Woody Packard

Words + Pictures

Interlude, by Horse

Small Horses with Stamina
As I wait for my work visa issues to be resolved, luck has given me a landlord who runs a guest house, speaks English with a Texas accent, and is in the process of improving the web site for his guest house. Having seen a copy of Learning Mongolia, he asked if I could help him. Before we began, he wanted to make sure he could afford me, and that I would be up for the task. He explained that to understand and write about Mongolia, I would have to see more of it than I had seen. I would need to ride a horse. And a camel. I would need to travel to the Gobi, both in the winter and the summer. I would need to see Khovsgul Noor, Mongolia's biggest lake. I would need to see the most beautiful parts of Mongolia and I would also need to tour the poorest of Ulaanbaatar's ger districts. Hmm, I thought. Someone has to do it.

So Saturday Anand, my landlord, along with Tseegii, a contortionist by trade, set off to see Terelj National Park by horse, crossing two small passes and the Tuul River before almost getting to the country's largest statue of its most famous citizen. (Our pickup car arrived with the huge statue only a half mile away, but it was already getting late, and the guides had to return home with the horses. By then, I was glad to be done.)

I'll save the description of the trip for the pictures, but must mention a few things that I learned about riding a horse. I can't say that I have never been on a horse, but I may as well. Aside from a few short rides on our previous stay in Khovd, it has been nearly half a century. Precautions were taken by our guides because of my lack of experience. Fearing I would freeze, I was swaddled in a traditional deel, which has no pockets.
Horses, guide, and me with Mongolian frontpack
Doing like the Mongolians do, I stuffed extra gloves, three cameras, and a few other odds and ends into the pouch created when the deel is cinched off at the waist. It is not a flattering sight. And fearing that I might not be able to control a horse who, among other things, knows no English, I was assigned a guide to lead my horse. Until we were underway, that seemed reasonable, except this—when my guide trotted, I trotted, and when my guide galloped, I galloped. If you have ridden a horse, you already know where this is heading, given the fact that this would turn out to be a four hour ride. If, like me, you lack that kind of experience, you would not understand how physically demanding the afternoon would be.

In Mongolia you can see people do acrobatics at full gallop on horseback, and play musical instruments at a trot. Whether tiny children or the elderly, most people here look completely at home on the back of a horse. So there was no small sense of panic that set in when we first started to trot, five minutes and still within sight of our car, I —ould —ardly —ven —eathe —ecause I —as —ouncing so —ard.

Eventually I got a sense of what needed to be done, though it was less a matter of grace and more an act of self-preservation. We crossed Terelj's broad valley, climbed out the south end, and walked a little way from the steepest part beneath the ridge, before descending to the Tuul River and finding a spot where the horses would agree to let us cross. The rest, wide open bottom, long treeless slopes, was done at a quicker pace, and though exhausted, I managed to keep up. We crossed the top of the final hill at full speed, coasted to a stop, and felt the relief of solid ground beneath our feet.

Anand admitted to taking pain killers to get to sleep that night. I slept just fine, but it was several days before descending the four flights of stairs from our apartment didn't come as a challenge.

Close Story—Back to Pictures

Interlude, by Horse

Click below to page through enlarged images or read the story.

Horse Depot, Terelj

Guide's Ger

Lunch For the Trail

Our Rides

Easy Travelers

Larches, Upland

Pass, Ovoo

Long Draw

Grazing Land

Herders' Gers

Above the Tuul River

Anand, Tuul Valley


Crossing Strands

Anand, Testing the Ice

Hard Finish

Chingas Khaan Statue


Returning Horses