As we rode along we were joined intermittently by local herders who chatted with our guide and then went on their way. One of them had a fabulous black leather hat with turned up sides and was riding bare back with his legs sticking out for balance. He told us about a sacred rock nearby that had been special to him since childhood. We turned up a wide grassy valley and clambered up a hillside and settled in for lunch, after we had offered vodka and food to the sky and earth, and to the spirits of the place.
Other herders we passed were taming a wild horse. It was pulling at the bit and spitting froth, with a wild look in its eye and its mane flying out behind. The herder riding with us peeled off to help, only to be replaced by another helpful herder who joined us – this one uglier but sporting a new hat, a new del and shiny boots.
As we rode on, six local lads preparing for the local Naadam horse race tore past with their mounts all wrapped up like medieval knights. This helps the horses sweat and gets them in the right condition for competition. The sweat is scraped off the horses afterwards with a special wooden paddle. The horses were tied together in twos and were being led along like a bunch of horse-sized balloons. When a wild white stallion challenged them they bolted off up the valley and out of sight.