Of the five snouts
that contribute to Mongolia's diet, the one that plays the biggest role in its identity and culture is the horse. Mongolia owes much of its history to the horse's partnership in carrying Mongolians to victory over their neighbors. That partnership continues, from late February through the summer, as the the racing season begins.
On this first race of the season, spring was just around the corner as light snow lingered on the ground. The race course is a ten kilometer one-way route that is all uphill, across the sand and rock desert that spans most of the western view from downtown Khovd. Registration is somewhere downhill of the halfway point in the race, so when they are ready, riders and horses make their way the three or so miles to the starting line. If there is a minimum size or age for the riders I could not tell what it was. The strategy seems to be the smaller and lighter, the better
Without fanfare, a rope is laid on the ground. Handlers help wrangle the horses and riders together somewhere behind the rope, then gradually approach it. At some point when they get close to the rope, with no warning that I was aware of, the race begins as all of the horses take off. Spectators get into their vehicles, start their engines, and follow in what can only be described as an off-road, cross-country free-for-all to get the best viewing position. Each of two races had a dozen horses running, and two to three times that many Land Cruisers, Lexuses, Nissans, or any other expendable vehicles whose drivers were only marginally concentrating on navigation.
At the finish line, there are prizes, interviews by local news media, and a ceremony to present awards. This is not even an official race, similar to an exhibition or pre-season game in baseball or football. Later in the season, as the horses get into better condition, the distance will be doubled. The prizes will get better. The crowds will be bigger.
One of photography's defining moments came when it was used to settle the question of whether all four of a horse's feet left the ground when running. Several images in this notebook answer that question again with frames captured from footage that was shot at 30 frames per second, and at a resolution that exceeds that of still cameras just a few short years ago.