Former international pony dressage rider Katy Willings’ latest update on her progress training for the Mongol Derby
Here’s a conundrum. You can only approach your horse from the left. Wolves, evil spirits and the like approach from the right. The horses will, quite reasonably, object if you follow suit.
But in order to travel 40kms at a zippy pace without tiring your horse unnecessarily, you need to load him as equally as is possible, with kit distributed by bulk and mass in the two pommel bags and two saddle bags at your disposal.
How do you put stuff in the saddle bags on the right hand side of the horse?
Clue – you cannot do it from the saddle. I have it on good authority that the Mongols do NOT faff with their equipment once in the plate. All stirrup adjustment, layer changing, binocular/GPS/sunscreen locating must be done from the ground (to the left of the horse).
I presume, then, that the best solution is to put the stuff you will only remove from the saddle bags at the very end of the day (if at all) – that is, tent, roll mat, sleeping bag – on the right hand side, and to go over the top of him to pack them into the saddle bags. Possibly while he is still wearing his hobbles.
The stuff you actually need constant access to – factor 50, map, “Guide to edible flora of Mongolia” (yet to be sourced, help please) will need to stay on the left hand side, or on your own person.
What happens if you decide to faff from the saddle? They run off, apparently. Amusingly, the way to bring them back to heel is to turn a large circle – left-handed, of course. In fact, if you want to turn right at any time, just turn left, then left, then left again. Safer for everyone.
I wonder if this also has implications for choosing your mount. What if they are only showing you their best side? I’d quite like to size up the side which fights off large predators and evil spirits before i pick my partner. If that side is bald, or blind, or looks particularly like it has seen the wrath of a few too many wolves, I’d like to know.
I think, in the absence of this information, i’ll be using the horse-selecting criteria which have stood the test of time – a quick pinch test for hydration levels, a good look at their feet (though you cannot pick them up), and failing that, one that’s a nice colour and likes having his ears scratched.
Art and science, seamlessly combined.