Genghis Khan created the largest empire in the history of the world on the back of a horse. He believed in “khiimori,” or “wind horse” — a human quality that remains essential to Mongolians 900 years later. Wind horse is the strength of your spirit, your inspiration, your courage. Khiimori is like the soul of the horse and the spirit of the earth and the sky. It is these untamed places in Mongolia.
Although the spirit of the horse is central to Mongolian culture, our horses do not have names. Instead, we are told, each horse is called by one of the 63 Mongolian words for “brown horse.” No one can tell me which of those 63 words has been assigned to my brown horse so I want to give him a name. Because my horse is small and has a certain sweetness, I try out Tango and Packy and Raisin. But after our first canter across the valley together, I know these names are not right. This small, sweet horse is so big in spirit, I call him Moksha, which is Hindi for liberation.
One day we ride for five hours through the rolling green hills We pass through wooded areas carpeted with wildflowers. Many are familiar. Buttercup. Delphinium. Queen Anne’s lace. Something else that looks like lupin. Walls of conifers frame the horizon. Some one says they are larch trees. Raptors fly overhead. Wolves live here.
In the stretch before we return to camp, Page announces that we will compete in a walking race. Races at Lapis Sky camp are usually referred to as “thunderhooves.” Page calls the walking race “sprinklehooves.” Moksha is disqualified immediately for breaking into a trot.
Our Mongolian horses live mostly as they would in the wild, as a herd in the open spaces. They work out their relationships. They touch each other a lot. They eat whatever grasses are available, drink from the river and run. The horses are loved but they are not accustomed to being treated tenderly. I take apple chunks to Moksha one morning. We laugh when he lifts his head and curls his lip at the apple smell. These horses do not recognize apples as food.
The horses are healthy and mentally well-adjusted. Moksha is 21 with the energy of a 5-year-old and the common sense of a 21-year-old. The horsemen do not groom the horses or shoe or trim their horses’ hooves. And yet the horses seem to have perfect feet and arrive at camp in the mornings with clean shiny coats. Someone asked a horseman how long it takes to train a Mongolian horse. “About a day.”
The horsemen who take us out on rides do not speak English but they are a distinct presence and a brotherhood. They sing and whistle. They sit lop sided on their horses in a type of equestrian swagger. They giggle at each other. During a ride, one tries to undo the cinch on another’s saddle. When Jaagi approaches Boro from behind, Boro pulls Jaagi over his head and flips him to the ground.
The horsemen are also very competitive. Moments after they see a video of one of the American women jumping her horse, they run to the woods for poles and build a three foot fence in the field. In the United States, much larger horses might practice over ground poles and one foot fences for months before they are asked to tackle a three foot fence. But right there in real time our Mongolian horsemen are determined to get their horses over that three foot fence. As we watch from the edge of the field, I think of rodeo clowns. One of the horsemen stands his horse a foot in front of the fence, urging it to pop over from a standstill. The others charge at the fence from different directions, sometimes simultaneously. On several attempts, the horses dodge the fence in the last stride. But within a few minutes, they all get their horses over that fence.
One day after they have ridden with us for 4 hours, the horseman invite us to a “Yak Rodeo,” which involves a large herd of yaks, a variety of fast-paced stunts and a couple of mares that have never been ridden. Only one of the animals presents a meaningful challenge to its rider’s skills. The rest seem mainly puzzled. On the sidelines, we laugh and applaud.
And then I have to say goodbye to Moksha. He stands patiently while I hold his head next to my cheek and rub his forehead. Yeah, wind horse.