Named after the Russo-Polish geographer and explorer Nickolay Przhevalsky, Przewalski’s Horse is believed to be a subspecies of Equus ferus, ‘the forest horse’. It is the only true wild horse of the world, the descendant of those horses painted on cave walls 25 000 years ago.

In 2005 and 2007, I spent two months as an eco-volunteer at Hustai National Park in Central Mongolia. I was assigned a harem each day and followed the horses in their range, making observations, noting GPS positions, altitude, air temperature and wind rates, behaviour, collecting data for the biologists. The Mongolians call the horses, ‘Takhi’, meaning ‘spirit’.

“The last one was seen in Mongolia in the 1960’s. They were hunted, collected, lost in European zoos, inbred, left on the brink of extinction, and saved. A Dutch couple, Jan and Inge Bouman began a breeding program and, with the help of the Mongolian Government, created a reserve, 50 000 hectares of mountain steppe, birch forest, river valley and desert, a land called Hustai National Park. In 1992, eighty-four horses came home in planes. There was an official ceremony, a line of crates stood waiting on the grass and a Mongolian woman sprinkled mare’s milk across the crates and to the winds. Men in black hats and traditional silk coats stood on top of each crate opening the slots, little by little. The horses seemed drunk at first, wavering at the door, then they bolted for the light.”

“Golden sun slanted on the high hills. I was alone in the valley, on the cold, damp earth. The stallion was walking slowly along a path, sniffing the ground, holding his nose to the ground for long moments, ears tilted forward. He stood there like a sentinel. Behind them was one of the enclosures where the horses had been penned when they first arrived from Europe. It now stood vacant, the fencing leaning in, fallen in places, woven with grasses and thistle. The enclosures seemed like deserted islands or broken ships, left to crumble, sink back into the earth. Soon the idea of them would be forgotten.”

“The horses moved into the forest and out again on the next mountain face. The brown mare was lagging behind and her little brown foal ran back and forth, nickering for her to hurry. I slipped across the grasses, becoming trees and rocks. Sometimes they passed so close I could have reached out my hand to skim their hides, the ribs, the tattered winter coats.”

 Excerpts from “The Wild Horses of Hustai”  Erika Connor 2017

‘Passing from mountain to mountain’, oil pastel on paper, Erika Connor 2008