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  • He gives us his all.

  • Speed.

  • Endurance.

  • Power.

  • Yet his wild spirit burns bright.

  • Spark of ancient myth...

  • pride of king and conqueror...

  • ...he was the backbone of civilization.

  • History was forged to the beat of his hooves.

  • Even now, he still lays claim to the heart

  • - with all the bold beauty

  • that is the horse.

  • Summer

  • sets off fireworks in the mountains of southern Montana.

  • Spurred by heat and hunger,

  • wild horses converge on the cool green heights,

  • and sparks begin to fly.

  • Stallions spar

  • and court young mares

  • in a drama as old as the hills.

  • The mustang has become a symbol of the American West.

  • But some say he"s a newcomer to these parts,

  • even a trespasser.

  • The truth

  • is tangled in the long and winding history of his kind.

  • It began some 60 million years ago,

  • in the forests of North America.

  • Living on leaves,

  • a creature the size of a fox

  • walks the underbrush on padded toes.

  • In time,

  • forests give way to grassy plains.

  • Legs grow long,

  • and toes become nimble hooves in a body

  • built for speed.

  • About a million years ago,

  • the first true horses

  • spread across land bridges to Asia and Europe.

  • Their numbers swell,

  • then slowly decline

  • perhaps due to climate change,

  • or the impact of a two-legged predator.

  • To Ice Age hunters,

  • the herds must have seemed inexhaustible.

  • But by 8,000 years ago,

  • horses were extinct in the Americas

  • and dwindling elsewhere into memory and myth.

  • Then somewhere on the steppes of Eurasia,

  • at least 4,000 years ago,

  • the horse inspired someone as more than just a meal.

  • It may have begun as a shaman"s ritual,

  • or a reckless teenage prank.

  • But some brave soul took a quantum leap

  • and changed the world forever.

  • The horse utterly changed our sense of distance and speed.

  • He carried us forward in space and time,

  • and made our world smaller.

  • Great equestrian cultures arose and thundered across antiquity

  • Today, most have vanished.

  • But here on the steppes of Mongolia,

  • little has changed

  • since the time when the horse became a way of life.

  • Nomads still measure their wealth in livestock

  • and move vast herds with the seasons.

  • Small but hardy,

  • Mongolian horses endure a harsh climate,

  • and grow a thick winter coat.

  • When pasture is meager,

  • they can survive on very little.

  • Mongolian nomads also herd sheep,

  • goats and cows,

  • but horses are their greatest pride.

  • Revered,

  • they are largely reserved for riding

  • and one other important role.

  • Mongolia"s national drink, called airag,

  • is fermented mare"s milk.

  • Life in the saddle begins early in keeping with a local proverb:

  • "A Mongolian without a horse is like a bird without wings."

  • In July,

  • thousands of nomads

  • set up camp on the edge of the capital city,

  • Ulan Bator.

  • They come to celebrate Naadam,

  • an ancient religious festival.

  • National competitions of traditional sports are held,

  • including two days of horse racing.

  • One of the country"s top horse breeders,

  • Khen Medekh

  • traveled over a week

  • to take part in what will be his 30th Naadam.

  • From a herd of 400 head,

  • he has brought his 12 fastest horses.

  • Also in tow are his grandchildren

  • for good reason.

  • Riders must be under 12 to compete at Naadam.

  • Training, however,

  • is no child"s play.

  • It"s what Khen Medekh lives for

  • Horse training is a passion.

  • My father was a great trainer and he passed that on to me.

  • It"s the same for most Mongolian people.

  • We compete at Naadam

  • to see who has the best horse,

  • and because we"re so proud of our horses.

  • A fine racehorse

  • is a symbol of good luck and happiness.

  • On the day of the first race,

  • preparations begin at dawn.

  • Hats and bright silks will help families

  • spot their little jockeys at a distance.

  • The distinguishing mark of a racehorse

  • is a leather tail wrap

  • always wound clockwise.

  • Forelocks are also bound.

  • Khen Medekh enhances the look with a charm

  • bearing Mongolia"s national emblem.

  • He has high hopes for this young stallion.

  • With an offering of mare"s milk

  • Khen Medekh"s wife

  • invokes the sacred powers of nature

  • to bless horses and riders.

  • A circle of incense purifies.

  • A drop of airag protects from harm.

  • An ancient Buddhist chant rings out for luck.

  • Some 500 riders will compete in the first race.

  • Parents on horseback swell their ranks.

  • By tradition,

  • they circle clockwise

  • at a staging area near the finish line.

  • But the running of the race is not yet at hand.

  • The starting point lies more than 15 miles away

  • in the open steppe.

  • To reach that point at a walk

  • will take the racers some three hours

  • which leaves time to kill for everyone else.

  • Nomads like Khen Medekh

  • take the moment to catch up with old friends

  • and trading partners.

  • For people who live much of the year

  • in relative isolation,

  • there"s also the irresistible allure

  • of new faces.

  • For now,

  • small talk belies the drama that"s erupting miles away,

  • as 500 horses reach the starting point

  • and the race begins.

  • Long before they can see the racers,

  • spectators crowd the finish line.

  • According to myth,

  • the dust kicked up by winning horses

  • showers happiness and prosperity

  • on all those it touches.

  • Front-runners have been galloping for nearly 30 minutes

  • By Western standards,

  • this might qualify as an extreme sport

  • but these are the descendants of Genghis Khan,

  • who forged the largest land empire ever known

  • on horseback.

  • The blue sash of victory

  • goes to the first five horses

  • A flash of green tells Khen Medekh

  • his granddaughter has placed.

  • But a riderless horse

  • sends him off in search of his youngest grandson.

  • After an initial flurry,

  • racers trickle in for another hour.

  • Herd instinct alone will keep a horse going

  • even one that lacks the fitness and conditioning required

  • for a long-distance run.

  • For some,

  • the strain is too much.

  • When a horse dies on the racetrack,

  • the trainer is dishonored.

  • But the child who has lost a beloved pet

  • reaps only heartbreak.

  • A fall near the starting point

  • dashed the hopes of Khen Medekh"s grandson.

  • His horse is safe,

  • his bruises minor.

  • But his six-year-old pride will sting