If you thought Julia’s involvement with horses was limited to her stint as a runaway bride, think again. Amanda Ronan unearths this PBS travelogue.
Wild Horses of Mongolia with Julia Roberts opens with Julia “traveling halfway around the world” to live with a nomadic family for a few weeks. She tells us a brief history of the country itself, mentioning the country’s most famous horseman, Genghis Khan, and then tells us about her own personal history and love of horses.
While searching for her hosts, nomads don’t have addresses as it turns out and can be hard to find, Julia happens across a herd of “Taki” horses, better known as Przewalski horses.
Finally, in the middle of nowhere she finds two little houses, the home of her host family.
Julia is welcomed into their “ger,” the family’s one room home, to enjoy a nice bowl of “airag,” fermented horse’s milk. Julia describes it as “fizzy, warm yogurt.” Yummo! …not.
After a good night’s rest, the family informs Julia that her first day as a guest will be spent completely disassembling the ger and moving. She describes the process as “like unwrapping a huge birthday present.”
Everything, furniture included, is taken apart and loaded on camels in under an hour. Anyone who has moved from even a small apartment will know that that feat deserves mad respect. After a long day’s journey, the family and Julia reassemble the homes. She admires the family’s sense of teamwork and notes that instead of viewing the process as work it seemed more like a social occasion. We are then introduced to the family’s horses. They own just over a thousand head and are constantly moving so that the animals can survive on the sparse steppe vegetation. Julia is given a quick tutorial on how to milk a mare.
The women of the family milk the mares every two hours, every day during the summer months. The milk sustains the family throughout the long, cold winters and is their primary source of Vitamin C.
Next, the family prepares for an annual horse race. Note the wicked cool Mongol forelock braid job!
A child jockey is chosen from the grandchildren, and next Julia watches as the men sort through the herd to find the perfect 5-year-old race prospect. They use an “urga,” a lasso attached to a large stick, to catch the horses. Although I expected this to be a bit cringe worthy, it was surprisingly gentle. Because the lasso loop couldn’t tighten, the men had to rely on careful hand technique and the speed of their mount to catch the horses. It was pretty darn impressive.
They perform all this and more on a wooden saddle with metal studs on the seat. Apparently, the studs encouraged Genghis Khan’s men to stand in their stirrups… me thinks George Morris is a descendent of the Khan.
Julia then goes for a quick ride. I’m amazed at how far forward they put the saddles, basically sitting over the withers.
After all the preparations, race day arrives…
Will the boy from Julia’s host family win the day?!? You’ll just have to watch and see!
Wild Horses of Mongolia with Julia Roberts originally aired on PBS’s Nature series in 2000. It is a first-person narrative of Julia’s time as a tourist in Mongolia, so don’t expect anything too technical or scientific to be discussed. She gives brief factoids about the history of the country, the people and their culture, and the horses themselves. And although she does get a bit philosophical or “artsy fartsy” during her monologues, overall I enjoyed the simplicity of the show. It’s an easy watch on a rainy afternoon.
I give it 3 Golden Horseshoes.
Watch it here in five parts: