Sunday, March 30, 2014

A Beautiful Filly Arrives .... Life is Great Today Out at Khot Ail!!

Look what happened this morning at Khot Ail camp!

Yes, Baagii and Saraa's herd has increased by one! Sometime after 5:00 this morning  one of Baggii's mares, all alone, out in the far corner of the yard with no fuss, muss or warning  delivered her third foal ...
 A gorgeous curly looking little filly, who is full of  life!


These shots were taken when she was somewhere in the neighbourhood of 4 hours old which, if you are lucky enough to be born a Mongolian horse means, shortly before you get to go on your first outing!

 ..a 2 km round trip with the herd out to have a drink of  water!!
 I don't know how it is done in other places, but I was amazed to see that both mom and babe were taken along with the herd out to drink.  It is just turning to spring here and the river is still frozen, so, to get to the spot that has been kept open all winter is a trek of about 1 or 1.5 km...each way!!  The little one is very healthy and energetic...
 ...but after an hour or so of trotting after Mom 

  and helping Caikhnaa round up the was

 ...time for a little standing nap!

Of course, it was a big event for all of the animals out at Khot Ail...especially the proud Papa!! Yes, this long haired wonder is the stallion .  Mongolians don't cut the manes on stallions usually, which does make it easier to spot one in the huge free range herds that you run into from time to time!

And a couple of very curious members of the herd.  It was lovely to see how they all surrounded the pen and refused to leave just waiting to get a chance to meet the newest member of the family!

 And in case you're wondering, mama is hobbled because she has kicked her last two foals (which lead to a sudden and unfortunate end for the foals!) and Baagii is trying to stop it from happening to this little angel!
And here are a couple of close ups I've included for those curly horse people out there! As you have seen, neither the mother not the father are particularly curly, but this foal certainly seems to be!
 This is a bit of a mystery here in Mongolia though - a lot of foals here seem to be born with curls which they then, eventually lose or settle into being a wave in the tail and mane.  
This is last year's foal ( same stallion) who also seems to have some curls left.  I  need someone much more knowledgeable than me to come out and give me an opinion as to whether or not we have some curly genetics going on here...any takers??

 I will vouch for the fact that she certainly is soft though! This was such a special morning for me.  The first truly new born foal I've had a chance to meet and be around. Having come to the "horsey" world late in life, this is all a tremendous learning curve and  just a wonderful experience.  So much fun!

 I really hope she keeps this startling RED mane!  It will be gorgeous!

 And I do wonder how long Dad and the rest of the clan are going to hang around the corral gate!  It was so cute - the stallion was really riled up and spent most of the morning either staring at his new baby or rounding up all of the other mares to make sure he had his whole harem!  My first experience with a 
horse "new Dad"... I'm pretty sure he would have been handing out cigars if he could have!

 Anyway, it looks very much like mom and babe are both doing just fine.  And I'm so happy that I happened to be out at the ger for the happy event!
Isn't she just beautiful??  And there are 5 more to come... ashgui ashgui ashgui dee!  .. or ...Hooray!

Saturday, February 8, 2014

A Two Blog Day... Part One....Small Town Winter Naadam

It was supposed to be a "Veloo Foundation" day - a day when I went out to the countryside to , in conjunction with the wonderful ladies from the International Equestrian Club and Saraa & Baagii from Saraa's Ger Camp , deliver a new ger to a very very needy family out in Erdene Zoum, a small community about 60 kms outside of UB.  We had met this family a week or so previously- well, technically  3 single moms with their combined 8 children and handicapped younger brother all living together in one ger.  Yes, one ger - a circular dwelling about 17 feet in diameter housing twelve people.  That's what we thought we were heading to ....but, in typical Mongolian fashion, what happened next could not have been anticipated.  Don't worry though ... we did manage to meet the family, deliver and build the ger and make sure that from now on  they would have a safe and warm second ger for their family to spread out into....but that, of necessity, is going to be another blog.  This one is about what ELSE happened.
So, ladies and gentlement of the audience, follow me this the local Erdene Zoum winter wrestling or archery, but 18 kms of horse racing, by children, at minus 20 or so, and with everyone decked out in their new Tsagaan Sar finery - a glittering gorgeous celebration of the official end of winter.  Mongolian Style.
First, it was up on horses for the children and off they go...trotting out 9 kms in the "brisk" morning air where they will turn around and gallop home.
So here's the wonderful thing for me....because we were out there helping out the poorest members of the community, the local Governor treated us to a wonderful Mongolian meal in his office and then escorted us through the security gate so that we could join the official cars and drive along with the kids on the race, affording us a very very rare look at the ongoing situation as the ride progresses!
So here's how it works...everyone is following that flag.  In the dust, snow, and ice fog it is sometimes hard to see where you're going, so....just follow the flag!
Out on the course we witnessed dozens  competitions.  Dozens of head to head mini races, and almost all of them  involving children riding at full gallop.... bareback.  Some really amazing technique out there.  I was in awe of how smooth the children were on the back of these wonderful Mongolian mounts.

Such intensity...
And, of course, the cold... not that Mongolians ( or their horses for that matter!) seem to mind the cold!

This little guy battled and battled to try and pass the two lead horses but couldn't quite make it.  He seemed pretty chuffed with 3rd place though!
...and we got to  meet him and his Dad after the race...another random Mongolian Moment.  I promised to develop these pictures ( and more!!) and get them up to him in Hintee when we ride up there in May ( 350 kms or so away)...Only in Mongolia!

For me, the race was only a small part of the fun & beauty though...I really loved getting a chance to people watch...including this valiant Mongol mounted on his metal steed and listening to heavy metal on his Ipod.  Gorgeous!  He was as interested in the race as the old ( and young!) men & women in their traditional dells ( long coats).  

So, some of my potentially obscure observations...first of all, lots and lots of the kids had similar looking snow suits to ride in.

As they thunder by at lightning speed...
...I can only imagine that it makes finding your own little rider...

...that much more difficult!
Although, I have to say, it didn't seem to present too much of a problem to this very concerned Dad looking for his boy to come in...
And his concern is justified.  Every race there is one or two horses that come in without riders.  As this is one of the smaller races, lots of the children were riding without helmets.  The child from this horse wasn't hurt - at least that's what I heard - but moving forward the good news is that there is increasing pressure to ensure that all these little racers are protected with safety equipment.  Quite a battle though as this is the way it has "always been done".
The race grounds are a festival of colour and culture.  Everywhere you look there are horses waiting  for the race, just trotting around, or recovering from the race.
...and their people.  Wonderful Mongol herders who still live the lifestyle of their ancestors...complete with the traditional accoutrements needed to take care of their horses.
Oh, and colourful dells.  Lots and lots of them!
Texting herders..the new normal.
It's just past Tsagaan Sar - the Lunar New Year when everyone gets new clothes...and it was pretty evident when you looked around at the pastel of colour decorating the race grounds!

Of course, the well dressed Mongol not only has a new deel - but a new dell that matches his horse blanket!  Beautiful!
Part of the  necessary routine is walking your race horse around after the race to help him cool off.  Everyone gets in the act...

...and I do mean everyone!!  Little ones get one horse to walk around..
When you get to be a professional, you get more!

For me, some of the most beautiful things about the day ( other than careening across the steppe at about 40 kms / hr trying to get ahead of the riders for some great photo opportunities!) was just people watching.  The clothes, the colour, the culture and the wonderful enjoyment of the people out relishing a great community day out - complete with traditional Naadam Khooshuur - think meat filled samosa...minus the spice.  Here's some of my favourite snaps from the day.

Sheepskin lined dells ...everywhere!
Not to mention the fur hats!!

and the history written on so many faces.
All the race horses have this wonderful tail binding...I'm told it is so that their tail doesn't get tangled with their legs while they run.

Love this one...keeping an eye on his horse...I don't know what the horse is keeping an eye on!

How proud was this little guy??  A true training!

Easy Rider! 
 This is the wrestling stadium for the summer Naadam where I got to do just what he's doing last summer as I watched the wrestling.  Wonderful memories being here for both the summer and winter Naadams!


...and the children in their new glad rags!  SO gorgeous!   They were all so happy!!

Winter made glittery!!  The most sensible sort of decorations really - warm and beautiful!!

At the end of the day, this winter naadam  seems to me to be  all about family and community.  It's about Dads  honouring their families and culture in their Mongol best and passing along the tradition of riding and racing to their sons... yes sons...mostly, although some girls do ride in the race.  Despite the pink outfit, this is a boy getting on the horse with the help of his Dad.  
It's about community,and competition and continuity.
It's about keeping the culture alive and providing a showcase for the special skills of those countryside folk who work so hard to train their horses and teach their children the time honoured skill of truly riding.  It's about the continuing  living rope of being the last horse culture on the planet continuing to unroll.

Oh, and it's about winning too!
..and caring for your horse, and passing that knowledge along to the next generation. Oh, and about catching up for a good gossip with your far-flung friends!

Not to mention, it's about looking good!

Oh, and just in case you were curious, yes,  even with this amazing winter Naadam experience we managed to deliver and build a new ger for that needy family out there in the countryside.  It was truly a two ( or maybe three!) blog day....but, that is the way of it, here the end of the earth!