Horsemen of Inner Mongolia charge towards the future

Updated 2017-08-08 11:42:18 CGTN
Mao Hoaer walks his horse in the grasslands.  Photo/CGTN

Mao Hoaer walks his horse in the grasslands. Photo/CGTN

The thunder of hooves rolls out across the vast grasslands of Inner Mongolia as Mao Hoaer kicks his horse into a gallop.

It is a sound and a sight that belongs to this place and its people, and has done since time before memory.

In the 13th century, on the backs of horses just like the one ridden by Mao, the charge of the conquering Mongol hordes under Ghenghis Khan and his sons changed much of the known world.

But now, change and the world are invading the grasslands of Inner Mongolia and the old ways are under threat.

Mao Hoaer, 84, is among the last of the traditional Inner Mongolian horse masters.

He is now in a race against time and progress, teaching the next generation how to ride in the traditional Mongolian style –without saddle and without fear-- before this ancient skill is lost forever.

Most of his descendants are now infrequent visitors who have turned their backs on the traditional ways of herding and horsemanship. Many of the young have left the family village of Wen Gen Mao Du, tucked away in a poor part of Tian Shan County in the autonomous region's south-east.

They seek the bright lights and steady pay packets of China's rapidly developing cities, or plan to do so.

The family gather beneath a yurt that, like a metaphor for the time and place in which they live, is both old and new

The material is modern and covered in cartoon depictions of hearts that dance between the phrase "Forever I Love," written over and over again in English, but the structure is bound together with horse hair in the traditional manner.

And though the modern world presses in, as dinner is served, Mao Hoaer's wife, 70-year-old Nao Ri Ni Ma gently pushes back with a traditional song.

"I am glad we are gathered here today," she sings, "We welcome you here, now you are like family."

The old ways of Inner Mongolia may be under threat of disappearing, but in the ears and mouths of its people, they are not yet forgotten.

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