Between Places

The Mongolian Horse Ride

July 26, 2016

Written by Anita

We were standing in the horse dung littered front yard of the guesthouse, where there were about a dozen of messy-tuft haired horses, tied to poles and swishing their bushy and tangled tails. We were debating whether we should go on the guesthouse’s horse riding tour of Lake Kovsgol or not, because of the cloudy dismal as there had been a heavy thundershower last night. But after a few minutes, the clouds broke apart, and the bright, warm sun reappeared. We were lucky, and now that Mommy had emerged out of the public wooden hut dining room, we confirmed that we were going on the tour. Haina, the staff who spoke very good Chinese, soon began to announce a list of safety instructions and precautions when being on the horse.

“Firstly, the tour guide will be helping you on and off your horse at all times,” she announced in perfect Chinese, “so please do not mount or alight your horses by yourselves. Secondly, please mount the horse only from the left side, because Mongolians do not mount the horse on the right. Thirdly, do not move around too much on the horse, because Mongolian horses are very sensitive and hyperactive. One time a visitor was not afraid, so he just rummaged around in his backpack and took off his jacket on his horse, then the horse just charged off.”

We asked a few questions and she gave us a few more instructions, then our two male guides pulled five horses over and began to help us mount on. I noticed that the guides were wearing very thick robes, tied at the waist by a yellow ribbon. The younger and more handsome guide’s dark pink robe was bulging with some things sticking out at his waist where the ribbon was fastened, for he had tucked some oddly shaped thing underneath the robe—they even used the robes for being a bag to carry things: how convenient!!

On the other hand, about three of our (we had five in total) horses had cuts on their ears. The cuts were obvious, and I knew they weren’t cut for punishment. Haina soon explained that the cuts were marks, so if the horse was lost, the owner would be able to spot it immediately by their own cut. Some horses had their marks made as stamps, on the sides of their bottoms. Every family made different stamps.

Julia shared a hazelnut brown horse with the guide Zellge, wearing a blue robe. Daddy had a chocolate brown horse and mommy a dirty white horse. I had a beige horse, led by the handsome guide, because I was too young to control the horse by myself.

Finally we departed the guesthouse, with Julia and Zhellge at the lead. We marched over dry prairies in the beginning, where there were a few small cabins. The horses’ hooves splashed in muddy puddles, tick-tapped on slippery rocks, and marched about. We soon learned that to make the horses pick up speed, the thing to say is “chew,” (I doubt the horses understand the English word, because that’s just my knowledge of spelling it), which Mommy kept on shouting out because her horse was slow, stubborn, and not following the group, so we always caught the horse lacking behind and lazily munching grass. It was funny, because I noticed that Mommy pronounced the keyword “chew” wrong, as she put too much emphasis and pressure on the “ew.” That was why her horse kept on lacking behind. But sometimes when I listened to the guides, they just simply uttered a short “chh” sound to make the horses start galloping.

In fact, not only did us riders and the guides momentarily make sounds or shouts, but the horses did too. For some reason, Daddy’s horse kept on letting out loud and distracting snorts, all followed by stinky farts which just and only conveyed to my nose – for Daddy’s horse was always annoyingly in front of me.

My bottom soon began to sear painfully as I kept on bumping up and down on the horse’s saddle when it ran, and did not enjoy it.

So that’s how horse riding is like, just repeating this endless but fun process: bumping up and down the horse’s saddle as it marches, listening to their snorts and farts, momentarily having to shout “chew “or hit the horse’s bottom for punishment, having to stop and wait while the horse wants to pee (this caused great disturbance, because the horse would just suddenly stop and then release a smelly, bright and orangey liquid that hit the ground like a rock, producing dozens of bubbles), pull the horses up if they were naughtily munching on grass from the ground, and trying to control the horses. Some of my own problems and troubles was that whenever my horse begin to stick close to my leader’s horse, my left leg would uncomfortably have to rub on the side of his horse: ouch!

It began to drizzle, and the shrivelled sun soon disappeared behind the dark clouds. We passed a big herd of sheep trying to find shelter from the rain. There were about half a dozen of sheep species in there: I could make out a few black and white yaks, the bisons of Mongolia. Similar to the bisons of the US, they were big, strong and muscular, but with stripes of tangled hair dangling down from their sides, making them look a lot uglier than when their hair has fully grown. Once, I caught a brown yak trying to bite off a strand of its hot coat of messy and ruffled fur. No wonder its fur was so ruffly, tangled, messy, and sticky with saliva. Then came the baby yaks, then the wild curly horned black goats, standing tall and straight, and then the hundreds of  small, cute, and curly haired white sheep and lamb, who stayed as far away from our menacing horses as possible. It was nice to listen to the soft and warm mewling of the little frightened sheep. As our horses approached in the rain, even the yaks begin to sheepishly back away from us.

A light rain shower began, and we quickened our pace to a bumpy gallop, but I did not enjoy it. My stomach lurched as we went, my bottom painfully thudding on the saddle. Soon we approached a ger, the traditional Mongolian tent that all Mongolian nomads dwell in. Quickly we alighted our horses and hurried to the ger. The guides finished tying the horses (who obviously did not care about the rain) to a wooden fence, then opened the tiny and short paint peeling ger door for us, and we entered. It was warm and cozy in here, because there was a an old and rusted stove in the centre. We immediately made ourselves comfortable by taking off our jackets and seating ourselves on the foldable chairs the owners of the ger had just offered us. They were a family of three, the old grandma, the grandpa (both continuously smoking cigars on one of their small springy beds), accompanying a small and strongly tanned boy. They poured six bowls of beige coloured Mongolian milk tea, which was salty. We drank the hot and comfortable but very salty tea in silence with the two guides, which pierced my salt taste buds and nourished my cold body.

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As we drank, I began to take in the surroundings of the ger. It was big and dome shaped, with a crisscross wooden frame leaning on and supporting the felt walls of the ger. The roundly pyramidal roof was held up by two beautifully painted wooden pillars, tied to a round and bare window frame that let light in during the daytime, for it was directly above. It had no window glass, and as it was now raining, the old lady had to go out and climb up to spread a plastic sheet on the window frame, because the stove was starting to get wet. A thick sheet of plastic was spread on the floor of the ger, on top of it a few beautiful carpets.

Two springy and short beds were standing at the sides of the symmetrically round ger, and at the direct back was a small television that stood on a cabinet. In the centre was the stove and a low table, and in the front of the ger on either sides of the short door stood two pots each standing on its own potholder. There was a cupboard, a few towels (the hanger was a thin line of metal tucked under the crisscross wooden frame), and a few toothbrushes, shampoos, soap bars and toothpaste that sat on a stool.

The old woman soon served a pot of tasty bread with some sour cream butter, then began to cook soup (the ingredients were tucked inside our guide’s robe—no wonder his robe was so bulky!)

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After a delicious bowl of soup and some Mongolian tea and bread, we headed out of the ger and got ready to continue the horse ride. But before we departed, we asked for toilets. The guide said that the toilets were “outside, anywhere.”

During the rest of the ride, we continued crossing the prairie grasslands that we had been riding in for so long, then began to climb the mountains. It was until then then did I realized that the ride was beginning to climb slowly uphills, and the grass was beginning to look juicier, greener, sweeter, and tastier, and as for the horses, momentarily one of them would stubbornly stop and start munching the juicy grass. The landscape was even beginning to grow bushes and trees.

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Along the path we climbed, until we reach the very top of the mountain. Here, our guides told us to alight our horses, because it was now time to start walking—the path was too steep for us to ride on horses.

From here the beautiful blue rippling waters of Lake Kovsgol, one of the biggest lakes in the world, showed herself to us. There was an island in the centre, with serenely dark green trees dotted along its shore, bringing the eerie feeling that there might be ghosts or giant spiders in there. What a pity it was that the sun was hidden by the dark grey clouds, floating there coldly with a hint of rain.

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Soon we began to hurry downhill on the dirt path that zig-zagged down the yellow grassed mountain. The horses had already galloped down—they were out of sight. Zhellge was walking down the mountain extremely fast, and we hurried to keep up with him. Sometimes he had to stop and wait for us to catch up.

When we finally reached the bottom, the lake had long since disappeared out of sight, and as we mounted our horses, we began to enter a forest.

After about an hour of horse riding, my bottom had begun to ache and my legs and knees had become totally sore and tired out by clutching hard onto the sides of my horse. Mommy and Daddy were both tired too, so we halted and tied our horses to two pine trees in the empty forest and sat down on the dry and yellow grass to take a rest. The forest had now cleared up, with less trees while more ugly, yellow and dry prairie grass began to rise. Zhellge and Julia were now playing together by picking the few different varieties of short and small flowers from the ground, far from beautiful. They stuck the flowers onto Julia’s small Korea-bought dog-eared cap.

30 minutes later, we had entered the village and were starting to accelerate speed back to the guesthouse. It was the horses who were accelerating speed, because they could tell that we were almost home.

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5 thoughts on “The Mongolian Horse Ride

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