Sunday, May 11, 2014

April adventures, part 2: the biggest springtime horse race in Mongolia!

 Dunjingarav: the most important horse race of the spring.  One fine Sunday morning in April, word-of-mouth news led us to believe that a major horse race was taking place on the western outskirts of Ulaanbaatar.  We piled into a jeep and headed west, eventually coming across an encampment of cars spread across the steppe and up onto nearby hills centered around the presumable finish line of the race.

A horse with mane and tail done up in anticipation of the day's race.  The finish line is in the background near the white ger beyond the line of cars.  This is not Instagram: today was the dustiest day I have ever experienced in my entire life (Photo courtesy of A.D.)

Mongolian jockeys carry their tack after the race finishes.  If any one of these three kids is over the age of 8
I will eat my shoe (Photo courtesy of A.D.)

One of the Dunjingarav jockeys poses with his friends and family (Photo courtesy of A.D.)

Scraping sweat from one of the race horses right after the finish line.  Sweat from a winning horse is considered lucky and people will crowd around to get dabbed or sprinkled with its sweat.  This wasn't one of the winning horses or we'd have never gotten this shot (Photo courtesy of A.D.)

Fancy gentlemen inspect the spectator area at Dunjingarav.  Aside from Tsagaan Sar I have never seen so many men dressed up in brilliantly-colored deel with so many accoutrements, like traditional hats or ornate riding tack (Photo courtesy of A.D.)

Perhaps the fanciest gentleman at Dunjingarav, when taking into account his horse's tack.  His horse's bridle and saddle are decked out with more silver than I've seen outside of a museum.  In his right hand he carries a silver-decorated 'whip', which looks more like a bludgeon than a whip.  It's difficult to tell in this photo, but this horse is clearly a mixed breed horse rather than a pure Mongolian horse.  It was much larger than the other horses and its conformation (particularly the head and neck) was decidedly 'un-Mongolian'.

Although I had a spot right along the edge of the race track, it was too crowded and jostling to take pictures as the riders neared and then crossed the finish line.  These crowds weren't just other human spectators but people on horseback angling for a better view.  We were unceremoniously bumped by horse rumps a number of times and we're just lucky that no one got kicked!

Trying to protect ourselves from all the dust!  Can you see the brown streaks on my face?  I gave up and accepted the dust as the price of admission to the race (Photo courtesy of A.D.)
As the horses and their riders crossed the finish line, the crowds began to disperse rapidly, either to get some of the winning horses' sweat or to head back home.  With all the hubbub, it was difficult to tell exactly who'd won.  Luckily, infomongolia has all of our horse race-related needs covered:  This site not only breaks down the top five horses per category, but has a handy little table for deciphering the description of the horses.  Mongolians do not name their horses per se.  Horses are identified by their coloring and markings, which are often relative to other horses in their herd.  All things horse-related in Mongolia are of interest to me and over the years I've tried to get a better understanding of this identification system, along with the age/sex classification system, names for gaits, and so forth.  It's an endless rewarding side project that I got to indulge in at Dunjingarav this April.  Future posts will hopefully return to equine events and points of interest!

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