That One Time We Fell Off Horses in Mongolia

It started with a giraffe-necked horse. Somewhere in the middle there was flying poo. And, it ended with both of us on the ground, still sore a few weeks later.

The story of our horseback ride in Mongolia didn’t go at all like planned, but what is life without some adventure, sore ribs, and stories to tell.

Our guide, Tosonkhuu, and the owner of the ger camp we were staying at had organized our tour. The plan was to go for a several hour long horseback ride to a remote location along the shores of Lake Huvsgul in Northern Mongolia and meet a nomadic reindeer herding family. There are only 300 nomadic reindeer herding families left so we were excited to learn more about their daily life.

But, as it turned out, I wouldn’t end up meeting them.

After breakfast at the camp we met our horses and the nomad who was going to lead us to the reindeer herders.

The nomad and our horses. He is wearing traditional Mongolian clothing called a deel.

The nomad and our horses. He is wearing traditional Mongolian clothing called a deel.

I got on my horse first but not before our guide ran through the many rules of horseback riding in Mongolia. We had signed release forms with a long list of rules of how to ride horses in Mongolia, but he refreshed us on a few points. Mongolian horses are known for being skittish, so we were reminded to only mount the horse from the left side, make sure our coats were zipped up so nothing was flapping around, told not make any loud noises while on the horse, and not to even touch or pet the horse. Once I was on, Tosonkhuu mounted his horse and took the lead for mine.

While Ben was getting situated I had time to notice the saddles we were on weren’t like the saddles we were used to in America. Instead of a Western Saddle with a horn to hold onto and a cantle to keep you in place, we were instead sitting on a cushion which was strapped to the horse (check out the photo above for a photo of what I mean). While it was comfortable, there wasn’t a lot to hold onto aside from the reigns. With hindsight, I am seeing some foreshadowing here.

Graphic from Western Saddle Parts.

Thirty minutes into our ride, Ben and I were chatting, feeling confident. We were also enjoying listening to our guide talk to the nomad who owned the horses. The nomad spoke a different dialect that we hadn’t heard before and many of his words came across like he was singing.

It was a peaceful walk through the fog, listening to them chat, punctuated with the farts from Ben’s horse.

Just like my horse was being led by Tosonkhuu, Ben’s horse was being led by the nomad. Since Ben’s horse kept stopping and stumbling, the nomad had the lead rope of the horse pulled pretty tight. That tight lead rope was the start of our troubles.

An example of the tight lead rope on Ben's horse.

An example of the tight lead rope on Ben’s horse.

Nearly 45 minutes into our ride Ben’s horse stumbled for the third time but this time it didn’t recover. Since the lead rope was so tight, and the nomad’s horse was still walking, Ben’s horse was pulled as it tripped, causing the horse to fall forward with its neck fully extended.

Ben recognized that the horse was falling and tried to lean back, but there wasn’t a way for him to stay on the horse as it continued to fall forward. So, he rolled off the horse onto his right shoulder and continued to roll to get out of the way of the horses hooves.

I saw the beginning of Ben’s fall  but as soon as I saw him roll to the ground, my horse got spooked and took off like a shot.

A photo of me on my horse. We obviously didn't take any after "the incident."

A photo of me on my horse. We obviously didn’t take any after “the incident.”

I was holding on to the reigns, just ask all of my broken fingernails, but it wasn’t enough to offset the speed with which my horse took off at, so I was soon on the ground with Ben. I can’t help but have visions of Wiley E. Coyote being left hanging in the air by a rocket that took off too quickly.

It all happened so fast, but our guide, who saw the whole thing happen, rated my fall a 9 out of 10 and gave Ben a perfect score.

When I hit the ground, my upper body curled in half from the impact knocking the wind out of me. Ben came running over to check on me as I tried to catch my breath. I couldn’t sit or stand because my upper body felt too heavy for my ribs and back to hold up, so we laid on the ground for a bit to try and assess the damage.

Ben told his version of events and it lightened the mood.

“I felt my horse falling and saw his long neck extended and was thinking, ‘Well, that’s not supposed to happen.’ I leaned back but the horse’s butt hit me before I was at an angle that I thought could hold me on the horse. So, I rolled onto my shoulder and kept rolling to get away from the horse’s hooves. Then I saw your horse take off, and the back hoof flung a huge chunk of poop at my face. I was just thinking ‘Oh no! Poop!’ Then I saw you on the ground and came over.”

After about 15 minutes, we determined that nothing was broken and there wasn’t any serious damage, but I was in too much pain to continue. We were lucky to still be in an area where cars could drive, so the nomad we were with took his horse and went to get our driver.

When he arrived, I headed back to our ger camp with our driver, while Ben continued on with the nomad and our guide to the reindeer.

The following days consisted of a lot of Ibuprofen and some whiskey to encourage healing and dull the pain. And for those of you who are curious, the horses are all just fine.

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