We went horse riding at sunset, on some horses hired from a nomadic family.
Mongolia is famous for its wild horses, which look more like ponies, but my guide book warned specifically against saying so: “If you want to offend a Mongol, call the horses ‘ponies’”. So we got on the horses without a word about their short stature.
To a Mongol, who has grown up taming wild horses and been riding since they were a toddler, the idea of someone never having been on a horse is beyond comprehension. They genuinely have no concept of it. I clumsily mounted my horse and clung to its mane in the greatest of uncertainty. A 12-year-old boy put the reins into my hands, and tugged them demonstratively. Left. Right. Stop. he said, showing me the obvious. I nodded, waiting for the rest of my lesson, but apparently that was the full extent of his English repertoire, for he flicked the end of a rope at my horse’s behind and yelled Cho! (Mongolian for “Gee up!” or whatever it is that actual riders say to make horses go). The animal snorted in what I imagined to be disgust, and quite literally galloped off into the sunset.
I yelled my head off for a good 30 seconds before I remembered how to work the brakes.
It’s amazing how quickly you become an accomplished rider when you’re helmetless and clutching onto the tangled mane of a semi-wild horse in the vast emptiness of the Mongolian wilderness. After only an hour, the 7 of us were trotting along together in a most relaxed and easy fashion, talking and exclaiming at the incredible beauty of it all.
The setting sun cast a warm red glow over everything, and we fell silent as it began to sink slowly behind the magnificent mountain ahead of us, at the foot of which was our camp. Then someone yelled Cho!, and with little urging from us, our horses ran with apparent enjoyment, kicking up clouds of sand and dust as they took us home.
I have had some amazing experiences over the past few years, but that evening is now firmly in the Top Five list. (Ohhh, now that sounds like a list worth making, some day soon!) It was an incredible evening. Right up until the point where I tried to get off the horse, my legs aching from clenching them so tightly against the horse’s sides… and my knees buckled, I got caught in the stirrups, and slithered most impressively off the animal and under the feet of another one.
Still, everyone’s got an “I once almost got trampled by a wild horse in Outer Mongolia” story, right?
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