Mongolia, Four Horses and a Husband

By Samantha Southey

Mongolia, Four Horses and a Husband

Sitting in a bar in Goa, India, enjoying a cold drink, watching the sun cast reds, yellows and pinks over the sea, I turned to my husband, Tim, and said,

“I don’t want to go home to England.”

“Ok, where do you want to go?”

“I want to belong to The Long Rider’s Guild as a long rider.” I let out a sigh, thinking how amazing it would be to become a “real” adventurer.

“I’ll do it if we can ride in Mongolia.”

“OK.”

We continued moving slowly south in India, thinking occasionally about our long ride. Our last planned stop, during our travels, was Thailand. In between lazy days at the beach, we emailed people the world over, asking if we could come and learn more about horses. The most replies came from Australia, so, we flew to Australia!

We spent a year working with an assortment of people. There was a horse trainer specializing in problem horses, a United Kingdom dressage rider, two English ladies who kept their horses in their back gardens, a trail riding company where, in exchange for long working days, we were given accommodation, food and a horse each. Our horse knowledge increased tenfold.

In Australia, in preparation for returning to the United Kingdom, I emailed a company looking for freelance work. They agreed, and as they were based in Gloucestershire, that’s where we headed. We rented someone’s spare room and started saving for our Mongolian ride.

Things, as is often the way, didn’t quite go to plan. I remember telling our landlord, “We’re going to ride across Mongolia next year.” We rented his spare room for two years!

We had to bring in enough money to pay our bills and to save. I had freelance work, but it wasn’t enough. Tim found it hard to get work. The TV and newspapers were awash with talk of a recession, fuel prices increased and we had more money going out than we had coming in.

Tim, wanting to contribute while job hunting, spent time with a local horse training couple. They were advocates of Monty Roberts and were well respected at natural horsemanship. They taught Tim, gave him access to their clinics and let him ride lots of horses. In return Tim picked up a lot of horse dung! After six months he found paid work and slowly over a year, his time filled up and he stopped working for them.

Saving for Mongolia took us five years. We had to budget for plane tickets, accommodation, horses, saddles, packing saddles, panyards, ropes… the list went on!

We made a decision that had a huge impact on our Mongolian trip, and that was to ride without a local guide and this meant learning Mongolian. In March 2014, we left our jobs, sold or stored our things and set off for Ulaanbaatar. After three months of intense language studies we bought four horses and trained them the Mongolian way; hobble them, load them up, stand back and watch. Two of the horses were calm; two were not. We went on a two day “practice” ride and let them buck it out!

Finally, the day came, and we set off on the long ride. I didn’t make it to the end of day one without losing a horse. My pack horse, Captain James, had a fright and bucking furiously, he tore off across the steppe. I galloped after him on Morris, my riding horse. Finally Captain James stopped. I dismounted and gathered up the dislodged belongings. Suddenly, both horses spooked. I lost control of them and they galloped off out of sight.

I walked the five kilometers back to Tim, crying, and explained that I’d lost both my horses, my wallet, passport and all my luggage. Tim was annoyed, but had his own problems. His riding horse, Goat, had thrown him, and Goat and Shar (his luggage horse, named after the Mongolian word for yellow due to his color) were trying to escape.

We eventually found my missing horses and most of the luggage with the help of the people we bought the horses from. I never recovered my waterproof coat, half our money and my bank card. We set off again, this time taking a local guide for three days to get us started. Baddtrack was a character. He’d drunk a bottle of vodka by the end of day one, spent day two hung over, and by day three he’d had enough and left us after a couple of hours.

We had so many adventures; we got thrown off our horses, bitten by them, kicked by them, attacked by huge bands of biting of flies, chased by dogs, threatened by thieves and lost in the mountains. We ran out of water and were helped by Mongolians, lost a lot of weight and were fed up by herders. We met some fantastic, entertaining, kind and generous people, all of whom we’ll never forget.

We didn’t stick to our original route but we did ride from the south to the north of Mongolia, covering 1000 miles.

In 2014 we returned to England. Tim and I separated. It broke my heart, but I vowed my adventurous spirit wouldn’t be crushed. I did all I could to keep relations with Tim open and positive. We decided we would stay as climbing partners and work on becoming firm friends. The happy ending is that we got back together.

I don’t ask anyone who’s never done something like this to understand how hard it is, after an expedition, to return to everyday life. A sense of purpose leaves you, you re-evaluate what’s important and you question your life, both at that point and what your future self might become. We’re solid again and busy planning two adventures. One, dreamed up under the blazing Mongolian sun, as a welcomed distraction from difficult horses, and the second designed to take our mountaineering to the next level. Things can never be the same for me after Mongolia. My adventurous spirit is awakened and needs feeding!

About this writer

  • Samantha Southey has been published by The Long Rider’s Guild, Training Magazine Europe and writes for her own enjoyment on her travel blogs. She is a corporate trainer by day and an adventurer by night!

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One Response to “Mongolia, Four Horses and a Husband”

  1. What an adventurous spirit! Your story proves that all anyone needs is the will to pursue their dreams, and a way will surely be provided. I enjoyed this.

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