In September of 2008, my husband and I went together to Mongolia. One of the places we stayed at was Arburds Sands ger camp. It turned into one of the most memorable experiences that I’ve had in Mongolia because we were invited to a foal branding. The post on that is here.
I got a lot of great pictures, including some of the family patriarch, Choidog. He is a famous horse trainer who won the national Naadam horse race three times in the 1960s. During socialist times, he and the other herdsmen were only allowed to have 75 horses. Twenty years after the changeover to a parliamentary democracy, he has between 300 and 400. I suspect he thinks that’s just about right, but even by horse-loving Mongol standards, it’s a lot.
I decided recently that I wanted to start painting not just the Mongol horses, but their riders, too. And where better to start than with a man who is now 80 years old, who still rides every day and whose life has been dedicated to horses?
As much as they love their horses, Mongols do not sentimentalize them and don’t give them what we would call “real” names. Choidog is riding his current favorite horse, who is simply called “Khar” or “Black”. Black could take his master 140 km to Ulaanbaatar if necessary, probably without breaking a sweat.
In this painting, Choidog is circling and looking over the horse herd that has been gathered in. Most of the foals are already tied to a picket line, but some of the men are out lassoing the others with urga, a long pole with a loop on the end.
We were told afterward, while sitting in the ger drinking airag with the family and friends, that Choidog had made his boots himself over the previous winter. The toes are upturned, not because it looks cool, but so that when walking (which people like Choidog never do if they can ride), the wearer won’t scuff the earth and damage it. The Mongols learned over a thousand years ago that they had to live with and respect the land in order to survive. Hum….