Shortly into our horseback adventure, we began to discover a few fatal flaws.
First, we started noticing that the information we had gotten on where to ride, how to get there, where there was grass and water, was not really accurate. It seems that while our new friend had been trying to be helpful, she had ABSOLUTELY no idea what she was talking about.
To add to the uncertainty, the weather turned on us. Mongolia, land of blue skies, did not have blue skies for us. It was cold and rainy as we packed up our camp and head with our horses into a big storm with horizontal rain blowing in our faces. But we were continuing on.
The saddle for our packhorse, Pokhara, was barely holding together and so bags kept falling off or shifting badly. Rick got off his horse, Kajo, to readjust the packs for the 5th or 6th time. Pokhara was tied to the saddle on Rick’s horse (hint, this was a bad idea!), and I was holding Kajo’s reins from atop my horse while Rick made adjustments. So the two horses were standing in front my horse, Valpo.
… And then disaster struck.
What really did us in was a combination of tack failures.
Something spooked Kajo and he jumped to one side of my horse, and Pokhara jumped to the other. I told Rick to grab Kajo’s reins to get better control of him than I could have from on top of my horse. When Rick pulled Kajo pulled back and his bridle snapped off completely!! Which totally freaked him out, so he starts bucking.
But Kajo and Pokhara are still tied together, on either side of me and my horse. And now the rope is coming at my horse’s head, he ducks it, but it’s about to clothesline me – with two spooked bucking horses on either end. Right then, Valpo rears up. I roll off his back and hit the ground – all I see around me are flying hooves of three bucking, rearing horses. I curl up in a ball and cover my head, and as soon as I see a break I jump up and out of the way.
At this point, one of the saddles has broken and now hangs under one of the horses, one horse doesn’t have a bridle, and all three are running away.
Keep in mind there are no fences, no buildings, nothing to stop them – just wide-open hills. We know we can’t chase them down – so I grab our most important items that were in the saddle bag that fell off when valpo reared and Rick starts walking in the direction they are running, just hoping to keep a visual on them.
As we’re watching we see Pokhara, our packhorse, bucking and throwing off EVERY. SINGLE. BIT. of supplies we have for this 21-day journey. I mean pasta bags exploding as they hit the ground, fuel canisters bouncing off rocks. It looked like an air strike being delivered via horseback. Did I mention it was pouring down rain? They kept their bucking sprint for every bit of a mile, before start slowing down; no doubt due the fact they they no-longer had any of our gear strapped to them. And luckily as he’s walking after the horses Rick come across a ger camp (the traditional nomadic family homes) and a guy comes out and asks, in English, what are you doing wandering around in the rain covered in mud. Rick tells him the short version of what just happened, and the guy tells him to come in his ger and dry off, he’ll send his sons to get our horses. Rick says he’s going to go back and get me and bring me to the ger.
After a few minutes to warm up and get our wits about us we go to salvage what we can of our supplies – there’s really nothing left. The stove is ruined, our food is scattered across a half-mile stretch of mud and rock. We’re down a saddle and a half a bridle, and one of our horses seems a bit injured. We realized that there was no way we could continue on at this point, without somehow getting back to Ölgii and starting all over finding tack, supplies and possibly another horse; did I mention how much trouble it was to find tack in Ölgii the first time?
Our new friend comes back and tells us that just yesterday he had taken down all but one of his guest gers, but something told him to leave it up a couple more days – and we’re welcome to stay in it. He also tells us that he is just starting a tour company that goes out to Tavan Bodg National Park, where we were planning to ride to. And as quicker then we could say yes, he’s got his sons bringing in cots and bedding and a stove and table and chairs. There is a fire going and hot Mongolian Tea!
We replayed what had just happened over and over trying to piece together what exactly went wrong as we changed into dry clothes. We came to the conclusion that what really did us in was a combination of tack failures and some bad information.
As we were finishing our inventory of what was left (it didn’t take long) our new friend came in and talked with us. He asked up what our plan was (we must have seemed like some crazy gringos). After hearing us out he offers us a ten-day private trip out to the park, where we would stay with a family there, then horseback ride and camp – we’d have a van for all our food and stuff, we wouldn’t have to worry about horse thieves, we’d still get to ride across the steppe – and he would do it all in exchange for our three horses.
While we were totally bummed not to be doing it on our own, it felt a little like it was our only real option at this point. And we felt so blessed that God had allowed our little disaster to happen right at the backdoor (at least in Mongolian terms), of someone who could help us and take us on a tour.
So we said sad goodbyes to our horse and ended our independent horse trek a bit earlier than planned, but without injury and still with a great sense of accomplishment and a lot of lessons learned.