Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Entry 6: Ulanbaatar, Mongolia - Meet the Horse Riders

We ended up spending over two weeks in UB, mainly between two places: the open market (the largest in Asia - and also I’m sure, the most insane) and the Mongolian immigration office. The outdoor market a.k.a the black market so called by locals, is full of the horse gear we need.

Russian, European, and Mongolian saddles, the latter being made of wood and not recommended for western asses, conditioned to sit eight hours a day on soft padded leather or more commonly, ergonomically correct corporate swivel chairs. After many days of shopping and bargaining, our guesthouse is now full of riding gear - many of the items of which I do not even know the names but I’m sure in the upcoming days will know well.

(Mongolian saddle, made of wood - this is the "before" photo)

(Western saddle on the left, "after" photo of Mongolian saddle, right)

A year ago when we first started researching our plan horse trek across Mongolia, Sony happened upon a website of Neale, a sheep herder from Australia who has the same idea of a horse ride across.
Janusz (pronounced ‘Yanush’), a horse expert from Poland also responded to Neale’s website and now we are a four person team.

Since all other inquires to Neale dropped out after he told them what to expect, we are possiblly the four craziest western nomads in the world. Sony and I have no horse experience. (Actually, one experience does come to mind: back in high school, a girl told me to mount a horse (which latter I found out was a race horse). She just galloped away while my horse followed. I held on for dear life as we raced across ski resort runs and treed paths where she yelled at me to keep my knees in (as the horse is only awareness of it’s own body size and doesn’t account for a riders knees as it rounds tightly around trees)).

As bad as our situation sounds – we having no horse experience, it gets worse. Neither Neale nor Janusz have any camping experience. Fortunately, I spend more time in the woods than a forest ranger wandering aimlessly while Sony, having taken the formal route, has passed leadership courses in wilderness survival in Patagonia. What seems like a lifetime of shopping with Neale getting $150 pick-pocketed his last day of shopping and a rotten apple tossed at him, we are finally outfitted. We have beautiful brass bells to be fitted around each horse’s neck so we can possibly find them if they run away at night. There will be eight horses; each of us will have two horses, one to ride, one to pack. We have all the fittings: bridles, harnesses, lead ropes, stirrups, pads, mouth pieces and straps. Neale brought a pattern for pack bags that he designed for a long term ride and had a seamstress fabricate eight bags. Sony, Janusz, and I each bought a Del (traditional Mongolian riding robe) which they plan to ride in but I weighing more want to spare my horse of this extra weight – at least for the first leg of the trip from the eastern border of Mongolia/china back to the capital, Ulanbaatar. I’ve never looked so good in clothing as my blue beautifully patterned soft exterior with heavy warm interior Del.

Whenever I put on traditional Asian clothes, I feel so regal. It is so hard to understand how the world has traded comfort and beauty for the drab western attire of a funeral director as the standard for dress. I still don’t know which side to hang my Johnson in pants – the left side or right? I guess how you dress is how you feel. Thus, if our clothes are any indication of reality for us must be a bleak cloudy Monday morning.

The final items for our trip are riding boots and helmet (bicycle will do). I picked out with the “help” of a mob of spectators a pair of black Mongolian boots while Sony found a nice pair of brown Mexican made cowboy boots. Neale told us the most important thing is that the boot have a smooth leather sole to help get out of the stirrups quickly if necessary.

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