, strength, and sustainable and productive output.
As nomadism demands resourcefulness, mare’s milk is used as nourishment as well as providing merriment in the form of airag, a slightly alcoholic beverage similar in taste to kefir or fermented yogurt. A popular horse delicacy known as kazy, horse meat sausage, is also quite popular among the Mongols but more so favored by the Kazakhs in the Bayan-Ölgii aimag. Marco Polo had reported that a horseman, during long military operations—as in Genghis Khan’s –conquests—nourish himself for ten days by cutting a horse’s vein and drinking its blood. And apart from the standard carting and agricultural work, the horse can also be a gift to young boy riders as early as 3, or sacrificed in Shamanic rituals to ensure safe and secure “transport” to the heavens. The hair is also used in the bows of the country’s national instrument, the morin khuur, and in gers (their felt-covered dwellings) horse hair is braided into rope and used to close ventilation shafts.

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Braided rope is also used to rein horses, which brings me to my second dilemma for a beginner horse rider. With rein in hand, and butt already getting numb in the saddle, how was I to move forward? What signals was I supposed to give?
“Go!” I said to the horse.
It stood idle. I even squeezed my legs against its side belly but my thigh muscles started to get sore and it began pawing the green Earth, pulling me down as it preferred to graze a patch of grass. Maybe it was my body language? Maybe our rapport was off to a sour start?  
Although, historically, the Mongols have been known to train their horses well, especially for the purpose of warfare, the Mongolian Horse need not be subjected to sophisticated dressage, or “Horse Ballet,” or the “highest expression of horse training.” Instead, for the purpose of practicality, the Mongolian Horse is taught a few basic signals involving vocals, rein control, and strength management. Horse maneuvering then becomes as simple and effortless as driving a car.
Watching my tanned, shirtless guide, I immediately learned that, “chooo!” as in “choo-choo train” meant “to go,” along with a slap on the haunch with the rein, and “brrr!” as in “brrr, it’s cold!” meant “to stop with a tug.” With these commands, our horses entered a pleasant and steady trot and we began our adventure.
For the next few hours I was familiarizing myself with the barren and fence-less landscapes unique to “The Land of the Blue Sky” because the country’s mean elevation (5,000 feet) permits 250 days of sun a year. Most importantly, though, I was beginning  to build a rapport with my mare.

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We rode for a few hours circling a rocky valley, passing two notable rock formations, the Turtle Rock, which indeed looked no different than the animal, and the Old Man Reading a Book, whom was either reading a book or holding out his fingers. Skulls and bones and occasionally the odd animal carcass littered the endless steppes. Up above, a few wispy clouds gathered with capacious ones and a few birds, which I couldn’t identify but only see their wide wingspans, were flying above our heads. I was finally getting comfortable in the horse’s trot,,too comfortable, in fact, and this level of comfort was gradually bringing me closer to discomfort and tedium, and then a desire for speed, danger and adrenaline to pulse through my bored veins.

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Last modified on Sunday, 16 December 2012

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