If you come to Mongolia, you just have to get on the back of a horse. After all, Chinggis Khan conquered the world with them, and even today life in Mongolia is deeply intertwined with horses. Timid visitors need not fear: you can just sit on a the back of one of these little buggers and let a herder girl lead it along on a rope.
I've ridden horses here a few times, but it was never very satisfying. I usually get a lazy-ass tourist horse that just wants to walk home. But in Kharkhorum, I had a new experience. I went riding with my friend Clare, an Australian girl who is not timid at all. It turns out my horse wasn't timid either.
Clare's horse was speckled and frisky, and immediately took off across a plain covered in water-worn rocks, probably a dried-out riverbed. In moments she was cantering along towards the river. My horse, a grey, irritable beast, didn't want to go anywhere at first and resisted my efforts to get it going. I don't like kicking horses, so I kept saying chu, which is Mongolian horse language for go. I must have excellent pronunciation, because all of a sudden my horse took off.
In moments I was alongside Clare. Then the two horses started racing each other, first slipping into a canter, and then breaking into a full gallop. Clare loved it. She laughed into the wind, hair streaming, oblivious to the fact that her horse was trying to kill her. I wasn't oblivious at all. I knew my horse had murder in its heart and was terrified. I pulled back on the reins, lifting the horse's head, but he just kept running.
I held onto the little wooden saddle (also known as the nutcracker) and clenched the horse with my legs as hard as I could. Mongolian riders stand on the stirrups when they gallup, but I was afraid to loosen my grip. We tore across the plain into the wind. My hat flew off. I didn't look to see where it went.
At the river, the horses stopped. My horse went into the water and mud and nearly dumped me there, but after that he behaved himself. We rode back to the camp, mostly at a nut-busting trot, the horse making evil noises every now and then.
The next day, I was in great pain. Every muscle in my legs was sore, and I discovered massive bruises on my inner thighs. The real shocker was my ass - it had changed to a completely different color, a painful-looking reddish-blue. It looked as if I had been spanked by a gorilla.
Clare wasn't spared either. I don't know what color her rear end is but she ended up with horrific blisters. But she doesn't seem to mind. She just loves to ride horses.