Lindsay Myron
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A Day at the Horse Branding

October 18, 2009 @ 11:22 AM | Permalink

Five hundred meters from my ger in Khentii aimag lived Tsogzolmaa, a five-foot stalky Mongolian woman sans a few teeth.  She had invited me in for milk tea and baaw (or sweet biscuits) and I happily obliged.  I sat down on her elaborately decorated bed situated next to a five-foot by three-foot laminated photo of two European children playing with rabbits and the words “Happy Boyhood” printed in playful red font.  An engine started up outside and muffled Mongolian dialogue clamored outside.  At the sound of the engine, Tsogzolmaa set down my anticipated bowl of milk tea and quickly ducked outside.

“Ho!  Ho!” she yelled at the group.  She quickly ducked back into the ger, picked up the bowl of baaw and forced me to take a flaky biscuit.  “No tea now.  Go now, go,” she said as she shooed me out the door.  I climbed into the back of an old, blue Nissan coop driven by an elderly couple and we sped across the grasslands.  I knew exactly where we were headed; it was horse branding day.

Once a year herder families will spend an afternoon branding their herd of horses.  The one and two year-old foals are lassoed out from the herd and their left hind legs are burned with the family’s symbol, a variation from one of several hundred tribal symbols of ancient Mongolian origin.

Our little diesel engine puttered us through a sea of horses to Tsogzolmaa’s brother’s ger.  The charred metal stove had been brought out of their ger and several bags of dung had been collected and laid next to the stove to fuel the afternoon’s festivities.

When we arrived the men of the family had already started lassoing the year’s youngin’ and there were two burnt sienna foals lying on the ground, three legs bound with canvas rope.  While the elder men cantered around the herd to keep them from escaping, the younger men would encircle a foal on horse and foot and make several attempts to put a rope around its neck.

Once a foal had been slowed and separated from the herd one of the men would grab its ears, reach around its neck and trip its leg and wrestle it to the ground.  The fur on its left hind leg was then trimmed with a pair of blue-handled scissors and the foal then lay it wait for its turn with the iron.

As soon the branding wand turned red hot one man would hold the horse down and another would carefully press the wand into the shortened patch of hair.

The women and young children sat cross-legged on folded blankets watching the men, dusty and sweaty, repeat the process until all their horses were accounted for. 

When the dust had finally settled, the foals had trotted away with their charred family sign and the fire had burned out, the branding wands were blessed by wrapping them in prayer scarves and dipping them in aiarg (fermented mare’s milk).

With a sigh and a stretch they said, “now it’s time for tea.”



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Lindsay, Enjoyed the woven threads of humanity in the family lesson on telling time. Thanks for sharing. TIm

Tim Matthews on Nomads Give New Meaning to the Cuckoo Clock 2009-11-03

Ouch. Not a fun way to finish off the semester. Get well soon and safe travels; look forward to seeing you back on the hill next month!

Matthew Hintsa on I've Never Been More Afraid of Pigs 2009-12-06

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