My last ride– frozen eyelashes, looking cool and fake babies......
on Catherine Dupre (Mongolia), 29/Nov/2010 08:35, 34 days ago
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Since I have been in Mongolia I have slowly but surely embraced horse riding. It is something I was so looking forward to doing, I love horses, and have felt a yearning to ride for a long time. Even as a small child I was fascinated by horses, and was actually kind of‘in love’ with Pegasus – whom I felt was the ethereal embodiment of perfection, and with whom I felt a kind of affinity. (One might infer from this that I feel that I myself am an embodiment of perfection and this is not an erroneous assumption to make, but that’s a whole other story.)Since I have always been confident and competent, and generally been good at new things I have tried, I felt pretty sure that I would take to horse riding very well, I am calm and intuitive, which I thought were good complimentary qualities to confidence and competence when it came to horse riding.Unfortunately, it turns out that I am also full of shit, and that a horse is not something like a game or a skill that one can master by being clever, it’s a great big unpredictable beast with its own agenda and it doesn’t care how clever you are, it’ll do its own damn thing thank you very much, and it doesn’t care if it hurts you, or annoys you, or frightens you. Uh oh........So– I blogged about my first riding experience in Mongolia a while back, in June, and you would have thought that would put me off, but another thing I am is tenacious....and so I kept taking every chance I could to go riding (and spent all my money in the process, oopsie) and made sure I went withpeople who were more experienced than me, and who cared about me, so I felt safe and secure in developing my own riding confidence.And it paid off, as now I am so comfortable on a horse, and I am so sad that I will not be able to ride anymore, but my last ride was so amazing, that I feel like that will in some way assuage the pain of this loss.We went off to steppe riders, me, Natalie, elide and Evelyn. When I looked at the weather online that morning it said -24c, which before living in Mongolia would have freaked me out– now it’s like, ‘only -24, no worries’. (Lower than -30 however, begins to get painful). When we arrived at the camp, we were all struck by the beauty and wonder of the snowy steppe. Miles of white, we felt swamped by the lack of horizon, the sky was white, the ground was white, it was likethat scene in the matrix when they first ‘plug in’.A cup of coffee in the ger and getting our chaps on, was all the time we wasted before heading t’ward the horses, short, stocky, furry creatures. Natalie is a very experienced rider, and I always feel more confident riding with her, she and I mounted first and raced off ahead.One of the things I hate most, up there with carrying heavy things and adults speaking in baby voices, is waiting around aimlessly, so I was so grateful to just follow Nat, who was also obviously itching to get on out there.It was just amazing, a little disconcerting at times, as the marmot holes were hidden by snow, so the horses often tripped, the first few times this was quite alarming, but I realised that I just had to– you guessed it, man up and deal widdit. Whenever it happened I still couldn’t help but gasp, but I didn’t feel the knot of panic I did the first few times. It’s not that I am a fraidy cat, I just really don’t like to be in pain, or, sooo much worse, to lose face.Luckily the last time I came off a horse it was because I decided to jump ship, and managed an impressive stunt roll (cool). I didn’t fancy my chances of maintaining my dignity, or the use of my limbs, if I was thrown unexpectedly off a stumbling animal (not cool). And I looked so awesome galloping through the snowy steppe, in my (fake) Ray Bans with my hair billowing out behind me in the wind, cig in my lips like cool hand Luke, with all the poise and swagger of a seasoned cowboy but with the smouldering looks of a young gypsy girl.....that I couldn’t bear the thought of that perfect image being ruined by being my being killed or seriously injured.As it turned out, I had no need to even worry, as I didn’t fall, in fact I won a race that Natalie started (and which I didn’t even want to be part of at first, as I was still preoccupied with the whole horse tripping over thing) but turned out my horse responded with more oomph to Natalie and the other guy’s shouts of “chuuu” than their own horses did – so all I had to do was sit tight and even managed to say, nonchalantly, as I thundered past them, “eat my snow dust, suckers”.I had layered up so thoroughly in preparation for a sub zero trek, I wasn’t prepared for how warm I got riding. Luckily I had decided not to wear a helmet, so I could take off my hat and scarf with ease, and shoved them up my jumper. Which made a bump, which one of the Mongolian guys who was riding with us, Baysaa, decided was my ‘baby’. It was so funny, this light-hearted flirting, our feet touched as our horses passed, so I reached to touch his hand to dispel the bad luck, but he held on to my hand, and said in Mongolian, lets ride and hold hands, so I said Za, ok. And we rode for a little way together, holding hands and him singing a folk song for me. Thenmy scarf began to fall out of my jumper and he offered to put it inside his Deel, whence upon it became his ‘baby’.We rode for maybe only 2 and a half, 3 hours, but it seemed a long long time, walking, trotting or galloping through all this white. It was snowing at first, small soft flakes that froze on my eyelashes and eyebrows and made me look a little like story book pictures of Jack Frost (the supernatural being, not the television detective) with my pointy nose and wild eyes. Then the snow stopped and the sky cleared and the beautiful blue contrasted the wondrous white so sharply it was breath taking. Sometimes the snow was so deep it went up almost to the horse’s thighs and it had a hard crust that made a satisfying crunch as the horses clopped through it.By the time we got back to camp though, my feet were completely frozen, despite tights, thermal socks and legwarmers; they had gone totally numb below the knee. This is quite a weird feeling, I managed to get off the horse ok but walking down the hill to the Ger was like some kind of semi out of body experience....the top half of me was moving, but it just didn’t really know how this was happening.Aaah, the warm ger, and the mutton stew, and the rice and the chilli sauce, and the stove and the chattering and then we wrap back up and head for the car and for UB and I leave the steppe behind me forever, and I feel sad, but my favourite Mongolian folk song is on the radio, the one Baysaa was singing for me, and I hum along and decide I will buy a CD for when I come back to UK and paint my mothers living room.....and that song will always remind me of this perfect day, so it isn’t lost, and even if I can’t ride anymore, as it’s so expensive in the UK, and I would have to relearn the whole thing with English horses (plus they are so much bigger so much further to fall so much more cool to lose...) I will always have this memory, like a snow globe in my own mind.