This is what it was all about on Saturday..without a doubt the most impressive display of horsemanship I expect I will ever see ...over and over and over again. From 6 year olds, and 10 year olds and 14 year olds...and so on. Somewhere in the neighbourhood of 4,600 children ( and a few adults!) massed on the steppe to try and break the World Record for the largest horse race....a feat they managed handily seeing as the previous record was 288. Yes, that is correct...288 vs. 4,600. Mongolia officially kicked inner Mongolia's collective horse racing ass... and here's how it unfolded for me.
The day before the race I had ( with a few of my great friends!) participated in Mongolia's oh so VERY successful attempt to break the World Record for the largest Horse Parade....8883 vs. 11,200..yes Mongolia truly rules in the " horse" category...and had spent the night camping out on the steppe in preparation for this event. The sight that greeted me in the morning was this tiniest of all Mongolian saddles being put on one of our horses in preparation for our littlest jockey ( 10 years old!!). And yes, this is the "assistance" he has for his upcoming 36 km race as opposed to the bareback that almost everyone else rode...
But wait! We had two horses in the race..this one is (technically..and I'll take that!) mine!
Moogii putting on the official colours!
Now don't they look like real race horses..?? Well...?? Don't they?!!
After being saddled and warmed up ( a lovely ritual that involves the jockey riding in large circles around camp singing victory songs!) it was time to head across the steppe to the start line ..to get ready for..
And, yes, they do look a lot more like race horses now don't they??!! Anyway, before I spill the beans about how they did, let's look at what the race was really all about ( ..and not just how MY horse did..)
By my reckoning the day was really mostly about Mongolian culture, history and the living face of the horseman in Mongolia. I don't think there is anywhere else on earth that you could get 4,600 (or so!) children who not only could race for 36 kms but who would.
..and who would do it with a grace and style that is rarely found in full grown riders...and would do it without saddles! I think the scene above could easily ( if you changed the jockeys!) be a race course anywhere in the world.
Ok..so that wasn't fair - going from the fluid grace and beauty of those pint sized athletes to ..well..us. But here it is - Robyn, Nigel, Baggii and myself were in the first full flush of having broken a World Record the day before ( a bit of a stretch - in truth we did have help breaking the record - ..but I have to say it was so much FUN!!...see previous (stolen) blog!) and were excited to be there to witness ( hopefully) a repeat of the smashing of the record..hopefully with our horse doing well! What a treat we were in for! So without making you wait any longer, here is the breakdown...
In first place..
This amazingly fast GIRL thundering by (bareback!!) well in front of her nearest competitor!
Pretty casual for a girl who was the front of THIS pack...that just kept coming and coming and coming. Turns out it takes about an hour for 4,600 riders to thunder across the finish line. Epic and really awe inspiring...
And here we have the second fastest of the 4,600..so relaxed 200 yards from the finish that he..
..decided it was time to adjust the back strap...no worries about FALLING OFF!!
Third and Fourth place.. want to guess their ages?
And fifth. I LOVE this picture! 36 kms into the race and the drive to speed is still there.. in every fibre of his ( her?) little 8 year old body!
Which brings us to the rest of the mosaic that was the day, like..who watches these races anyway? A LOT of very well dressed Mongolians.. and a few oh so well dressed expats..
..although some of us were bourgeois enough to show up without a deel!
And like just about everyone there, we were all watching for our horses...last seen looking somewhat sleepy tied up by the car..and then..there they were!
Both of them!! Running nose to tail to the finish line and placing somewhere in the neighbourhood of 350th out of 4,600...and BOTH of our little jockeys not only well and on the horses but driving with agility and determination toward the finish line!! We were as ecstatic as if it had been the Kentucky Derby!
Beautiful... just beautiful.
And the crowd agreed! Everyone, whether watching from horseback or pressed up to the fence was astonished and amazed by the spectacle unfolding before our eyes. It defies description to see horse after horse galloping by with a pint sized jockey sitting easily ( often completely immobile) atop ....
Of course, in a crowd of 4,600 you are found to have some characters...
Totally cracked me up!! Oh, and yes, I was also pretty impressed with the ability !
And there were a few adults reliving their childhood racing history...
But hey, everyone who raced put us one farther up in the record book..right? .. Right??!
Looking toward the finish line...
There were, surprisingly, very few riderless horses finishing, but each one puts that spike of fear in you..
As does the seemingly inevitable moment when a horse goes down and no matter how much his rider tries, just can't get back up.
It was a sobering moment watching this valiant horse's heart just quit - 200 yards from the finish line. So sad.
Even the locals were surprised by it.
But there were also the moments like this one where the rider was forgoing speed to make sure that his other horse ( or his friend's horse?) made it to the finish line in one piece. Truthfully, I thought he was going to jump from one horse to the other ...at a full gallop! Fortunately for my heart, he didn't!
But he wasn't alone in making sure that the horse was ok...as you would expect in the last surviving horse culture in the world, the importance of winning is much less than making sure that your horse is ok!
...and I did get a chance to observe a multi cultural norm illustrating that no matter where you are or what you're doing.... 15 year olds find EVERYTHING boring...
But not the little ones.. no matter if it was a race for 4th place, 45th place, 455th place or 4,555th place, the intensity was there over and over and over again! It was beautiful!
And our jockeys, at the end were tired but very very pleased with themselves..and their ( our!) horses!
And, of course, like any major event, there were tons of people around with food, drink and entertainment... oh, and camels. Have to say that doesn't usually happen at a county fair back home!
And the requisite "tourist" photo ops ... like the biggest morin khur on the planet..and it's virtuoso player! And yes, this is the whole gang who made it all happen..
From left to right:
Moogii.. owner of the brown race horse
Baterdene...One of the horse transport drivers
?? .. Sorry - another one of the drivers
Jimba...our lovely little jockey
Robyn Hepburn.. world record holder
Nigel Brown .. world record holder
Chelvan Veloo.. amazing massive Morin Khur virtuoso
?? Sorry.. driver's wife
Saraa... our intrepid camp master and trek organizer
Baagii.. our fearless leader and horse "khan"
Zolaa.. the great and wondrous jockey who rode our horse to certain victory!
...and his Dad.. Sumbei... a truly proud Papa!
Quite a day - quite a race - quite an experience.
Thank you Mongolia for another truly unique ( and I will soon have the book to prove it!) experience. And thanks to Guinness who gave us all a reason to come together to participate ( one way or the other!) in this wonderful experience!
And, of course, to the thousands of Mongolian Dads ( and Moms!) who have passed on their skills and love of horses to their kids. It has truly made the world a more beautiful place.
...just like us in our deels...right? Right??!!