Tess Sullivan from New Zealand discovers the secret beauty of Mongolia...
"There’s nothing like cantering on a Mongolian horse with companions cantering beside you, on a desert morning over a long grassy stretch, when the horses are ready to race and you can’t stop laughing enough to hold them back."
The first few days of The Gobi Desert Cup were quite surreal, as though I were dreaming the whole thing. It took a while to believe I was really riding through a country I’d been longing to see since childhood, on horses with the biggest hearts and hardest hooves I’ve ever met. To be cut off from the world for a week in Mongolia’s vast yet somehow secret beauty was strange and wonderful - I did go slightly mad one day and began to think maybe my whole life up to that point had been a figment of my imagination, but overall my sanity (what there is of it) stayed intact.
Dismounting after the first 80km and trying to walk around like a human being was difficult and I couldn't actually sit down for a while; the horses gait and length of time in the saddle took a bit of getting used to. The herdsmen who took care of the horses are incredibly skilled horsemen, they
know their animals inside out.
The language barrier was a challenge, though some mornings when we were handed the reins we’d be gifted with a murmured “good horse” from one of the herdsmen (when they didn't say anything we got paranoid and started asking “good horse?” just to set ourselves at ease). I never had a bad horse, just bad luck on a couple of days over rough terrain and as Camille would say “this is Mongolia!” - it throws things at you that you just do not expect. In fact, I fell in love with each horse I rode and at the end of the six days I had a bit of a broken heart.
By nature a shy person, I had anticipated the fear of having to talk to strangers. These strangers, by the third night of camping together, eating, drinking (Chinggis Khaan had something to do with it), and using facilities none too private, had become my seriously cool and fun loving friends. There’s nothing like cantering on a Mongolian horse with companions cantering beside you, on a desert morning over a long grassy stretch, when the horses are ready to race and you can’t stop
laughing enough to hold them back (day 5 we rode through some beautiful soft-on-hooves country quite swiftly and spirits were soaring).
The whole experience was totally rich and full of self learning, a challenge of stamina. Both mind and body were put to the test (my test results showed I definitely had room for improvement).
I feel lucky to have ridden in the first ever Gobi Desert Cup alongside such proficient riders who, along with the horses I rode, helped me to improve my horsemanship skills. Simple advice was generously given and much appreciated, like Cindy mentioning that loosening bootlaces would ease the numbness our feet got in the stirrups, a great relief!
The power of the land was remarkable. We tasted airag, occupied a ‘haunted house’ for a night, tackled each other round a fire under the stars, and were exposed magnanimously to a most ancient and extraordinary culture. The Gobi Desert Cup experience has revitalised my sense of adventure and provided me with connections from all over the world.
A huge thank you to EVERYONE involved for their endless patience, generosity and kindness. What a wonderful, life changing time!