Day 6 – Covering Some Territory

After a rainy night I was up at 7am.  Packed up my stuff – rolled up my air mattress and my sleeping bag and then had my morning workout of forcing my sleeping bag into its stuff sack.  There was no end to the frustration this caused me every time.  It was oatmeal for breakfast and then the tents came down and it was time to get back in the saddle for day 2 of riding.

I skipped a few steps in the process.  While we’re managing our personal stuff the drivers and translators are managing their personal stuff and the food tent and all the other camp stuff that we all use – toilet, hand washing station, firewood, etc…  and the wranglers are managing their personal stuff and the saddling of the horses.

Today I learned a few things about horses, or at least my horse, he’s got a fear of big rocks.  At the same time I learned this I also learned that I can stay on when he’s spooked.  I also learned that he doesn’t really like it when the lead rope is dropped.  Something about something unfamiliar flapping around down by his head makes him uncomfortable.  I can’t say I blame him.  My final lesson for the day was that he’s not a huge fan of crossing questionable streams.  He did eventually cross it, but it took a lot of work on my part to get him to.

We stopped for a snack/lunch break at a local ger.  This was a pretty amazing experience.  All 15 of us rode up and were invited in.  They didn’t know we were coming, but were completely prepared to welcome us and feed us.  The family consisted of the grandparents and 5 grandchildren – at least that is who was present.  We were served milk tea (green teak, yak milk & salt), aaruul (dried yogurt), and fried butter (butter, flour, and sugar).  All were very tasty.  We finished with milk vodka (not as strong as vodka from the store) which is given as a digestive aid.  Milk vodka is served in a bowl that the host has filled and offered to the oldest (or most respectable) male in the room.  He drinks his fill and then passes it back to the host.  The host refills the bowl and then passes it to the next person.  This continues on until everyone has had a drink.  Then it gets passed around again.  We were told it would be perfectly acceptable for us to just lie down and take a nap, but we had ground to cover so were on our way.

We rode for a few hours more before we came to camp.  When camp was in view we saw the most amazing thing – our tents were up!  Larry, our intern for the week (he wasn’t really an intern, but he wasn’t riding so got to do work type stuff without getting paid), had set up our tents.  We were also greeted by the kids who lived at the nearby gers.  We were camped near a river and a bath sounded good.  So I went for a swim – a very bracing swim (bracing = short).  It impressed the kids, they wanted me to try diving, but the water was maybe 2 feet deep so I didn’t think that was a good idea.

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Dinner was vegetable soup and steamed buns. I also had a bit of the mutton soup that the men were eating.  After dinner we visited one of the nearby gers.  We were in search of milk and hoping to make a trade.  Once again we were drinking milk tea, but for food this time we had boortsog (fried bread) and  orom (clotted cream).

I’m not sure why I was worried about food on this trip.  So far there has been gobs of it and it’s all been quite tasty.

The family that lives at the ger we stopped at has one son.  He is 7 years old and quite the horse rider.

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The father proudly told us that he has retired 2 horses already because he gallops so much.  Everyday he gallops, gallops, gallops.  The boy told us that he had inspected our horses and that there were 2, maybe 3, that were good.  I’m assuming Roy John was one of them.

We headed back to camp and to bed at 10p.

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The view at 10pm from the door of my tent.

Zavkhan Trekking

Day 5 – Let’s Ride

I woke up bright and early at 6:30am.  Walked around camp, helped Haldi start fires, washed some dishes, and was ready for breakfast at 8am.

Jen, our tour guide with Zavkhan Trekking,  and Haldi, one of our translators, did a test ride of all the horses.  They then chatted about which horse would be best with which rider.  After all the deliberations were over, we were helped into the saddles and set off.   We each named our horses.

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Roy John

I named mine Roy John after my grandfather.  I spent a lot of time chatting with him.

Today was meant to be just an easy introductory ride.  And for most of us it was.  However, about 20 min in, Saruul’s (one of the translators) horse spooked and threw him off.  We all dismounted to wait for the wranglers to encourage his horse to rejoin the group.

We rode for about 3 hours, including a snack break.  We walked and we trotted.  I feel like my lessons paid off, but I also feel like it would have been good to manage a few more lessons.

We returned to camp just in time for a neighboring herder to herd his sheep in to camp.  One of our drivers and wranglers managed to identify the perfect specimen.

In no time this sheep had been slaughtered and was being prepped for dinner.  All things mutton seemed to fall under the purview of the Mongolian men.  I joined them for an afternoon snack of liver and heart.  It was tasty.

The rest of the afternoon was a bit lazy.  Lots of reading and napping happened.

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Dinner was curry and salad.  Then we spent some time chatting around the campfire.  Bedtime was about 10:40p.

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A Saddle

I’ve had 4 more lessons since my last post.  I’ve managed to touch my toes when Lukas says.  I’ve made Lola trot and gallop without Lukas’ assistance and I’ve made some jumps – some small jumps.  With no hands or saddle.

Today I got a saddle.  Pretty excited about that.  I feel like an angel who has earned her wings.  I’m was so anxious that I had two dreams about it last night.  The first wasn’t so bad, I dreamt I overslept.  The second Jackie and I were chatting while we were waiting for Lukas to assign us our horses for the day and we see Lukas walk up with two elephants.  Not sure what that meant.

We saddled up our horses – or rather I mostly watched the horses get saddled up.  Today I was riding Mario.  He’s a little less sensitive than Lola and since I’m totally inept that’s probably good.  We walk the horses to the paddock and get on.  I discover that my saddle has no horn.  I wanted a horn.  I wanted to hold on to the horn for dear life.  Today we galloped, we trotted, and we walked.  We did a lot of walking.  We also did some little jumps.  For the most part Mario and I followed Jackie and her horse around.  I didn’t mind that at all.

After our lesson, Jackie and I rode through the back part of the neighborhood that the stables are in.  Early on, Mario and I had a bit of a battle to see who was in charge.  I might have won, but it’s just as likely that Mario decided I wasn’t worth the fight.  I then learned how to remove the saddle and the harness and how to care for the horses after they’ve been worked.

Lots of confidence built today.  Plus, I rode for a whole hour.  I think that brings my total riding experience to about 3 hours.

1st Horseback Riding Lesson

I figured it was a good idea to give horseback riding a try before I committed to 14 days in the saddle.  I just happen to have a friend in Chiang Mai, Jackie, who rides and she arranged for me to take lessons at the Skill Center Chiang Mai.

Before I rode I watched Jackie ride.  Jackie is basically a pro.  Her horse is very tall and she made him jump things.  When it was my turn to ride I was very relieved to meet Lola.  She’s 1/2 Thai pony and 1/2 Arabian and much smaller than Jackie’s horse.  (unfortunately her personality is much bigger than Jackie’s horse.)  Lukas, the trainer, got Lola ready and says it’s time to go.  I notice there is no saddle and I’m a little distressed by this.  But because I don’t want to seem like the total noob I am I don’t ask why.  I just go along with it.  Lola does have a harness with handles.  I figure handles are good.

We get out to the riding area (I’ve since learned that it’s called a paddock) and Lukas expertly assists me in getting on the horse.  He gives me instruction on how not to look like a rag doll while riding.  (I’d only been on 60 seconds and was already showing my lack of skill.)  Now that I know to hug with my heels, to leave my knees relaxed, and to not lean forward like I’m on a bicycle I’m ready.  We spend the next 15 minutes doing yoga on horseback.  Lola trots, I hold up my inside arm.  I hold up my outside arm.  I don’t think it’s possible, but when I’m told to hold up both arms I do.  I twist my body so I can touch her tail with my left hand.  Then I do the same with my right hand.  Then Lukas asks the impossible.  While Lola is trotting he says, “Touch your left hand to your left foot.”  I think, I process.  I am skeptical, but I try and I get really close.  Then it’s time for right hand to right foot.  Less thinking and less skepticism and I am almost successful.  Then things get ridiculous.  Left hand to right foot?  I look at my right foot.  I look at my left hand.  I give it a go.  I almost get my hand to my knee.  The other side goes just as well.  We do a few more circles and then I give Lola a hug and hop down.  My legs don’t want to support my weight and they surely don’t want to walk.  They were exausted.

1st lesson done.  It felt like a success and I was convinced that I could manage hour after hour for 2 weeks.