D.Davaakhuu: We can never grow distant from horses
Horse trainers across the country are busy preparing for Naadam festival’s horse racing competitions. One of them is D.Davaakhuu – a labor hero, state honored herder and tod manlai uyach (the highest title for horse trainers bestowed after 12 of their horses win a state-level competition or 24 horses come in second place). He is currently training around 10 horses for the upcoming festival in Bayantsogt soum in Tuv Province.
D.Davaakhuu speaks about horse training and other relevant matters in the interview below.
You came to Bayantsogt soum over a month ago. Why did you decide to come here?
I came here because of the warm weather and abundant fodder but this place has been bringing me unexpected fortune and good luck. I started training horses in 1978. Back then I trained my horses here and one of them won the horse racing competition of Naadam festival, while another came in second. Forty years have passed since then. So that’s partially why I decided to train my horses here this year.
Back in the old days, I used to train state horses. In 1977, I trained the stallion that won. At the time, there was a high demand for skillful horse trainers who can train adult horses (horses over the age of five) to win state races. I was working as an X-ray technician back then. I had just enrolled into the Middle School of Medical Science. Later in fall, Chairman of the Central Council of the Defense Assistant Society, Lieutenant General J.Jamiyan ordered me to bring my father because he wanted to meet him. After I arranged a meeting for the two, J.Jamiyan told my father, who was a horse trainer, to make an adult horse win the national horse racing competition. Since my two younger siblings were still babies, my dad suggested that I train the horse and that he would teach and guide me along the way. That’s how I left school and trained my first state horse. I was 28 years old then. My father was an exceptional horse trainer.
How were racing horses selected from state horses? Is it similar to how experts go around recruiting promising athletes from all over the country for the national team?
Mongolian horses were used during the Battles of Khalkhiin Gol and World War II. They consume little amount of fodder, have great physique, are strong and capable, and very durable. It’s said that Soviet Red Army Marshal Georgy Konstantinovich Zhukov commented, “Mongolian horse are incredible” and tried to send a message using a Mongolian horse after winning World War II but other people disapproved of it, saying that he must use a Russian horse. It’s also said that he brought in different breeds of horse from Russia to Mongolia to make Mongolian horses stronger and better, and established the Jargalant Farm.
In 1950, the new breed, a bay stallion, won the national horse race. Since then, four or five more of the same breed won the national horse race. However, as technology advanced, the use of horses decreased and the horses at the farm were handed over to the Ministry of Defense.
Later, the Russians built a horse camp. Four stallions were last brought in from Russia in 1966. Two of them were meant to be gifts to Mongolia. That’s how hybrid horses began racing in national competitions. Out of the horses I trained from the horse camp, 13 won the national horse race.
Just as horses from Sukhbaatar Province are known for their speed, horses from different regions have their specialty. Why is that so?
Let’s think of (horses) as humans. There are people who never get tired while there are those who are fast but run out of energy fast. Horses from Sukhbaatar Province are without a doubt fast. There’s steppe land in Sukhbaatar so horses born there have thin skin. Horses born in areas near mountains and rivers have thicker skin. That’s probably the work of nature.
Look at Russians – none of them are bowlegged. Even their trees are straight. But Mongolians are different from them. I guess certain people are born in certain areas.
There are fast horses in Khangai region too. When 10 fast horses are born in the east of the country each year, only one or two fast horses are born in the west. There may be few Mongolian fast horses but you can’t say they are slow.
What’s the first thing you look at to find strong and fast racing horses?
I look at their five organs and skin. It’s better if horses are cross-breed. You must treat horses just like a person. You have to adjust your training methods depending on the horse and their characteristics. Even if we learn and train horses all our life, we will not fully grasp the best training method for each horse breed.
There are only few horses that died under my hands and slightly more that had to be amputated. People say those who don’t chop off legs of horses are really good trainers.
A long time ago, people used to welcome horse trainers back home from national competitions with a greeting that goes “Amar sain yvav uu?” (Did you travel safely?) and horse trainers replied “Mend saikhan irlee” (I came back well). This exchange has a very important meaning. If a horse trainer says he came well, then the other person can ask them how many of their horses won the race. Nowadays, the results are announced immediately via TV and radios so young people don’t know this culture.
Do you change diets of your horses before competitions?
Training horses starts from tying it up. You must treat it like a person.
Many of your horses participated in national competitions. Which competition was the most memorable?
The first competition is something I can never forget. In 1972, 382 adult horses raced but my bay horse beat all of them. It was incredible. Before that, one of my four-year-old horses won the national horse race. I made two stallions of a person named M.Dash win the national horse races in 1965 and 1966. Like so, I have many wonderful memories. I can’t choose from them. Even so, I can’t forget how amazing it was to sit down with my father after getting 11 of my horses to triumph at the national horse race. I think that happened in 1985.
So far, how many of the horses you trained won or came second in national competitions?
Fourteen stallions and seven ikh nas (fiveyear-old) horses I trained won state horse racing competitions. Another two stallions won local competitions. I can’t recall the other victories right now. Over 70 of my horses won or came in second at national horse races organized during Naadam festival. It’s not really something I keep track off. Besides, I don’t really like talking about it because people can’t handle compliments. We sure can handle badmouthing but not compliments. There’s also Tsagaan khel am (getting jinxed by too many compliments and jealousy). Most importantly, a person needs to have a correct set of mind and avoid causing trouble for others.
Wealthy people are buying fast horses and getting good horse trainers to train them so that they themselves can get a state title. Doesn’t this devalue the effort of horse trainers?
The trainer is the one who makes the horse win. The owner is the one who helped it win. People should understand the difference between these two. I think that as people become more aware of this, horse owners will decide what kind of title/reward they will give to successful horse trainers. If it were in the past, the owner would be a sports committee director and the trainer a coach. Therefore, I’m not sure who should get the title.
I noticed that there are many people who hire others to train their horses. Our generation has become old-minded so they don’t understand the market. The society has become really difficult and challenging. We can’t blame anyone for it. We need to look back on the past. Young people are trying to take advantage of all rights and privileges before they earn them. They need to fulfill their obligation before exercising their rights. For example, people should actually be able to get medical treatment before retiring. The society has taken the wrong turn. A person dedicates his heart and body to the state yet he/she is regarded like an old car. The society shouldn’t be like this. Although they’re making people retire because they can’t be of help, it’s no different from throwing them away to die.
Lately, many people are voicing to ban horse races. They’re criticizing that it’s wrong to let children race on horseback. As a person who has been close to horses all your life, what do you think about this?
A group of people are messing with the Mongolian culture. People should create things on their own, but nowadays, we’re importing a bunch of Korean dramas. Who needs that? So many people have become fans of Korean dramas and films.
I started riding horses at the age of five. I heard that I was riding a horse while asleep when I was a kid but I was completely fine. The last time I participated in a horse race was when I was 13 years old. A child who was supposed to ride one of our horses couldn’t participate because of a stomachache and so I competed against over 1,000 people for the 40th anniversary of Tuv Province in 1963. I was too heavy for the horse and came in 37th from the bottom.
I have been raising horses for the past 43 years. I took a break only once in 1969. There’s nothing like riding a horse. But I’m sure not everyone feels that way. I guess it can’t be helped because there are cars, motorbikes and bicycles now. Moreover, there are people who play with horse trainers, making Mongolians grow distant from their national culture and lifestyle.
In fact, I think that a horse riding club should be established in Ulaanbaatar. We can never grow distant from horses. We often boast that Mongolians conquered half of the world. They didn’t conquer on foot. Our ancestors were able to do it thanks to horses.
...We often boast that Mongolians conquered half of the world. They didn’t conquer on foot. Our ancestors were able to do it thanks to horses...