Wednesday 3rd July. The day Tim and I set off alone with four under trained horses. We had some concerns. Tim’s riding horse was already unsure about the whole situation and this uncertainty was passed to his pack horse. Tim had to devote all his energy to keeping his two horses under control.
We left Arburds Sands, not before Densmaa waived the cost of our room and food and Batdrack wrote a letter explaining what we we doing, that the horses were ours and for people to help us find water and good pasture for the horses. He put the names, addresses and telephone numbers of some high ranking government friends of his across Tov and Bulgan Aimag in case we got in trouble. Densmaa called her friends who lived near to our first night’s camp and they agreed to come and check on us. Their generosity made me smile as the guy I hired a car from to get us here told me he knew Densmma and Batdrack and that ″They are bad people.” I thought to myself if these are bad people I look forward to meeting good ones.
By the end of the day I wished I had never thought of this trip. When I told Tim this he said ″We cannot give up now. After all we’ve waited seven years for this. We always knew it was going to be tough.” That was the problem though. I told people it would be tough but I never really knew what that would feel like emotionally until it actually happened. I wanted to be heroic about the trip but here I was crying in a toilet after my first hard day wishing I was at home feeling content with life.
What had brought this on? Two hours into the trip my pack saddle and mongolised luggage had slipped resulting in Captain James bucking, sending luggage flying everywhere. Thankfully he did not hurt himself and once the luggage has been dislodged he trotted off to the nearest ger where the occupants caught him and tied him to a high line.
I calmed Mongol Morris down enough to dismount and collected up the strewn kit. Mongol Morris was not keen on going near any of it and would pull back on the reins, snorting with uncertainty. Tim hobbled his horses, fetched Captain James and after some groundwork he was happy to be reloaded – Captain James that is not Tim. Mongol Morris was now scared of the luggage. After 10 minutes of walking him around he would put his head near the loaded packs but refused to have it near his back end. Slightly inconvenient as I cannot ride leading a pack horse back to front. More impromptu training took place and after an hour we restarted the ride.
At the well Densmaa, Batdrack, Big Batdrack and some of the younger guys from camp turned up in a car and a truck. The occupants of the ger Captain James had sought solace from knew Densmaa and had called her to say what had happened. They had come to check we were OK.
We watered the horses and rode for two hours with no drama. Suddenly Captain James’ head shot up and he tore off to my right at a full gallop, tearing the lead rope out of my hand. I sat watching him and our luggage fade into the distance. Tim was way ahead and I shouted to him to wait, feeling totally stunned. The shock passed and I loosed my grip on Mongol Morris and he tore off with me on him after his companion until we caught him up.
A badly tied luggage rope had come loose and frightened Captain James. The rope was trailing on his right side along the ground. We galloped for a few kilometres with me trying to grab the offending rope but every time I got near Mongol Morris would shy. I moved around to the left side and tried to grab him but again every time we got near Mongol Morris shied. Eventually Captain James slowed to a trot and I asked Mongol Morris to walk in the hope Captain James would follow. He did and I hopped off my horse and tried to catch him. This made him break into a canter so I jumped back on Mongol Morris and followed for a short while until Captain James stopped to scratch his front leg with his teeth.
This afforded me the opportunity of catching him and after sorting out the offending rope I went to mount Mongol Morris. Unfortunately for me I forgot one of the golden rules of horsemanship; after a horse has had a fright one needs to give them time to calm down. Both spooked just as I was getting back onto Mongol Morris, sending me flying and to my horror my horses galloped off over a hill out of sight. I had not only just lost both my horses but my money, passport, bank cards and half the luggage. I stood for a while trying to process what had happened. I started the long walk back to where Tim was waiting and explained the situation. Tim shouted at me to calm down, I was in tears by now, as his horses were finding the high energy unsettling and were threatening to bolt. During my race across the steppe Tim had been thrown twice from his horse. In retrospect this was a good thing as one of the throws provided a free chiropractic treatment to Tim’s bad back although this was not reflected upon until much later in the journey. Tim was having difficulty holding on to them both.
We walked back the way we’d ridden keeping an eye out for my horses and hoping that Captain James’ luggage and pack would hold as neither of us wanted to kill a horse, especially on the first day. Although Tim’s horses were difficult during the walk back to Arburd Sands, he still found the energy to lecture me about storing my valuables on a horse.
Nearer to home Big Batdrack rode over on a motorbike. I explained in Mongolian that I did not have either of my horses. He told me he had Mongol Morris and asked for hobbles then explained he would find my pack horse. Tim and I carried on walking until we found Mongol Morris hobbled, standing staring at us as we approached. He was OK. The saddle bags were still attached with my passport in but my rain coat, containing my wallet, money, ATM cards, had fallen off. To spare Tim any more stress (me another lecture) I decided to wait until the morning to tell him.
I rode Mongol Morris home and to my delight Captain James was there. The luggage Tim had packed was still attached. I was impressed at Tim’s ability to load a pack that could survive two extended gallops. Not bad for a first attempt!
This is why I ended up in a toilet crying. To ease my increasing panic Tim called Densmaa and asked if we could use Big Batdrack as a guide for the first three days of our ride. She agreed and we were to set off again on Friday. I spent Thursday struggling to cope with waves of fear that kept washing over me. ″Feel the fear and do it anyway” part of me flippantly said and the other part of me said ″I cannot do this.” I tried to rationalise what I was frightened of. My horses were not dangerous, well no more than any horse, and lost luggage could be replaced. Looking back I think the culture shock had kicked in and the reality of what we were doing had become clear. Riding with two horses was not going to be easy.
This was the first time either of us had ridden whilst leading a horse and the first time the horses had ridden whilst carrying luggage and leading a pack horse. All of us were nervous at points and this would feed into the rest of the group. Our journey ahead was going to be one enormous learning curve for both human and horse.