Mongol horse racing at Nariinteel
Mongol Naadam festival in July is followed by a season of weddings and feasts. Traditionally Naadam and any major feasts include the “three manly sports”, namely archery, wrestling and horse racing. There was a trend for wrestling and racing to be included in main events and archery being excluded. That has changed when the President of Mongolia made a decree to support archery. I would like to turn your attention to Mongol horse racing and how this traditional sport is changing in modern times.
In olden times, the fastest and strongest horses won the races. Much later during the time of Manchu occupation (1691-1911) and the spread of Lamaism, the best horses that won races owned and trained by ordinary pastoralists were taken by the noblemen and/or high ranking lamas in exchange for a khadak (silk scarf used by Buddhists in rituals). This injustice was called “taalakh” (to take fancy to). These fast horses were added to the herd of the noblemen and lamas. This would eventually improve the quality of their race horses, thus increasing the chances of noblemen and high ranking lamas to win the races. That in turn would increase their prestige and social standing.
Since Mongolia’s transition to market economy, horse racing has remained as important as ever and obtained global characteristics. The nouveau riche and high ranking state officials pay a lot of attention and money to buy the fastest horses. However in recent times, these wealthy people buy famous Arab and English thoroughbred stallions, transport them to Mongolia, build warm stables and cross-breed them with Mongol horses. In junior age categories of big races such as the State Naadam horse races, Erdenet Khurd (khurd translates as speed, also it can be understood as derby), Khotgoidyn Khurd, 70th anniversary of Gobi-Altai aimag (province), Ikh Khurd hybrid horses dominate. These horses are tall, strong, fast and well adapted to the harsh climate of Mongolia. This situation caused ordinary horse trainers to worry that no pure Mongol horses will manage to win any major races in the future. However as the hybrid horses age and enter senior age categories they do not manage to be as fast as their Mongol counterparts who dominate these age categories. This is due to the fact that the hybrid horses’ body mass do not allow them to race over long distances and they tire mid distance. Also according to seasoned horse trainers foals sired by hybrid horses do not grow to be fast race horses.
|A hybrid daaga (2-year old, right) suckling its mother (left). They are nearly the same in size. (Photo credits: M. Nyamsaikhan)|
Above-mentioned wealthy businessmen and state officials hire the best horse trainers to train their horses. When their horses win state and aimag races, these people who breed horses as a hobby and prestige enhancement receive titles from the Mongolian Racehorse Association such as Honoured horse trainer of Mongolia, Leading horse trainer of Mongolia etc.
|2-year old hybrid horses (daaga). (Photo credits: M. Nyamsaikhan)|
Money can buy honours and titles, but the fact that these hybrid race horses do not produce faster and stronger young generation seems to be the natural act of evening and leveling the chances of wealthy race horse enthusiasts and poor race horse trainers. What is also worrying is that in a few years, we may not see spectacular horse races due to the land and water contamination caused by mining, drought, desertification and pasture degradation.