ULAN BATOR, Mongolia—The stocky chestnut horse had a sweet face with a white stripe down his nose, and no name. So, I decided to call him Red and told him I’d trust him to carry me up the steep Mongolia Steppes. I wasn’t too worried as we started our ride at a leisurely pace, talking, laughing, and marveling at the vast expanse of land in front of us, land that seemed to reach up and pierce the afternoon sky.
But as soon as we reached an open field, Red’s ears perked up, and I felt his entire body tense. He knew what to do, and we were suddenty in the middle of a pack of about 20 riders, galloping full out in an impossible burst of speed. After a few strides I exhaled the breath I’d been holding, and released my death grip on the saddle horn, stretching my arm out to the side, reveling in the speed, the mountain air, the rush of thundering of hooves.
We finally stopped as the trail sloped upwards, and I could feel Red’s flanks heaving underneath my lower leg. I reached down and patted his neck, only to find it slick with sweat. And even though he was tired, he strained at the bit, ready to go, asking why I stopped his run, the charge he’d enjoyed just as much as I had. But the rest of the way up was tricky; he needed to concentrate on placing his feet, and I needed to concentrate on keeping him focused. With the flat plain dropping away to steep cliffs littered with rocks, we couldn’t afford a misstep.
Towards the top of one of the cliffs, I looked away from the crest of Red’s mane and the steep drop below, and turned my eyes to the cerulean blue sky, and the small birds swirling gracefully through the summer air, lazily turning in never ending spirals. For a moment, I was lost, free, dancing with them among the clouds.
But then Red tripped on a small rock, and I was jerked back to reality, grounded by a little chestnut horse and the clip-clop sound of hooves on stone.