Claire J. Harris

A horse, a crying child and no parental remorse in Mongolia

I was once fortunate to see poor parenting atop a horse. However, I have more questions. 

 

 

In the 2014 Swedish film Force Majeure, a couple takes their two young children on an idyllic skiing holiday in the Swiss Alps. As they are enjoying lunch on the outside deck of a luxury resort, they watch a controlled avalanche happening nearby.

For a few moments, a wall of snow appears to plunge towards the restaurant, covering the diners with powder. The husband panics and runs to his own safety, leaving his wife to throw herself over their kids to protect them from what appears to be certain danger.

But the avalanche stops before it reaches the deck, the fog clears and the husband returns to the table — as the family continue to eat their lunch as though nothing has happened. However, the wife can’t move on from the memory of her husband prioritising his own safety over that of his children, and her resentment builds, threatening the marriage.

I was reminded of Force Majeure a few weeks ago, on the first day of training I undertook for a horse trek in Mongolia. My group had set out together with a Swiss family of four: a couple with a teenage son and daughter. The husband had told us he had the most horseriding experience among them, although this didn’t seem to be particularly extensive.

The teenage boy was charged with leading a packhorse — which requires riding with one hand on the reins of your own horse, and the other holding the lead rope of a horse behind. Pack horses can stop suddenly, so you need to be ready to drop the lead rope if they do.

When the packhorse stopped to urinate, the boy was not at all prepared. The force pulled him backward, while he simultaneously grabbed at the reins of his horse, causing it to bolt in confusion.

My friends and I watched in horror as the boy toppled slowly over the rear of his horse, still holding onto the rope of the pack horse. As his horse ran forwards, his clunky hiking boot got caught in the stirrup and he was dragged along the rocky terrain while his horse picked up speed.

My heart leapt into my throat when his horse disappeared over the crest of a hill — now running at a full gallop and still pulling the boy behind him on the ground. In the split seconds, before I could see the horse again, my thoughts were also gallopingI knew if the boy was still stuck in the stirrup when the horse reappeared, he had little hope of escaping major injury.

The horse came back into view, charging up the next crest — and we could see that the boy was no longer attached to it. The pounding in my chest started to subside. Beside me, the boy’s sister was screaming and somewhere further up, I saw his mother jump from her horse and run to where he was lying on the ground. I couldn’t see the boy because there was a horse directly in front of me. It was being ridden by his father.

From his position right behind the boy’s horse, his father had had an unobstructed view of what was happening to his son. Yet he didn’t make a single move — not to get off his horse and make sure his son was physically intact, nor to go over and comfort his clearly-distressed daughter.

 

But what I really wanted to know was: Did their marriage survive?

 

The mother rode her horse and the pack horse back to the camp, while the boy walked shakily back the same way, cuts and bruises adorning his arms and legs. The woman didn’t return, and presumably, she spent the time with her injured son.

The father and daughter continued on the ride. He didn’t appear to be in any way concerned by the events — at least outwardly, he wasn’t as shaken as the rest of us were.

We didn’t see the family again before they set off on their own unguided horse trek for six days in the Mongolian wilderness. But we did meet another trekker who had journeyed with them for a couple of days.

We asked how they were doing and she said: “It’s very difficult, because they don’t know anything about horses.”

But what I really wanted to know was: Did their marriage survive?

In Force Majeure, when the husband feels compelled to defend his masculinity, he comes up with an excuse for why he behaved in such a seemingly cowardly manner. He reasons that if they were indeed going to be covered with snow, then the strongest person (ie him) had to be able to come back and dig them out.

Perhaps the Swiss husband felt that someone needed to complete the training in order to be able to save the entire family if a similar incident — or worse — happened while they were on their own with six horses in Outer Mongolia.

You would think it might have occurred to him that taking his family on a solo horseriding trek in Mongolia with no horseriding knowledge perhaps wasn’t the wisest idea in the first place.

 

 

Claire J. Harris

Claire Harris is a writer in exile who has spent the last decade travelling and working around the world. This is not nearly as glamorous as it sounds and usually involves scraping by on a diet of muesli and cheap wine. Occasionally together. You can find her at www.clairejharris.com

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