I was convinced during the ﬁrst few days after arriving in the Mongolian capital of Ulaanbaatar in 2008 that my Mongolian driver and I would get into a car accident every time we drove through the city center. At every junction, drivers would often wait until the very last moment to brake and avoid another car coming sideways. Despite this, I was never involved in an accident or even saw one. Drivers always managed to keep a few centimeters’ distance between their respective cars. When I returned to the capital, after spending six weeks of riding horses with Mongolian herders, this style of driving became clearer. This entails both driving a car and riding a horse as a kind of “joint project” (Argent 2012, 124), where in moments of uncertainty both car and horse act in an agentive fashion. Mongolian herders love talking about their horses. Herders consider
horses the most valuable of the “ﬁve muzzles” (horses, camels, cattle, sheep and goats) that they breed. They mainly express admiration for stallions, as proud mounts, protectors of the horse herds. Herders appreciate elegant and light racehorses and spirited riding horses. Observing herders at work, however, I noticed another type of horse that while rarely mentioned spontaneously, was highly valued for his precious and rare qualities: the lasso-pole horse. Herders pasture their animals on a fenceless steppe; when they need to capture them, they use a lasso-pole (uurga), a long wooden stick with a leather noose at the end.1 The Mongol rides a lasso-pole horse (uurgach mor’) specially trained to assist the rider. The horse is supposed to identify which animal needs to be captured and helps his rider to catch and stop the animal. As an accomplished mount and rider, the lasso-pole horse and the herder exemplify a Mongolian conception of the human horse relationship. In this relationship the horse becomes a full and cooperative partner and is encouraged to take his own initiative in the context of daily pastoral tasks. In what follows, I focus on partnership and collaboration in the human
horse relationship among Mongolian herders. My analysis is inspired by Argent’s (2012) literature on human horse partnerships. My goals include both expanding my ethnography on the meaning of horses among Mongolian people, and relating my research to the wider literature on horses and humans. Thus, I focus on how Mongolian rider and horse learn to
collaborate and the processes that are involved. The relationship between the rider and the lasso-pole horse serves as a paradigm for the meaning of horses in Mongolia. My analysis addresses three key issues: what herders appreciate in horses, what they do with their horses and what working with horses means to them.