(Donna): For someone that has grown up in a home without pets and carries a self confessed sense of awkwardness around animals the past 10 weeks of living, eating, sleeping with our four horses has opened up a new me.  I adore each of them and their individual quirky personalities – what they like or dislike, how they best work, what sort of grass they each prefer and somewhat laughably, how each of them behave when there are flying pests around. I wake up each morning and give them all a kiss and a cuddle as they stand there in their docile, sleepy state allowing me to love them. It has dawned on me over the past few days that we have shared very little about the characteristics of our four geldings, so here is a little rundown for you all.

Milky- Our gorgeous baby, he is literally the most beautiful horse alive and even though I’ve tried many times to capture this through a photograph I’ve never been successful. He has the softest, most strokeable nose and I just love it when he nuzzles into my torso and takes a long deep sniff of me (Nic says he doesn’t do this to him). Although he is only a baby at no more than four years old, he is growing at a dramatic speed in muscle and girth, it makes us deeply proud to see him growing into a strong, powerful horse before our very eyes. When we first took responsibility for him the girth straps hung baggy around his protruding ribs, he now wears his saddle comfortably without bundles of extra padding.

He has the strangest horse behaviour we’ve ever known, most notably his ‘hide and seek’ method of avoiding flies. He walks along when being led with his nose running along the ground in the shadows of my riding horse and when we stop he stands there, still as the night, with his head low to the ground, eyes closed as if he truly believes that the flies can no longer see him. When we are riding and a herd of horses approaches he comes up real close and rests his head on my leg to show his fear, he looks up at me and I stroke him to let him know I’ll keep him safe. He bolts if a car comes too close which is quite distressing for him, we try our best to wave intrigued Mongol’s along but being the self proclaimed horse masters that they each are, feel it completely ok to approach us at speed veering off road straight at us just to check us out.

Fergus – Originally one of the pack horses but became my riding horse when Choco got injured, is a joy to ride but a slow pack horse to lead, in fact I feel as though I practically dragged him along the first few hundred kms that we travelled, I think he gets bored too easily at a slow pace. His canter is so smooth that you beam with happiness as you bound along being transported by him, it’s truly a wonderful feeling to canter along the Mongolian countryside through green grass or over a mountain top on the back of a horse.  Fergus loves to roll and is the first to drop to the ground and wriggle about on his back once his saddle is removed, this suits me fine until it’s time to brush him and he has his recent excrement smeared up his side.  He’s finally worked out how to eat with a bridle on during our 10 minute snack breaks. He used to fill his mouth with huge amounts of grass that he held bunched out of both sides of his mouth wondering why he couldn’t get it to his back teeth, he now chews as he goes.

Kitay –  Although the leader and strongest horse, requires constant motivation. Mongols whip their horses profusely and unfortunately with Kitay he knows nothing else and so we must follow suit or else remain stationary.  He is an easy horse to work with and is quite well trained, he stands still while you are around him and has worked out that the better he behaves the quicker we’ll leave him to eat whereas the others haven’t quite got that concept. It took over six weeks for him to understand that whenever I raised my hand near him I was going to stroke him and not inflict pain. None of these horses have previously experienced affection  but Kitay, being older, flinched badly and would dart his eyes around frantically wondering what was going on. This is my greatest feat with Kitay, I don’t know if he even likes being stroked but I persist and he allows me to.

Choco – He’s our character. He whips his head back and forth viciously when there is even just one fly in the area, he hates them. He paces around at speed when staked and leads himself to the others with conviction. When we approach with our orange grain buckets he goes crazy at just the sight of them grunting and willing us to feed him first. Even though he is by far the skinniest, he eats greedily and we always place him in the best patch of grass overnight. When his back erupted like a volcano of puss we spent three weeks nursing him back from the brink of lameness with our vetinary kit. We injected him with penicillin for five days, Nic walked 170kms to allow Choco’s back to heal saddleless and we covered him in various anti-sceptics day and night to minimise his discomfort. Our feelings towards Choco changed after his injury, we grew huge admiration for his tenacity and determination. He, unlike the other three, never showed any sign of weakness (which was part of the reason his saddle sore got so bad before we could realise).

We are both so proud of ourselves for nursing him back to health, we recently wormed him (something that is unheard of here) and were excited to see him begin to pile on the pounds. It’s funny how excited the pair of us got inspecting the piles of poo left by each of them and seeing them filled with dead worms  within two days of giving them the paste (high five to us).  Choco LOVES the water- he would stand for hours on end in even ankle deep water just watching the world go by occasionally stomping his front leg to splash his tummy with cool water in the midday sun.

These are the images that are going through my mind of him right now as I sit here (in the police station garden) desperately waiting for news of his safety.

Some horrid person came and stole him from us while we slept less than 15 metres from his stake at 2am, two nights ago. The feeling of being robbed is much worse when it isn’t just a possession or material thing, this is our horse, our team member and friend.

We are both haunted with the sounds of our other three horses neighing loudly to alert us as he was being ridden off into the night. We woke instantly and had possibly missed out on seeing the culprit by less than minutes but even though we were awake and aware that one of our horses was missing what could we do? It’s pitch black, our other three mounts are going nuts neighing out for him and being in a populated area we were hearing neighing replies from every horse in the area confusing us as to which way he may have been taken. Nic went off in search by foot and on Kitay failing that as I stayed to guard the other horses and our tent.

Before long, it was 4.45am (our usual wake up time) and we still had no luck, we moved our other three in even closer and shortened their lines to keep them near. I had every hope that by daylight he’d just come plodding along the river back to his homies but this wasn’t to be. The reality didn’t sink in and I don’t think it has even yet as we both hold hope even though we are being given very little help or assistance.

We made it back into town on foot, with a horse down both of us are reduced to walking as one riding horse has to carry both of our saddles on his back. The heat of the day here at the moment is high and leading the horses while on foot is not easy at all, both of us sweating buckets and zigzagging the whole way to check if every distant horse was Choco.

Where we’re at now –

We’ve been at the police station camped in their garden since yesterday when we arrived. They aren’t exactly helpful, in fact via a translator last night we were able to gather than investigation would mean hard work for them and so they weren’t best pleased. Everything here is hard work with every Mongol against us doing everything that they can to see us fail, it’s really hard to sit here and write bad things about these people but it’s even harder to find any good in them. The country is just so beautiful and when we are left alone to get on with our day we have a great time, it’s the people that are damaging this experience for us, especially since this is our THIRD robbery in ten weeks!! People literally go out of their way to explain to me that our horses will not make the distance, they persist beyond rudeness to make sure that I fully understand that (particularly Choco) will not make it. My knowledge of the language is actually quite good and I can usually make it through a full conversation understanding most of it but sometimes I find it better to  simply say that I don’t speak Mongolian, especially if I’m not in the mood for their negativity.

Tomorrow is another day and although it will be tough to pick ourselves up, dust off and continue on – we must.