One that Lasts

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Child Horse Racer
My Steady Cam operator looked like a door gunner bearing down at the horde racing in full gallop under the midday sky. It was bright blue and cloudless above as our  4×4 mini van bounced over the grassy steppe terrain in parallel. People see the flat grasslands here in Mongolia from afar and mistaken it for soft flat earth. It’s something like that and then some. The soil is a near powdery sand and it’s full of sharp rocks, holes, and ditches that are not realized until you are in them.

Our makeshift filming platform was a used space ship looking Mitsubishi Delica with its cargo door duct taped open. The two of us stooped inside managing to hang on as our driver named “Baatsukh” (Mongol for Sturdy Ax) rallied his machine through the gears. We could barely hear each other for the atmosphere was bombarded with the sound of wind, pelting rocks, tires biting for traction, the drum like pounding of horse hooves, clanking of bridles, and our senses bouncing about .

Baatsukh drove with one eye looking forward and the other navigating along side the riders. They were a large group of children doing practice runs for the Naadam horse race which were less than a week away. Each day small groups would assemble for intense runs. The race itself covers about 30km of overland riding. This is about the same distance used between the horse changing stations in the old Mongolian Pony Express employed during days of Chinghis Khan. These kids were very young ranging from 6 years old to 12 and already adept.

In the confusion I focused on taking in everything I saw with the intent of capturing something from this experience that would last. Well, the lead pack seemed to be separating from the main. We zoomed and pulled up alongside. Neither the horses nor riders gazed at us in distraction. My cameraman kept his aim and I decided lean out with my still camera. One hand grabbing onto the door frame and my legs balancing and cushioning each impact. You get so involved and disoriented when you find just the right composition. I framed, I reached, took the shot, I felt weightless.

The shutter clicked and I had a millisecond to be gratified. With the camera pulling away from my view point, I realized that the ground was rushing under my feet and it was unusually windy.  That’s when I discovered inertia. I was floating in near fetal position just outside the bay door. Passing dirt, grass, horses, van, wind, and my boots flashed before my eyes. Then like a slap, reality gets the best out of you. I frantically grabbed for any part of the van and pulled blindly. Miraculously I found myself back inside and I froze.

Out of sheer luck, the van ascended, banked, and descended in my favor. It was foolish, it was reckless , and I could have, should have fallen out of the moving van and likely found myself trampled. I regret being careless and learned from it. But I’m never going to regret this shot, it’s one that lasts.

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