Monday, 12 July 2010

horseplay in Ulaanbaatar

Every year just outside Ulaanbaatar there is a horse race. It is a horse race quite unlike any I have ever heard about. Two hundred children aged between five and twelve set off on five year old ponies across the breathtaking Mongolian countryside. After rounding several hills and rising several valleys their final furlongs come into sight some 25 kilometres later. Streaming down the last valley they are met by the tumultous roars of an eager crowd. The entire city comes out to watch the spectacle. After almost two hourse of racing several more able riders break from the bunch and charge with lung-bursting effort towards the glory and fame that awaits one of them. Horses are a big deal in Mongolia and this event is the pinnacle of horse related matters. After the race for five year old ponies comes the more important race for two year olds, again ridden by children.
For several days in advance rich horse-owning Mongolian families will have been camped in their gers readying their horses for the event. Gambling is prohibited but you can tell this is as much of a money game as it is a sport. The child-jockeys are incredible. Let alone it being tough for a pony to run for 25 kilometres, having a child ride them at full pelt while retaining full control is some feat. Each year half a dozen or so children fail to complete the race; generally they are trampled asunder as the race commences with few surviving. To win a race though means grace and favour for the jockey and his family. Until recently the sweat of a five year old pony was deemed to bring good luck with multitudes of supporters thronging the horses as they neared the end of the race. This resulted in further accident so the last few kilometres now have a small makeshift fence. The atmosphere is one of carnival; one of the most wonderful carnivals I could ever imagine. If you ever get the chance it is well worth the 5am alarm call and two hour drive.
Mongolian of the day:- horse :: moir