Tag Archives: Mongolia

Oh, the Places You’ll Go—Where Horses Have Taken Me (so far…)

When I think back to many of the unique places I’ve had the opportunity to visit, more often than not it was a horse that led me there.

In anticipation of my upcoming Gobi Gallop ride in Mongolia (more on this later), I thought it would be fun to look back at a few other adventures I have experienced, all thanks to my love of the horse.


Ok, I know what you are thinking… Delaware? The “Small Wonder” state? But hear me out.

When I was member of the US Pony Clubs, I was invited to be a Visiting Instructor at a Pony Club camp in Delaware. I was perhaps 20 at the time, and the short flight from Boston was the first one I ever took on my own. I hadn’t flown very much at that point in my life, and so that solo trip was a pretty big deal.

I am a life member of USPC, and a proud graduate H-A from Squamscott Pony Club here in seacoast New Hampshire. SPC has been in existence for over 50 years!

That first USPC Visiting Instructor experience led to others in subsequent years—Oklahoma and Kansas, even California and Hawaii. I don’t know if I’ll ever love flying, but I became more confident about it, and it was all thanks to these trips. In fact, these experiences are probably what made me brave enough to try bigger adventures, like a summer study abroad in Kenya, and later, solo trips to Morocco and the Galapagos Islands.

Some Pony Club adventures are not nearly so far afield– like helping these members obtain their certifications in NH last spring.

I have stayed involved with USPC, and through the various roles I have held with that organization (examiner, clinician, regional instruction coordinator, district commissioner), I’ve had the opportunity to travel quite literally from coast to coast. Over the years, Pony Club commitments have brought me to 25 of the 50 states! I am currently on a quest to visit all #50by50…and I only have a handful to go. If you happen to be in need of a clinician– and especially if you live in Texas, Arkansas, Mississippi, Alabama, or North Dakota—don’t hesitate to reach out!


Early in my writing career, I produced quite a few breed spotlights. They’ve fallen a bit out of favor with most equestrian publishers these days, but in the late 90’s, I profiled everything from Spanish Normans to Friesians to miniature horses. One time, my editor asked me to pen a feature on the Icelandic Horse—and something about this hardy and unique breed simply captured my fancy. I wanted to ride one, and of course, the only logical place to do so was in Iceland.

I found a company online called Íshestar, and booked an all-inclusive riding tour package. After flying overnight into Keflavik International Airport, and catching a bus bound for Reykjavik, Iceland’s capital, I arrived at my guesthouse to find the owner solidly sleeping off the previous evening’s celebrations. It took a bit of convincing to coax her out of bed to let me in at the ungodly hour of 9 AM—at which time jet lag caught up and I also promptly took a nap.

Stjarna, “Star” in English, my first mount.

To ride an Icelandic Horse, one must essentially unlearn every skill one has ever practiced on horseback. To slow down, you tip forward. To go faster, you lean back and hold the reins more firmly. One afternoon early in the tour, me and my new Swiss friend Gabi were run off with across a lava field. It took every conscious brain cell I had to not revert to instinct in order to regain control of my rogue mount (who I would later learn had only been “lightly backed”).

Here I am holding Mokollur (Blonde-Top, in English) and a friend at a rest stop. Mokollur was actually Gabi’s mount during the “run-away” incident; I rode him the day after and enjoyed him so much I rode him in the afternoons for the rest of the trip. Another fun fact is that every piece of gear I am wearing is borrowed– Iceland has no native horse diseases, and any riding equipment brought to the country must be brand new, with tags still on.

Iceland is not a large country, and its people are both friendly and worldly, despite what might seem like a relatively isolated existence on the edge of the Arctic Circle. Our riding tour left from a farm called Saltvík, which is situated on the north side of the island near the city of Akureyri. On the domestic flight up there, we met two young men who knew exactly where we were going and who we would be riding with once we arrived. They wrote their names and phone numbers on an anti-nausea bag, so we could look them up later (we didn’t take them up on that, I’m afraid).

After riding with a loose herd of spare animals over miles of jaw-dropping terrain—including sweeping meadows and volcanic detritus—I have immense respect for the ruggedness of the Icelandic Horse. More than one time, I looked at the trail ahead and thought, “We can’t possibly be headed that way” …and then off we went. They are truly amazing creatures.

Mokollur and I hitting our stride. We each rode two horses per day, one in the morning and another after lunch. The extras traveled as a loose herd, with about half our riders leading the way, and the other half “sweeping” behind. Here, you can see the loose herd behind us, with other raincoat-clad riders driving the group in the rear. If you enjoy this sort of experience, you can visit Iceland during the annual sheep round up, which is also done on horseback!

If you should ever find yourself in Iceland, one tip—never call them ponies (although strictly speaking, most are well below the 14.2 hand threshold). The reason is, and I quote—“Men do not ride ponies.”

The Mustangs of the High Sierra (California)

At some point, one of my email addresses became subscribed to the University of California-Davis extension course catalogue, and every year, one of their offerings caught my eye. “Mustangs: a Living Legacy” was a four day horse-packing course, co-led by veterinarian/professional horsepacker Dr. Craig London, and extension veterinarian/professor, Dr. Janet Roser. Participants would ride and camp in the Montgomery Pass Wild Horse Range on the Nevada/California border, enjoy lectures and readings on mustangs and the region’s ecology, and hopefully, view the local mustang herd from horseback. It sounded utterly appealing—but with just one annual offering, logistically tricky.

But then one year, the stars aligned. I had a meeting to attend in Las Vegas, Nevada, that was scheduled to conclude just a few days before the start of the annual “Living Legacy” course. I rented a car and drove five hours from Las Vegas to join my fellow mustang enthusiasts in Benton Hot Springs, California (population 279, and that might include the quail).

Partnered with a former county sheriff’s horse named Thunder, I had an amazing experience riding in the high desert of late spring. As I had in Iceland, I gained new appreciation for how well horses handle even some of the most rugged terrain. Additionally, every equine on Dr. London’s horsepacking string tied, and tied well (if they don’t–they don’t last long on his string). We rode for several hours at a time; when we needed a break, the horses simply tied to the nearest tree. Thunder knew the drill and would almost immediately close his eyes and take a nap.

Thunder and I, with the White Mountains as a backdrop.

The Montgomery Pass mustang herd was, at least at that time, beloved by the local community, who seemed proud to have them living nearby. The herd was also famous for being one of the only naturally managed mustang populations, thanks to the area’s resident mountain lions. However, as their name implies, mountain lions tend to stay in the higher elevations, and the horses had gotten wise. With ample food and water available on the lower elevation Adobe Flats during the spring, herds could avoid predation.

The photo quality is not amazing, but this is just one snapshot of the massive herd of mustangs (comprised of many smaller bands) hanging out on the Adobe Flats.

According to local residents, the mustang population was growing every year; I estimate there were at least one hundred animals, perhaps more, when I visited in 2012. Early June in the high desert is still a time of abundance, but it was clear to me that the animals rate of consumption would quickly exceed the vegetation’s capacity to grow. It seemed clear to me that this herd was no longer being “naturally managed”, at least not by the mountain lions. (As a sidenote, in preparing this blog, I reviewed a 2021 article stating that the Montgomery Pass herd population has grown so tremendously that they are now pushing westward, into Mono Lake, California, where they are damaging fragile and unique habitats in their constant quest for food and water.)

As a native northeasterner, studying the dynamic issues surrounding the mustang populations of the west was eye opening, and witnessing firsthand the power of a massive herd as it turned as one unit to flee, emotionally inspiring. Thanks to the influence of UC-Davis, we benefited from peer-reviewed information and objective analysis of the situation; the inclusion of local ranchers and other residents in our conversations helped put a human face on the people impacted (both positively and negatively) by the mustangs’ presence.

The aridity simply dries out the bones left behind. Note the incisors– this skull belonged to a youngster.

In 2012, the Montgomery Pass herd looked to be fairly healthy and in good weight; seeing mustangs in this condition could easily make one skeptical of arguments that many of these animals lead a marginal existence. But after the program was over, and I was heading back toward Las Vegas, a small band of five mustangs (including one scrawny foal) crossed the road in front of me. These animals were painfully thin, and moved with care and deliberation over the flat, rock-strewn terrain.  As far as I could see in any direction, the area was fairly barren, the only vegetation small clumps of sagebrush. They seemed oblivious of me and my rental car; as I watched them move away, single file, the shimmering heat made their image begin to dance and wave, until they simply disappeared from view.

The Gobi Gallop—Mongolia

And now, for my newest adventure— the world’s longest charity horseback ride, Mongolia’s Gobi Gallop! If all goes according to plan, I will travel to Asia in late May to join intrepid equestrians from around the world for this ride’s 10th anniversary, all in support of the work of the Veloo Foundation.

The following sentiment, excerpted from the ride’s Facebook page, summarizes one of my main motivations for wanting to participate:

“[The Gobi Gallop is] a chance to see Mongolian horsemen and women from the oldest unbroken horse culture on the planet managing the horses to go 700+km in 11 days…10 days of riding and a rest day. It’s like stepping back to when horses were the only means of transportation, and covering ground like our forefathers.”

But equally important is that my participation in this ride will directly benefit some of Mongolia’s most vulnerable citizens—the children of impoverished families living in Ulaanbaatar, the country’s capital. For generations, many of these families herded livestock on the Mongolian steppe, but modern day challenges combined with an increasingly harsh climate have made this traditional lifestyle more and more untenable. In Ulaanbaatar, these families eke out an existence rummaging through the local dump. The Veloo Foundation’s Children of the Peak Project runs a kindergarten to offer their children a safe place to learn, to grow, and to be mentored. It gives hope for a better future.

Mongolia is the land that gave rise to Genghis Khan (Chinggis to the locals), whose small population of mounted soldiers eschewed hand-to-hand combat and still managed to conquer lands covering modern-day China and Russia, as well as most of the Middle East, the Indian peninsula and as far west as Hungary and Poland. Later, his descendants would cause China’s Ming Dynasty emperors so much worry they would erect a structure now known as the Great Wall. Mongolians were and are master horsemen; their children learn to ride as toddlers, and the horse is fully entwined in the fabric of their nomadic history. It would be safe to say that without horses, Mongolia wouldn’t be…Mongolia.

This map image has been “borrowed” from the website of the Foundation for the Preservation and Protection of the Przewalski Horse. If you want to learn about these unique animals and the worldwide effort to save them– this is a great source!

While there, I also plan to make a quick trip to Khustain National Park, home of the wild takhi. The story of the takhi could fill its own blog, but suffice it to say they are the only remaining truly wild species of horse in the world. You might know them better as Przewalski’s Horse (named for the Polish explorer who “discovered” them in 1878), and for many years they were essentially extinct in the wild. But thanks to a captive breeding program located two continents away, the animals were successfully reintroduced, and now thrive on their native steppe.

As an additional fundraising project, I have been selling these super warm Mongolian yak wool socks– and I still have some left! The medium reindeer is sold out, but I have limited quantities available in all other sizes and styles. The reviews have been outstanding– please reach out if you think a pair or two will be just the thing next winter!

I am covering all my personal ride expenses out of pocket, and am still actively working to meet my ambitious fundraising goal of $10,000—100% of which benefits the work of the Veloo Foundation. I am just over halfway there, with only weeks left to go—if you are so inclined, please consider making a tax-deductible contribution to my ride! Truly, every little bit helps.

Ok, it’s your turn now—where have horses taken YOU? Or where would you like them to? Drop a comment here! Perhaps you will inspire me for my next adventure….

My Equine Bucket List—the 2023 Update

For me, the shortened, colder days of winter, combined with the ending of a calendar year, bring a logical opportunity to pause and reflect. Although I long ago abandoned any illusion of setting an annual New Year’s resolution, I remain a goal-oriented person. The duality of thinking back to what I have accomplished in the past year, while also looking forward to where I might go next, helps me get through what can be a somewhat boring few weeks of winter.

Goals come in different flavors. They can be short, medium, or long-term. They can be an end in themselves, or a stepping stone to accomplishing something bigger, broader or more complex. They are not static; in fact, quite the opposite. Short and medium-term goals shift to suit immediate circumstances; long-term goals change based on these results, and also as we ourselves evolve through increased wisdom, life experience, and changing priorities.

Back in January 2015, I posted a blog in which I named 13 experiences on my equine “bucket list”. In that post, I commented:

“In preparing my goals for the 2015 season, I realized that it would be a huge help to step back and really evaluate the Big Picture—to think about those goals which seem so outlandish and so far out there as to be almost unattainable.  Because the reality is, if you don’t think about those kinds of goals in a Big Picture way, you almost certainly won’t backtrack and make the changes or seek the opportunities necessary to try to take them from being a dream to a certainty.  And then someday you are likely to reflect upon your career and say, gee I had always wanted to [fill in the blank]…but it is too late now.”

I still feel this way, and so I thought it might be fun to take another look at the 2015 list—and then update it with my 2023 perspective.

Eight years later, of those 13 experiences, I can now “check off” four items: 1) Keep my horses at home (2015), 2) Complete a 100 mile ride (2015 and 2016) 3) Ride a reiner (2018) and 4) Trail ride in Acadia National Park (2018). And I really do believe that creating this list was what set plans in motion to actually take actions that would make these goals become reality.

Lee and I enjoyed the miles of carriage roads at Acadia National Park. Thanks Mr. Rockefeller!

As I mentioned above, long-term goals change, for a myriad of reasons. There are two 2015 items I can definitively say are no longer figuring into my future plans: completing a classic three-day event, and raising a foal. Let me explain.

Back then, I still described myself as an eventer, but even in the 2015 blog I noted that after some significant time away from the sport, my bravado and enthusiasm for cross country were not what they once were. In the intervening years, I have left the eventing world altogether, I don’t miss it a bit, and I do not foresee a return.

Anna and I competed at the Area I Championships at both beginner novice and novice. This was the last jump on course, and it looked much larger from the take off side!

In regards to raising a foal, I can perhaps give this objective a “partial completion” award. I acquired my 2015 halfbred Connemara, DRF Isabela, at just under two years of age; my 2017 Morgan, Spring Hollow Or Noir, was even younger when she arrived in October 2018. Although neither one was a foal per se, I have had the pleasure (and challenge) of developing these two lovely young mares almost from the very beginning, which was really my true desire.

And now, without further ado, may I present:

Christina’s Equine Bucket List (2023 edition)

Items carried over from the 2015 list are designated with a *.      

  1. Save a horse.* I moved this Bucket List Item to # 1 to emphasize its importance, even though it is more of a commitment than it is a specific action item. Our industry is still plagued by the fact that we produce more horses than there are suitable homes; additionally, fewer equestrians are able to keep their horses at home, and this can preclude them from being able to provide a safe haven for older or retired animals. In 2015, I noted that to “save a horse” could be quite direct, in the context of getting a horse out of a dangerous or inhumane situation, or indirect, in terms of providing continued education to horse lovers and support for rescues. In continuing to embody this Bucket List Item, I strive to practice and promote the principles of compassionate equestrianism through my writing, teaching, and judging. Cold Moon Farm’s Poo for You Aged Compost Program promotes sustainable equestrian facility management, and proceeds from compost sales have been donated to local equine non-profit organizations including Hidden Pond Farm Equine Rescue, Becky’s Gift, Home-At-Last Farm Mini Horse and Pony Rescue and Sanctuary, and the New Hampshire Horse Council’s Support Where the Hooves Go Fund. And in 2015, I adopted Spring Hollow Marquesa from a local collegiate equestrian program, who was retiring after an 18 year career there. Although she was in no danger of ending up in a bad situation, I made a conscious commitment to be the human responsible for caring for this special animal for the remainder of her days.
DRF Isabela working at home as a 5 year old.

2. Train my own horses.* Like Bucket List Item #1, this objective is less tangible, and will likely remain on the list indefinitely. When I set this intention in 2015, my two principal mounts were Liatris and JEF Anna Rose, both of whom I acquired as green 6-year-olds. Although I am responsible for the majority of their training, both came into my life previously started under saddle. With the additions of Izzy in 2017 and Nori in 2018, I have had the opportunity to start not one but two youngsters from scratch, including being the first (and so far, only) person to ride each horse. I am the rider I am today, at least in part, thanks to several wonderful schoolmasters who gave me the opportunity to learn feel, timing, and other hard to describe qualities of riding.   But at this point in my equestrian journey, I take a great deal of pride (and humility) in knowing that the horses I ride and work with are the product of my own effort and time.  For me, it is more meaningful to develop the relationship with each individual horse along the way than it would be to get on an already trained animal in pursuit of a specific competitive result.

3. Drive a big hitch.*  This goal was inspired by the 2014 Equine Affaire in Springfield, MA, where I was blown away by the six horse Belgian hitch presented by the Morrisville College Foundation during the evening Fantasia show. From my 2015 blog: “The quiet power of each of these amazing animals combined into one suddenly small arena was just awe-inspiring.  The metal fittings on the harnesses gleamed, and the air hung heavy with the sound of their powerful feet rhythmically striking the soft footing.  I probably should start with a refresher on how to drive just one horse.  But boy, it would really be amazing to be directing that much power.” I have made zero progress toward achieving this goal, but I am still 100% interested in figuring out how to make this happen.

JEF Anna Rose competing at Third Level. Fun fact– if I had not previously earned my USDF Bronze Medal (which recognizes rider performance at First, Second and Third Levels), I would have earned it with scores on Anna. Photo courtesy of Mily K. Creative.

4. Earn my USDF Gold Medal.* Interestingly, the USDF Rider Medal program has been the subject of recent debate. Several prominent leaders of the sport believe that, with improved coaching and educational opportunities, and better access to high-quality, purpose-bred horses, earning Rider Medals has become too easy. But for those of us riding “average” movers, where every single point counts, earning the minimum required score of 60% or higher, especially at the FEI levels, is still a pretty ambitious accomplishment. Fortunately, a middle ground was reached; this year, the USDF introduced a “medal with distinction” award for those riders capable of achieving scores of 67% or higher, and have retained the regular medal program for the rest of us. I completed my USDF Bronze back in 2005, and I have four of the six required scores toward the Bronze Bar for Musical Freestyle performance as well. I spent a good chunk of 2019 (unsuccessfully) chasing those last two bronze bar scores, and as I am just at the beginning of the journey with my current dressage mount (Izzy), it is going to be a long time before I will be competing at a level that might earn me bronze bar, silver, or gold medal scores. Could I lease a horse with the intention of earning these scores? Sure. But please refer back to Bucket List Item #2, and I think you will see why that would only be an absolute last resort.

DRF Isabela competing at Training Level summer 2022 at Sassy Strides Equestrian in Lisbon, Maine. Photo courtesy of Erik of Maine Photography.

5. Compete in a CDI.*  Before one can enter a CDI, one needs to be showing in the FEI classes at the national level. SO… this goal is another one that is just way, way out there. And truthfully, right now I am a little ambivalent about it. Although earning the opportunity to compete in an international dressage show would be a real thrill, I don’t know that it makes sense for me to invest the significant (financial, time, travel) resources required to do it. I am keeping it on the list, because if the variables were starting to trend in that direction, I would consider it. But the opportunity costs involved may make this one of those goals which falls away when I revisit this list in the future.

6.“Do the Florida thing”. * Now that I have my own farm, the logistics of making a winter trip to Florida with horses have become vastly more complicated than they were back in 2015. But I really enjoy visiting the Ocala region in winter, if for no other reason than New England horse keeping from December until mid-March is really just about survival, and it is nice to go somewhere that isn’t in total hibernation. Additionally, it has become increasingly common for large training barns in all disciplines to migrate south for the winter, creating condensed pockets of talent and educational opportunities for the dedicated equestrian. I suspect that for me, it would at least in part come down to finding someone I wanted to work with badly enough that I was willing to make the sacrifices required to make it happen.

I mean, who wouldn’t want to miss out on this?

7. Train in Europe.* I think I explained this perfectly well back in 2015: “I am not talking anything on the level of taking my own horses over and training like I am going to make a team or something like that.  However, the tradition of horsemanship in countries like England, Germany or even Portugal and Spain is rich, and I think it would be greatly informative to have the chance to see how horses are managed and trained and riders are coached.” I would love to visit Ingrid Klimke’s farm; I understand she hosts semi-regular open training sessions— in German. Ich spreche kein Deutsch.

8. Ride in Mongolia. To the nomadic herdsmen of Mongolia, horsemanship is a tradition hundreds of years in the making. At one time, mounted Mongolian warriors were among the most feared in Asia. During the pandemic, I read a few books that took a look at horses from a historical perspective, and Mongolia featured prominently. In The Age of the Horse: an Equine Journey Through History, author Susanna Forrest dedicates an entire chapter to the rise, fall, and reintroduction of the Mongolian takhi, better known to most of us as the Przewalski’s Horse, and correctly called the world’s only true wild horse. I was fascinated by this history, as well as her travels to see the animals themselves in Hustai National Park in Mongolia. Then I read The Horse: the Epic History of our Noble Companion, by Wendy Williams, and she also featured the takhi, and traveling to Mongolia. Finally, I read Lara Prior-Palmer’s account of her winning Mongol Derby ride (Rough Magic). Let’s see, we can take two things I love—horses and travel—and merge them into one epic adventure? AND… **fingers crossed** I will be checking this item off the list in 2023, when I tackle the 10th annual Gobi Gallop in June! This 700 km charity ride is held to benefit the Veloo Foundation’s Children of the Peak Project. Riders cover their own expenses out of pocket, and solicit donations which help to support a kindergarten for some of Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia’s most vulnerable residents. I will now insert a totally shameless plug—if you wish to donate in support of my ride, you can do so here; every dollar helps, and donations are tax-deductible if you are a US or Canadian resident!

9. Complete a oneday 100 mile ride. To date, most of my distance riding career has been within the sport of competitive trail riding (CTR), which challenges a rider’s horsemanship as she endeavors to have her mount finish a long ride in as good as—or better—condition than he started. The 3 day 100 mile rides that Lee and I completed at GMHA in 2015 and 2016 were CTRs, with the distance broken up over three consecutive days. In the sport of endurance, the total distances covered in one day can be greater than in CTR, with a one-day 100 mile ride the crown jewel. Endurance rides are technically races, and the winner is the first horse to complete that is deemed “fit to continue”. But the slogan of the American Endurance Ride Conference, endurance riding’s national governing body, is “to finish is to win”, and I think this is the main goal for many endurance riders. I think the process of preparing for such an effort (which takes years) would be so rewarding, and the ability to actually complete it a true test of horsemanship. Spring Hollow Or Noir, better known as Nori, was purchased with an eye toward being a distance mount. Time will tell if she is up for the challenge of longer rides; I am hopeful that even if she isn’t, that she will remain a solid partner for years to come at shorter distances. For now, this Bucket List Item remains out on the far horizon—with many smaller peaks that will be fun to climb as we try to reach that pinnacle.

10. Compete at the National Dressage Small Horse/Pony Championships. The National Dressage Pony Cup is an organization founded by Jenny Carol with the objective of “showcasing the exceptional talent, training, and commitment of ponies and small horses, their owners, breeders, trainers, and riders in the art and sport of dressage” (lightly paraphrased). The group’s efforts have since expanded to include year-end awards for scores earned by registered ponies and small horses at USEF rated shows across the country, and a well-attended national championship held in the mid-west each year. I admittedly don’t compete at too many rated shows anymore (the cost is becoming prohibitive, particularly when there are high quality schooling shows available), but to be totally surrounded by talented small horses and their humans sounds like it could be an amazing and rewarding experience. If I were to make the trip, I would want it to be successful in the sense that Izzy was solid at the level entered and confident enough to do her best in a big environment.

    You may notice a theme here, that most of these goals are “way off” in the future, with many pre-requisite steps required before they are even possibilities. My dear friend Jen Verharen of Cadence Coaching always preaches “action precedes inspiration”. Often, we don’t make a move toward the thing we desire because we are waiting to feel ready, or for a sign from the universe, or for some other event to happen first. I now believe that we never feel ready, not for the really big stuff. It can be uncomfortable, even embarrassing, to admit to some of your deepest dreams, particularly when you know how much would need to happen to make them become reality. Putting these Bucket List ideas into words is one step toward taking bigger, broader steps; it sets the ball rolling.

    Now I challenge you to do the same—what is on your Equine Bucket List?