Mongolia – The Quest to Return Home

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I laughed when he tapped his finger on his horse’s head and said “Here, GPS.” He seemed to know everything about horses.


I laughed when he tapped his finger on his horse’s head and said “here, GPS.” He seemed to know everything about horses. I was listening intently, trying to understand the story he was telling me with his limited English. “Born home” he kept saying, over pronouncing the “o” and rolling his tongue a bit—making it sound more like “holm.” “Born home, ten years, back,” and as I nodded my understanding he grinned and proudly patted the horse he was riding. He really did love those horses. They were a major part of life in Mongolia, a historically nomadic country, and I didn’t meet one Mongolian who thought differently. We were talking as we were riding, and Ogie led the way.

 

...Mongolians thought that the journey of a horse back to his “born home,” usually to “sleep” (die), was a beautiful thing to be celebrated.

There was a wide river to our left that we were following, but the path up ahead curved to the right, went uphill, then veered left again to follow the river from up on some small cliffs. Throughout the green green grasslands there were pockets of trees and wooded areas, and I made a mental note to start paying attention once we reached the trees at the top of the hill. My poor little legs were vulnerable, and my horse had proven to be kind of a butthead. During the trip, Ogie broke a branch off of a tree each day, and instructed me to slap my stubborn horse’s backside. I felt bad at first, I didn’t want to hurt the horse, until it was clear that this specific horse had no intention of keeping a decent pace unless I made him.

Ogie was explaining to me how intelligent Mongolian horses were. They knew the way back to their birthplaces even after 10 years of living in another place, after they had been bought and transported to their new homes, he told me. It was their amazing GPS brains, no doubt. It took me five minutes to understand that one sentence from him, but I didn’t mind. We were in absolutely no rush. It was midmorning and the only place I needed to be was back in the capital by nightfall. Ulaanbaatar was less than a couple hours away.

If they saw a horse frantically run by on this journey, they would throw some milk in the air, to show their happiness and to wish the horse good luck.

Ogie kept talking about the “born home.” “Born home, see horse, happy happy!” He motioned he was sprinkling something into the air around him. “Milk” he said as he reached in his imaginary bucket with his hands, “happy, happy!” as he threw the invisible milk droplets in the space between us and the horses. I looked at him, confused, but earnestly trying to understand. Bless his heart, he was always extremely patient. He got off his horse, and proceeded to explain his story to me using rocks and exaggerated charades. Ogie always had a big, goofy smile on his face during the entire three days that we were trekking outside of Terelj National Park. To sum up a 30 minute one-man show, he said that the Mongolians thought that the journey of a horse back to his “born home,” usually to “sleep” (die), was a beautiful thing to be celebrated. If they saw a horse run by on this journey, they would throw some milk in the air, to show their happiness and to wish the horse good luck. And, my favorite part, if the owner so happened to ask if those same people had seen his missing horse, they would say no. They related to the horse and his sacred journey. Ogie’s charades for that answer was hilarious, shrugging his shoulders and looking down at the ground, with a sheepish “don’t know.” “You would lie?!” I chided. “Horse, born home, good,” he smiled, that goofy grin that took up his whole face.

Ogie was my Mongolian guide on my 3 day horse trek. He looked to be in his mid 40s, and was helping his brother-in-law over the summer taking tourists for horse rides. He lived in the city of Ulaanbaatar during the year with his family. Ogie told me stories about horse racing (he started when he was 7), mud racing in jeeps, and the crazy things he and his Mongolian friends did for fun (with photos).

Our trek in the grasslands was one of the most beautiful experiences I’ve had. It was pure and untouched. We rode through clear rivers, through tall trees, on green grass that continued up to the hills. We passed goats, sheep, horses, and cows. We passed gers: the traditional, round dwellings that rural Mongolians still use today, and slept in a tent. The air was clear, the ground was filled with poop, but the skies were filled with stars. On the last day I finally managed the courage to gallop! As I got off my horse and onto the bus to Ulaanbaatar, it started to rain. Perfect timing.

Written and Photographed by Lexi Dyer

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