Back in 2008, with just the local crowd and a handful of unwavering supporters to witness, twelve-year-old Angus Paradice proved his mettle in a race against the children of the Mongolian steppe.
Angus and his family had visited Mongolia two years prior, their travels coinciding with a local Naadam festival. At these festivals, competitors test their strength in ‘the three games of men’: wrestling, archery and horse racing. While wrestling and archery are performed largely by adults, the jockeys in the horse races are always children!
Seeing kids race wildly over the plains on their horses lit a spark inside Angus. Before his parents knew it, he was riding his horse 22 kilometres home from school on fine days, jogging when the weather was bad, and doing 40 sit-ups and push-ups every day to prepare himself for the race of a lifetime.
Angus’s father, David, said ‘We tried to persuade him from doing it, but he was so determined. It was very nerve-racking to watch, but… you can’t wrap them up in cotton wool.’ Angus arrived in Mongolia with his parents and younger brother three weeks before Naadam, enlisting the help of a Mongolian trainer to select Angus’s horses and prepare for the event.
In a typical Mongolian horse race, the children will ride bareback or with a simple pad and stirrups. After training for months in the lead-up to the festival, when the moment comes, the competitors ride their horses far away from the finishing line before racing back over a distance that usually measures between 14 and 30 kilometres.
Rather than being divided by the age of the children, Naadam races take into account the age of the horse. Angus rode in races of 14.5, 15 and 20 kilometres, carrying on even after he fell off, cracked his wrist and momentarily lost consciousness! His sheer grit was rewarded with a top-ten placing in one race, and the pride that comes from being the first foreigner ever to compete in the Naadam races.
When Angus returned home, the Australian Geographic Society named him young adventurer of the year. And the following year, Angus’s adventure was turned into a documentary called ‘A Little Bit Mongolian’ (check it out on YouTube here). What a kid!
If a twelve-year-old Aussie can run against the Mongolian locals in a gruelling bareback race, you can bet your bottom dollar that YOU can take on our ever-so-slightly more sedate Mongolian horse riding holiday!
Reference: Sydney Morning Herald.
Image credits: Prasit Chansareekorn / Getty Images, Explorers Club, Paul Jarman.