The nine-year-old Dastan, son of the Kazakh eagle hunter, rides his pony with me, cantering smoothly without a saddle and emphasizing my efforts to show some affection to my drunken pony – a gesture that The animal was not used to it.
Surrounding us all around was the vast, desolate landscape of the Altai Mountains of Western Mongolia. From the meadow, where the horses graze along the river, the rocky, gold-plated terrain stretches to the far-flung toothed areas, with snow dust settling with the arrival of winter.
On the Horse with Dastan, I was reminded of some of my childhood ways in Wales, where I spent my days riding my pony through the country, enjoying the serene natural beauty around me, always Ended a long day with a hot cup of tea awaiting me.
In October 2019, after nearly three years of living and working in northern Iraq, where I covered the nation’s efforts to defeat the Islamic State, I started working on a personal photography project, based on my background and horses. Was based on relationship with. My goal was to explore specifically the relationship between animals – horses, and the people whose livelihood depended on them.
To begin, I went to Western Mongolia to meet and photograph iconic Kazakh hunters, horsemen and animal shepherds.
With the help of a local guide and translator, I traveled through the capital of Bayan-Olgi Province, the city of Oman, which continues to live off the land in some extremely harsh environments.
Including the most western region of Mongolia, Bayan-Olgi is the country’s only Muslim and Kazakh-majority province or target.
Deep in the Altai Mountains, where Russia, China, Kazakhstan and Mongolia meet, the Kazakh people have evolved over centuries and nurture a special bond with the Golden Eagle, training birds to hunt foxes and other small animals .
An eagle hunter, cattle shepherd and father of two, Alunkush said he cared for his eagle “as if he were a child.”
The ancient custom of hunting with eagles on a horse traditionally passed away from father to son at an early age and is considered a great source of pride.
“All Kazakhs love to train the eagle,” said Alunkush. “Now we keep the Eagles because it is a traditional sport.”
Serik Gingsbek, who was 26 years old when I met him, is a famous and skilled eagle hunter, sportsman and horse trainer. He Long talked to me about his special relationship with his eagle.
“If my eagle looks bad, I feel bad,” he said. “If he’s happy, I’m happy. When we go to the mountains, we share everything together. “
In recent generations, many Kazakh families have moved from rural areas to urban areas, partly due to difficulties in accessing health care, education, social services and employment opportunities. Among those who stayed, the ancient practice of eagle hunting provided an additional source of income from visitors who paid to see the famous birds in action.
Training and caring for the Golden Eagle is just one aspect of the animal’s animal life; Others include training young horses, feeding lambs, feeding yaks, and cooking meat.
The daily demands of the life of a traditional herring family can save very little time for additional education or the pursuit of personal ambitions away from home.
In response to their physically demanding lifestyle, working parents as parents often send their children to boarding school in towns and cities, sometimes away from home, in the hope that their children Will secure a more comfortable future.
Despite living in the mountains all his life, Alunkush said he hopes for a different path for his children. “I don’t have education, and I’m not young,” he told me. “If I was younger, I would probably go to Olgi to work – but it’s better for me to live in the country.”
“The life of the country is very difficult, especially for children,” he said. “That’s why I send my children to school. If they finish university, I hope they get a job in the city.
Paradoxically, such parental ambitions may disappear from the culture and the way of life that has been in place for generations.
Externally, documenting traditional ways of life in Western Mongolia is in sharp contrast to my time spent scenes of conflict and suffering in Iraq. But two themes have a common theme: human struggle not only to survive, but to create a better future for themselves and their families.
That universal conflict can be found in situations of conflict, occupation, and forced emigration, just as it can be found in the circumstances of a nomadic people who would consider many resources.
And despite the scope of the surrounding differences and the challenges I faced with those I met, I felt a connection – and shared a common language – with Kazakh horsemen, through our mutual connection with horses.
Claire thomas Is a British photographer and photo journalist who focuses on conflict, humanitarian and environmental crises and social issues. You can follow his work instagram And Twitter.
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