National Geographic: The Noble Horse


He gives us his all.




Yet his wild spirit

burns bright.

Spark of ancient myth...

pride of king and conqueror...

...he was the backbone

of civilization.

History was forged

to the beat of his hooves.

Even now, he still lays claim

to the heart

- with all the bold beauty

that is the horse.


sets off fireworks in the

mountains of southern Montana.

Spurred by heat and hunger,

wild horses converge

on the cool green heights,

and sparks begin to fly.

Stallions spar

and court young mares

in a drama as old as the hills.

The mustang has become a symbol

of the American West.

But some say he's a newcomer

to these parts,

even a trespasser.

The truth

is tangled in the long and

winding history of his kind.

It began some

in the forests of North America.

Living on leaves,

a creature the size of a fox

walks the underbrush

on padded toes.

In time,

forests give way

to grassy plains.

Legs grow long,

and toes become nimble hooves

in a body

built for speed.

About a million years ago,

the first true horses

spread across land bridges

to Asia and Europe.

Their numbers swell,

then slowly decline

perhaps due to climate change,

or the impact of a

two-legged predator.

To Ice Age hunters,

the herds must have seemed


But by 8,000 years ago,

horses were extinct

in the Americas

and dwindling elsewhere

into memory and myth.

Then somewhere on the steppes

of Eurasia,

at least 4,000 years ago,

the horse inspired someone

as more than just a meal.

It may have begun

as a shaman's ritual,

or a reckless teenage prank.

But some brave soul

took a quantum leap

and changed the world forever.

The horse utterly changed our

sense of distance and speed.

He carried us forward

in space and time,

and made our world smaller.

Great equestrian cultures arose

and thundered across antiquity

Today, most have vanished.

But here on the steppes

of Mongolia,

little has changed

since the time when the horse

became a way of life.

Nomads still measure

their wealth in livestock

and move vast herds

with the seasons.

Small but hardy,

Mongolian horses endure

a harsh climate,

and grow a thick winter coat.

When pasture is meager,

they can survive

on very little.

Mongolian nomads also

herd sheep,

goats and cows,

but horses

are their greatest pride.


they are largely reserved

for riding

and one other important role.

Mongolia's national drink,

called airag,

is fermented mare's milk.

Life in the saddle begins early

in keeping with a local proverb:

"A Mongolian without a horse

is like a bird without wings."

In July,

thousands of nomads

set up camp on the edge

of the capital city,

Ulan Bator.

They come to celebrate Naadam,

an ancient religious festival.

National competitions of

traditional sports are held,

including two days

of horse racing.

One of the country's top

horse breeders,

Khen Medekh

traveled over a week

to take part in what will be

his 30th Naadam.

From a herd of 400 head,

he has brought

his 12 fastest horses.

Also in tow are

his grandchildren

for good reason.

Riders must be under 12

to compete at Naadam.

Training, however,

is no child's play.

It's what Khen Medekh lives for

Horse training is a passion.

My father was a great trainer

and he passed that on to me.

It's the same for

most Mongolian people.

We compete at Naadam

to see who has the best horse,

and because we're so proud of

our horses.

A fine racehorse

is a symbol of good luck

and happiness.

On the day of the first race,

preparations begin at dawn.

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Gail Willumsen

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Submitted on August 05, 2018

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    "National Geographic: The Noble Horse" STANDS4 LLC, 2023. Web. 30 Nov. 2023. <>.

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