|Septuagenarian Hazhab, a herdsman from Xinlin Hot, said:"It took me 10 full days to ride to Hohhot in the 1940s. Now, however, I can make the trip to visit my grandson in only 40 minutes by air."|
Abandonment of the horse is a natural result of economic development, said Bao Qingwu, an economist with Inner Mongolian Academy of Social Sciences. The per capita annual income of herdmen in Inner Mongolia stands at 2,300 yuan now, 13 times the figure two decades ago.
More than half of the herder households no longer raise horses,
so crucial to their lives before.
Yidam, a herdsman from Xinlin Gol, visited Australia in 1995 at his own expense. Yidam's family, which has assets of well over one million yuan, continues to raise five horses.
"I don't feel I could be called a real Mongolian if no horses are kept in the backyard," Yidam said.
Generations of the Mongolian Dalhut tribe have cared for the mausoleum of Genghis Khan, and also guard two "holy horses" which helped him conquer the world. The horses are quite obviously statues, but were fashioned after the two best white horses selected from the entire herd in the pastoral area.
Qulubater, a herdsman from Ih Ju League, takes great pride in his horse which was selected to replace one of the "holy horses' died a short time ago.
"I could hardly hold back the tears when the Dalhut people left with my horse," he recalled.
Xurigan, president of Inner Mongolia University, said:"One could never fully understand Mongolians if they did not know their feelings about horses."
About two million younger generations Mongolian herdsmen are living in cities throught the nation. However, their feelings about horses remain intense in spite of having been away from pastoral areas for many years.
A bowed stringed instrument one end shaped like a horse's head is a common sight in urban Mongolian homes. Dedam, a female Mongolian singer living in Beijing, has several fine saddles in her home.
"I look at the saddles and feel as if I'm home," she said.
Monogolian composer Baogi said horseback riding is the spiritual cradle of the Mongolian group and horses will never be completely removed from the spiritual world of Mongolians.
"Instead, horses have emerged as a kind of spiritual symbol and sustenance of Mongolians, and the cultural significance of horse has become increasingly prominent," Baogi said, adding that "horses in this sense exist just like prairies, clouds, and the sky, and will indeed move into modern civilization together with the Mongolian people."