Mongolia

Mongolia Monday: The Five Snouts, Part 5

At last we come to the most important “Snout” of all for Mongolians, the horse. I was told that Mongolians sing about three things: the land, their mothers and their horses. The classic Mongolian musical instrument is the “morin khuur” or horse-headed violin. Here are some that I saw at the Mongolian Artists’ Union gallery in Ulaan Baatar.

Morin Khuur

Morin Khuur

Horses have inspired Mongolian art for a very long time. I happened on this delightful modern “horse art” in the courtyard of the Museum of the Chojin Lama in Ulaanbaatar.

Rainbow Horses

Rainbow Horses

And here’s the explanation that was nearby. This was in September of 2006 and I have no idea if they are still there, but the museum is on the list for the upcoming trip, so perhaps we’ll be lucky and get to see them again.

Rainbow Horse project sign

Rainbow Horse project sign

I find that there is often confusion between the, more or less, domestic Mongolian horse and the takhi or Przewalski’s Horse, which is the only surviving species of true wild horse. They are different species. There are domestic horses who have physical traits that indicate a past cross with the takhi, which were extinct in the wild as of 1969. I’ve seen a number of Mongolian horses with some combination of upright, brushy mane, a reddish dorsal stripe, a light eye-ring or muzzle and maybe tarsal and/or carpal stripes on the legs.

As one travels about the countryside, the herder’s establishments are a blend of old and new. Motorbikes, solar panels and satellite dishes aren’t uncommon, but everywhere there was always at least one horse saddled, bridled, hobbled and ready to ride at a moment’s notice. Mongols are, after all, the original horse culture.

The Mongolian horses are beyond tough. They are left to roam at large most of the year and manage to survive weather, down to -40F in the winter, that would kill most other horses. I have read at least two accounts of western writers who traveled across Mongolia by horse and who described the morning saddle-up as “a rodeo”.

Herding sheep

Herding sheep and goats

One evening at Ikh Nart, we watched a young Mongolian man capture a foal with an “urga”. Mom was not amused and kept a close eye on things.

Catching the foal

Catching the foal

Getting the foal used to human handling

Getting the foal used to human handling

Turning the foal loose and here comes the mare

Turning the foal loose and here comes the mare

One of the things that amazed me when I saw them for the first time at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu was that even though it was spring (and anyone who has been to Mongolia knows what that means weather-wise: cold, wind, dust storms) and most of the horses were terribly thin, many had long- flowing manes and tails that were gorgeous.

This was one of my favorite pictures from my first trip in the spring of 2005. The young herder was perfectly happy to have his picture taken with me as long as his horse was included. No problem.

Ikh Nart herder and I

Ikh Nart herder and I

And here a close-up of the saddle. The silver bosses on the side are to “encourage” the rider to ride standing in the saddle.

Mongolian saddle

Mongolian saddle

Finally, another one of my favorites; a herd of horses coming down to the stream to drink at Ikh Nartiin Chuluu.

7 replies »

  1. Great images — not only the photos, but also your paintings. I have gone through a fair bit of your blog, and I found much to enjoy. Of course, a big part of why I enjoy the Mongolia photos in particular is because they reflect a great deal of my own experience in Mongolia — sleeping in gers, watching herders capture foals and, later, milk the mares (did you try airag?), listening to the music of the morin khuur, riding the bactrian camels, and even riding the horses a bit (though not easily, as one doesn’t sit in a Mongolian saddle as one does in western saddles).

    Did you get to parts other than the Gobi? I found the area around Luke Khuvsghul to be quite inspiring, as well — yaks, reindeer people, and the ubiquitous horsemen.

    Thanks for sharing your images and travels — and thanks for the little trip back to Mongolia.

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  2. Yes, I did, but haven’t been to Lake Khuvsgul yet. You can see images from my previous trips on my website under “Mongolia”.
    I did get to try airag once and liked it. Hoping to buy a bag of aruul early on for travel snacking.

    Thanks for your comments! It’s always nice to hear from someone else who has been there.

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  3. hello

    Enjoyed reading part five. Now i will go back (to the other snouts).

    I’m in the middle of a story — well, should be near the end as the deadline was last Monday and the extended deadline tomorrow (monday) — about horses and nomads titled THE HEAVENLY HORSES OF MONGOLIA. It was an assignment that took me to Mongolia, for a Japanese magazine.

    I rode a mountain bike across and back from Aug 23-Nov 3 this year and loved the country, though the ride and life was hard. (I did throw my bike in a truck when it got too windy or too boring yes esp coming back and then threw it out again when it got intersteing again).

    so, anyways, i have a lot of lovely images. its lovely to see yours.

    blessings
    keith

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  4. Thanks for commenting, Keith! Mongolia on mountain bike. Wow. Into October and November. Even more wow. I’ll bet that was hard. I’ve done some “road” time there in a Russian Furgon van and that’s interesting too. When your story is published, if you want to send me the link, I’ll add it to a Mongolia Monday post. There are three articles I wrote for Horses in Art on the takhi and herder’s horses on my website under “Mongolia”. I’m not remotely a “real” writer, but I think they came out ok and might interest you. All the best!

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  5. Loved the story of Mongolia and I share some of your experiences as well. I was on a trip there for the horse races in 2007 and we went (the three of us) by Russian jeep with driver and guide, to Lake Khuvsgul and” rode” the reindeer and horses.

    Enjoy reading the other comments and will look up what these people have written as well. Facinating trip all around. joan

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