The Legend of Suho

“Take my bones, skin, hair, tendon and tail and turn it into an instrument, so we may be together even in death.”

“A Mongol without a horse is like a bird without wings,” this is an old saying which rings very true for the Mongolian People. Their vast herds offer them transport, food, drink, and entertainment and the horse is as part of their lives as breathing. Different clans adore different colours and different types for their terrain; the mountain riders search for strong long-legged mounts and the plain riders, in turn, look for shorter horses with a fighting endurance.

But all the horses of the Mongolian Steppes will forever have a touch of wildness to their souls. The Mongolians treasure the spirit of the horse and they have no desire to break them, making the bond between horse and rider something truly remarkable. The old legends and culture only exemplify this love, like in the tale of Suho.

Suho was a poor farmer who lived far away from the Nomad tribes without any tribe of his own. One cold winter day he came across a white foal in the fields. It was hungry and close to death. There was no sign of his mother, nor herd and taking pity on the pathetic creature, he took it home. Over the next few months, he nursed the animal back to health and soon the two became fast friends. They would often play in the fields, and as the foal grew from colt to stallion, they went from playing to racing across the steppes. And at night, while Suho slept, the stallion would stand guard over his rider’s sheep.

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Word reached Suho one day that the emperor was holding a Naadam, the annual horse race. Enticed at the prospect of winning a grand prize and being recognised by all the tribes, he entered his stallion. The race was across a crusted desert, demanding both speed and endurance to win. All the best riders from across the land came to take part. Their spirited stallions snorting and stamping, ready for the charge. At this point, Suho felt a sense of unease. These were warlords, and breeders, and some of the finest trainers in all the land! What chance would he, an untrained farmboy, have against them? But his trusty friend nudged him in the shoulder, calming his shaken nerves. Of course, it wasn’t just the rider, it was the horse too, and his horse was something special.

On the morning of the race, the wind blew cold and fierce over the flat desert, the dew crystalized in the biting cold. They rode up to the line, puffs of white pooling from their mouths and noses as they waited for the rag to drop.

 

The racemaster looked to the emperor, and with a wave of his hand, the rag was released.

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The Mongolian horse is a cultural icon, a beloved animal, and their only means of survival.

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The horses erupted, tearing over the desert, ripping the ground up in flying chunks. Suho, lay low across his stallion’s neck, holding on tight, he felt the horse pick up speed, going faster, faster, faster until he pulled to the front of the pack. Soon the thundering hooves faded to nothing and Suho rode freely at the front, the others unable to catch him for the rest of the race.

The crowds cheered at the surprising winner, and Suho knew that now he might start a stock of his own, his luck had changed! His whole life would turn around! But high on his seat the emperor watched and wondered. He wanted that stallion for himself. It was not right, he felt, that such a lowly farm boy should have it, and by his right as emperor, it should be his.

 

That night he called his guards and told them to beat Suho to death and then bring the horse to him.

 

Suho, sleeping soundly in his tent, was woken by a harsh crack across his back, and then another in his stomach. Scrambling up, he tried to fight off his attackers but barely managed to break free before running into the desert. Behind him, he heard his dear horse whinny in fear. He stopped to turn back, but arrows peppered the ground around him and he quickly ran away, hoping his horse would be able to escape.

Back at camp the horse snorted and bit and kicked at his captors. He abhorred the guards and with a wild buck and rear, he finally managed to break free by mid-morning. The stallion immediately took the path back to the farm where he grew up. The emperor ordered his guards to bring the horse back, but if they could not capture it, they must kill it, for no man shall have the horse if he could not.

 

Chasing the stallion across the plains they shot him with arrows, piercing his sides, his withers and haunches. The horse never gave up, running and running, picking up speed even as he bled. Too fast to catch, the riders gave up and returned to the emperor, certain the animal would not survive. Wounded and pained the stallion just made it home where Suho (barely able to walk himself) greeted him with a tight hug around his neck, grateful his stallion had returned.

 

But the stallion was hurt, his body torn up by the arrows and even as he stood, he slowly sank to the ground where Suho held him until he finally passed away. Suho wept at the loss of his dear friend, holding his beloved stallion close, cursing himself for ever taking part in the contest.

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When the cold bit through his clothes he finally stumbled to his feet and made his way into the house where he collapsed on his tiny cot and cried himself to sleep. Late in the cold night, the horse came to him in a wonderful dream. Suho embraced his friend, glad to see him. The stallion snorted softly and then said to him: “Take my bones, skin, hair, tendon and tail and turn it into an instrument, so we may be together even in death.”

 

The following morning Suho did just as he was told and he crafted a fine violin with which he played a lament for his dear friend, and he called the instrument the Morrin Kuhr, or horse fiddle.

 

Today this violin is a national instrument in Mongolia and the story of Suho is a piece often played by its people. But all of these violins are carved with a horse head at the top, so the people will remember who gave them such a beautiful instrument: the fastest horse ever to run across the steppes of Mongolia.

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