The breed of horses indigenous to Mongolia might not be quite as large as those found elsewhere around the world, but it didn't stop me from finding my animal transport for the day a bit intimidating.
Thom and I had signed up for a day on horseback. When I said "Yeah, we should ride a horse," I had meant, "Yeah, let's sit on one for a photo and then go back to reading a book." Thom was far more keen, and thus we were roped into 10 hours of trotting.
Things were sketchy from the offset. Thom and our guide wandered off immediately on their beasts and left me standing on all fours--my new friend wasn't budging. I had the embarrassing privilege of being towed by the guide for the first half-hour, until my equestrian buddy decided he would play ball.
Just as I was getting used to the gentle meandering, it was decided that we should pick up the pace to an infinitely less comfortable trot, which meant I could feel my breakfast churn around in my stomach every time the horse went up and down.
"You just have to sort of stand up and down in time to the bumps."
Thom was no riding expert, but he was clearly better than me. It seemed like a lot more effort than just sitting there, but it appeared to work--if I bobbed up and down in rhythm with the beast, I avoided being thrown all over the place.
Thom was having a great time trying to film my endeavours from the unstable vantage point of his saddle. He even took a detour into a herd of yaks to get a close-up of our next animal target. The footage, if not world-class cinematography, is certainly quality entertainment. Thom's running dialogue over a view that jerked up and down with each lunge of the horse, looking like it was being filmed from the bow of a ship in the middle of a storm, was certainly something to be seen.
It was swelteringly hot beneath the Mongolian sun, and we stopped off beside a stream. Our guide had been wearing a huge jacket that looked like some kind of playboy dressing gown, which seemed somewhat impractical given the current temperature. The only reason we could think of for his donning such an item of clothing is that, as we sat down for a break, he produced from one of the pockets a huge Tupperware pot filled with pastries for us.
After devouring the homemade delicacies, Thom and I stripped down to our underwear and waded into the stream.
It was bloody freezing.
Having not had a shower since Moscow (that was about 4,000 miles back), we weren't put off by a little cold. We dunked our heads in, gasping for breath, and gave ourselves a quick scrub before scrambling back to the banks.
Thom produced a clean pair of boxer shorts from his bag. Unfortunately, I was less well prepared and spent the rest of the day's riding without the privilege of any dry underwear.
We continued in a circuitous route around the hills back to our gers. It was a brilliantly tranquil day, with little more than the birds and the sunshine for company... and some rabid dogs.
Having canine security seemed to be commonplace among the nomads in the national park, and the encampment we passed shortly after lunch was no exception. The dogs went wild as soon as we came into sight, which was pretty normal, but unlike the others, these ones decided they'd give chase. Of course, the other two riders' horses had no problems dealing with the onslaught, but mine, apparently, took issue with them and bolted.
"That's the first time I've seen your horse move all day, mate," Thom added helpfully.
On the final stretch, in an attempt to choreograph some kind of decent video footage on horseback, we somehow managed to lose our camera battery, which was surprisingly hard to find again in the middle of huge plain. Otherwise, we made it back in time for sunset and a steaming plate of pasta.