Subtitles section Play video Print subtitles 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 until the races are over. Naadam concludes in the National Stadium, with a parade of champions. Khen Medekh is twice a winner. His grandchildren take two of his horses through their victory laps. A herald sings the praises of the winning horses; medals and mare"s milk do them honor. But for each little rider, the highlight is a kiss from the President of Mongolia. No other nation makes more of the horse. Fiery steed, faithful servant, he is all good things to the Mongolian people. In return, they may succeed in saving the last truly wild horse on earth Before the rise of civilization, his kind ranged throughout Asia and Europe. Alert and aggressive, they were elusive prey with their camouflage of tawny coat, their upright, two-toned mane. These horses were already rare in 1878, when Russian explorer Nikolai Przewalski returned from Mongolia. He carried a skull and hide that would prompt the announcement of a new species. In a race for specimens, stallions were slaughtered to subdue mares. Mares were killed to secure foals. Dozens died en route to zoos and animal collectors in the West. Przewalski"s horses were last sighted in the wild in the 1960s. A decade later, fewer than 300 survived in captivity only. This endangered species was declared extinct in the wild. In 1992, 16 Przewalski"s horses from European reserves touched down in Ulan Bator. Their journey was the crowning achievement of Dutch conservationists and Mongolian authorities. Transports were blessed with mare"s milk as the horses arrived at a nature reserve established in their honor. The homecoming delighted local people. Their name for the horses is takhi. The word also means spirit. Today, some 80 free spirits roam 120,000 acres under watchful eyes. Park rangers closely track the animals" health and behavior. Breeding success is high: Two generations have been born in the reserve. To increase the gene pool, horses are still brought in from the west. But prospects for self-sustaining population are promising. Mongolia"s preservation of the takhi seems a fitting tribute to an animal who has given us so much. Domesticated, the horse revolutionized our world but in the process, he was also transformed. The legendary Arab is just one of more than 150 breeds some honed for work, some for sport, others for sheer show. The Spanish horse boasts one of the oldest pedigrees. His speed and stamina were praised by the Romans. The famous Spanish Riding School in Vienna was founded in his name. A dancer"s grace made him a favorite of monarchs, and earned him the title: "Royal Horse of Europe." Today, he inspires a new generation at the Royal Andulusian School of Equestrian Art in the town of Jerez, in southern Spain. Few gain admission here: Only first-rate horses, trainers and students. A strict curriculum has produced several Olympic competitors.