During autumn riding in Mongolia, the colors of nature offer a visual feast making the grasslands look magnificent in a multitude of hues of yellow, red and brown. Typically, the days are sunny and warm. With the setting sun, the days’ warmth gives in to crisp temperatures – and cozy evenings in a heated tent that Stone Horse Expeditions takes along on these late season trips.
There is more that makes autumn riding great. The horses are a close-knit crew, having several months of team travel in the back-country behind them. All know, and most – it seems – enjoy their job. They are settled into the team rules and roles that they’ve worked out, especially when new team mates have joined the herd at the beginning of the season.
National Parks in Mongolia preserve Natural and Cultural Heritage
In September, herders begin moving back into the park, grazing their herds to strengthen the animals for another winter ahead. Gorkhi Terelj National Park is a cultural landscape, and customary nomadic livestock husbandry is maintained. Well managed grazing is compatible with grasslands conservation, and in Mongolia, local herders continue to use the resources of National Parks.
Gorkhi Terelj National Park is home to traditional herder families and many of the grassland areas are important hay making resources that are crucial for winter preparation. Haymaking begins in August but we encounter the camps of haymakers until September. The landscape is dotted with hay mounds; temporary storage until the hay is brought in – piled up at the winter camp sites or neatly stored on top of a livestock shelter to make for extra protection. As fall grows colder, winter preparations proceed and the winter camps are coming alive. Livestock corrals are cleaned so that their ground is just dried dung; accumulated over many years, and several generations, this bedding of dung is insulation and crucial to provide warmth for livestock in winter. Livestock dung is also used to seal fences or built walls for shelter – and it is stored as fuel for heating and cooking. The deserted winter camps that we pass in the summer season now look neat, the winter gers are set up and smoke is rising from their chimneys.
Equine Behavior – Great Sights in the Grasslands of Mongolia
Out in the grasslands, we encounter herds of livestock – yak, cattle and – horses. It is always exciting to see a large herd of horses in the great grasslands – and to witness equine behavior. We see the stallion rounding up his herd and reign in curious youngsters. The foals of this year are hiding behind their mothers as the herd moves along. Then, the whole herd may stop, turn to us as we ride past, and watch.
And often enough, they come close and sometimes run with us. Or they may take off in a great burst, crossing the plains in front of our group. This will prompt our wranglers, or all of us, to keep our pack horses – running along free usually – from joining the large herd as it takes flight to the open grasslands. I can feel the excitement of my horse as he also wants to join and run – with a big herd, across the steppes and under the big sky. It is kind of a temptation actually to let him go for it, but with the whole team including the packhorses, it’s not a good idea.
Horseback Riding in the Wild – Connecting to the Land and Life
On days when we don’t move camp and it’s only our group on saddle horses out for a day ride, we enjoy a bit of a run when the terrain offers itself for it. And again, autumn is great for that, when the ground is clearer to see – for horse and rider, when you smell the sweat of your horse through the stinging cold air and when, as you slow down to enter the larch forests, golden needles rain down on you and settle on the horse’s coat now already growing thicker for the winter ahead.
Then, we settle back into walking and trotting and taking in the details along the trail and beyond and above. As that is what our horseback travels in the wild are really about – to be there, to see the land and the life in it and to experience the wild and true, to be in nature that is changing yet everlasting, to be home. To experience this is what we like to show to our guests. And horses, with their honesty, their connection to the land, their strength and grace are great facilitators for that.
I have always liked autumn, the smell, the colors, the autumn sun, the air and cold. On horseback the autumn sensations seem multiplied, soaking up the sights of the landscape, the autumn sky and the time with my horse. Now, at the end of the riding season, we are so accustomed to each other.
Trust and Cooperation between Horse and Rider
My horse “Good Boy”, when I am ready to get on, turns his head and often gives me a bit of a lift. (In the summer, I first thought he was seizing the moment to scratch his nose, but as the season progressed, and flies were gone, it became clear that it was a little push from him to get me in the saddle.) When I have to stop, or stay behind while the group rides on, he just waits for me – no tying or holding the lead line; he just waits for me even though he is anxious when separated from the herd, and particularly from his older brother, – “Little Brother”, my husband’s trusted saddle horse.
I rise a bit and lean forward, maybe I whisper to him, and he falls in a faster trot or a canter; I lean left or right and he turns. I take many pictures from the saddle, and ask him to stop, turn here and there, back up, or catch up. He really does cooperate to take photos, and I think he is even getting an eye for a good angle. And therefore, I cooperate when he sees an exceptional thistle or his favorite herbs a little off the trail that he has to sample…
Horseback Expeditions – Fitness and Strength for Body and Soul
At the end of the season, with autumn well advanced and the first snows telling of the nearing winter, I am both tired and strong, sad and happy. A bit worn from months of long days of making and breaking camp, of keeping guests and our team well fed, of riding, horseback photography, scouting out tracks and crossing rivers and mountain passes. In the wilderness, I am at ease and alert at the same time. It makes for a satisfying kind of tiredness. After four months of riding I am strong though, from daily saddling, riding, and all the work in camp, all of which is a great fitness and strength program in the best gym there is.. I am happy that everybody,- of our guests, our team and our herd, – has returned safely and with good memories. And sad that the season is over – and with it the closeness – to my horse, to the land, the wilderness, and to great companionship.
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Check out the 2014 schedule of Stone Horse Expeditions in Mongolia