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Horses stolen!!!....(8/7/04)

The last three or four days have been a challenge but gradually Kathrin and I have been adjusting to this routine. It leaves you exhausted enough to fall asleep in your clothes every night even before you get a chance to crawl into the sleeping bag. We have been making about 20km a day but packing is taking a long time and the horses have been reflecting some of our own nervous state of mind. Anyway, on Tuesday night we finished a fantastic day of following a valley from the village of Khotont on the way to Tsetserleg. As usual we pegged the horses out around the tent with my stakes, ropes, and hobbles. I fell asleep in my clothes…again. At about 2am I was woken by the horses neighing. I didn’t think much of it but got up to go to the toilet. It was pitch black outside and it was hard to see anything. The first thing that worried me was that I could not hear the bell on the pack-horse- an alarm system of sorts. I wandered further and found my horse, but in the dark the other two could not be seen. My heart pounded, I fell to my knees in disbelief and then hurried back to the tent for a torch. My horse was still neighing and trying to break free. Out in the dark I could hear my horses!! But how far were they? Probably 300-400m. I searched desperately for any clues. What I found by torch light made me squirm. The bell, hobbles and lead rope were all neatly lying on the ground. ‘Kathrin, the horses are gone! Two of them have been stolen!’ Kathrin leaped out of the tent but it was hopeless. We were blinded by the darkness and in no position to give chase. My mind raced- what could we do? How could we recover them? I just can’t believe it!!!! I rang Tseren in Ulaan Baatar to get her opinion and spent the next few hours with Kathrin trying to learn phrases from the dictionary: ‘Two of my horses have been stolen’ ‘Have you seen my horse?’ ‘Where is the police station’ ‘Thief.’ At 5.30am as the sky lightened I saddled up, grabbed a back pack with a few essentials and cantered away to the nearest ger. In the morning light herders were just getting up to tend to their animals. I approached the first Ger at speed. It must have been someone we had met or someone closeby who had carried out this crime. I was met with faces of disbelief (after I had made my Mongolian intelligible), and cantered from ger to ger with the same response. By now the sun was up and it began to occur to me just how many horses there were in the area- hundreds upon hundreds. The chances of finding them seemed very remote. My idea was to tell as many locals as possible then make for Khotont police station 20km further up the valley. I was motoring around a swamp at speed when someone waved me to their ger. ‘Hello, how are you!’ the lady shouted as she tended to some goats. Taken aback by her English I approached and told my tale. Soon later I had tied my horse and taken up her offer to go by motorbike to Khotont. Twenty minutes later I was on the Iridium satellite phone to Tseren when I looked up the hill in disbelief. There they were. My two horses galloping over the crest!!!! They came running with a herd of about 70 horses that happened to belong to the family with whom this lady was staying with! I couldn’t believe it. Here I was eight kilometres from our camp in one of many ger camps just at the right moment. What happened over the next few hours was a bit confusing but the important thing was that we had found the horses. At first the family said that the horses had run away due to my bad rope tying. I knew this to be false, and to prove the point, somehow the halters and lead ropes that were attached to the horses were missing. The herder was adamant that they had just come to his herd that morning, and without any halters, or bridles. The story changed several times until it was concluded that it must have been children who stole the animals because they wanted our halters and ropes. We paid a visit the Ger closest to our camp but once again they were adamant that they knew nothing. I spent the whole day with the family drinking airag (fermented mare’s milk), catching our horses, making new halters and eventually bringing the horses back to our campsite where poor Kathrin had been waiting all day. We feel extremely lucky to have the horses back, and that we have learnt a valuable lesson. It’s hard to know how to prevent it happening again apart from sleeping outside or tying the horses to our feet! Horse rustling is very common across Mongolia and at 1-2am in the morning it’s the best time to strike. One solution could be to take turns at watch, or to befriend herders most nights and camp close to gers. Anyway we have been held up by at least a day, but the horses needed to graze anyway and the weather today is rain, rain and more rain. We will begin later this afternoon wiser than when we first arrived.