It's official. I am an equestrienne. I mean, I must be.... I have my own saddle. That makes you a professional.... doesn't it? Last week I decided that if I was going to carry on learning how to ride, I had better get some of my own gear so that I could set it up as I liked. One of my friends from the ger was in town and very graciously helped me pick out a saddle at the Black Market, the largest open-air market in all of Asia and (someday!!) the topic of it's very own blog!
Here it is!! Isn't it beautiful??? The first thing you notice about it is, of course, that it doesn't quite look like this guy's saddle...
His, of course, is the traditional Mongolian saddle ( and yes, this photo was taken about 200 yards away from our ger which kind of makes me think we may have moved into the wild west!!...hmmmnnn..) but that doesn't mean mine isn't Mongolian. It was, in fact, made right here in Mongolia....but to be truthful, I don't think many Mongolians would actually have bought it. It seems like they all prefer their traditional wood saddle. Yup, it's wood. Essentially no padding either!! My saddle, on the other hand, ( with the addition of just a touch of memory foam!) is wonderfully comfortable and has already allowed me to really get to some truly astonishing places with some wonderful people- in comfort!
My first ride with the new saddle....a 3 hour trot being led by my lovely neighbour and horseback riding guide / instructor really taught me a lot about the rhythm of the ride and balance. Oh, and about the joy of posting....for three hours. If you haven't ridden it is hard to describe really what that means. Three hours of posting is kind of like 26 hours of hiking, or 2 hours of stair climbing, or 1,376 jumping jacks, or boot camp or .... well you get the idea. It is about finding the point at which your muscles are completely exhausted ...and then doing it for another hour. Surprisingly, although I was tired at the end, the next day it was pretty much all good.
And yesterday, with a little help from my friends, using the balance that I learned on the three hour trot, I even progressed to the point where I can make my horse do pretty much what I want...start, stop, slow down, speed up (well...to a trot so far - haven't had the guts / practise? yet to work up to a canter or a gallop!), go left, go right, cross the river ( HOORAY!! that was a tough one!) or even just walk fast!! I felt very chuffed about it all! Mostly because there are just so many wonderful spots to explore on horseback here and with every step I make toward being able to ride alone more and more spectacular opportunities arise!
The view from the top of the hill! Yesterday was the first time that I got to the top of anything without being on a lead and having a Mongolian guide drag my horse up the slope. Lovely knowing how to make that animal go! And stop - after my horse bolted a half a kilometer or so across the steppe the first time out, I am particularly pleased about knowing how to make it stop..... just sayin'.
Me, along with one of the girls in my group yesterday and my neighbour at the ger acting as the guide for our ladie's horsback riding morning. Once a week we head out to the countryside to go horseback riding, hiking, sightseeing, or just plain relaxing by the river. Some ladies ride for two hours, some for one, some for twenty minutes. We have been at it since the first week of September and everyone, so far, is loving it!! Especially me - which is good really, because I set up the riding group as a clever way for me to get the chance to go riding on a regular basis. Completely self serving. But fun!
Yesterday we went up hill and down dale ( so steep we had to lead the horses..!!!) crossed the river several times, ambled through the beautiful greenery beside the river, and just generally thoroughly enjoyed the ride!
And while it is true that sometimes in Mongolia with the crazy, busy life that we all seem to live you often don't know if you're coming or going, somehow when you are out on horseback, it all very nicely gets put into perspective.
...Speaking of perspective...
And yes, that is me out on the steppe with a ger in the background - my first day with my new saddle. The adventure has begun. Again.