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For Biden in Mongolia, a horse named Celtic

August 22, 2011|By Michael A. Memoli
(Michael A. Memoli/Los Angeles…)

Reporting from Ulan Bator, Mongolia -- He got a horse. But he could have had a yak.

Vice President Joe Biden made the most of a brief visit to Mongolia on Monday, touting the fledgling democracy’s future potential in meetings with its leadership before witnessing a fantastic demonstration of the nation’s most popular sports and cultural offerings.

There was a contortionist, a wrestling tournament and archery demonstration. But the star of the show at the “Mini-Naadam” festival put on to honor Biden’s visit: a handsome, if badly behaved brown horse presented as a gift to the vice president from the Mongolian people.

The gift is tradition for visiting dignitaries, though it’s not always a horse. How does a yak or a camel sound to you?

Biden seemed perfectly happy with the brown steed, giving him the name Celtic – which also happens to be his Secret Service code name.

In fact, the horse is considered the most important animal to the nation, making it the most meaningful gift that could be offered, the U.S. embassy said.

The presentation didn’t go without a hitch. Perhaps caught up in the excitement, the horse began to buck near the vice president, leading some of his protective detail to step in between them.  Biden later joked he must not have liked the “Irish epitaph” he had given him.

The equine offering was not to continue on with Biden when he soon departed on Air Force Two en route to Japan. He’ll remain here, perhaps in the company of the horses that had been gifted to other visiting Americans, former Secretary of State Madeline Albright and and former Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld.

The short visit was meant to bolster the nation’s evolution as a democratic state. For the vice president and his staff, the spectacle was a welcome relief after an intense series of events during the previous five days in China.

Biden in particular seemed to enjoy the show, snapping photos of the contortionist, squaring up to joust with a Mongolian wrestler, and jokingly aiming a bow and arrow at the assembled press corps.

The vice president ends his three-nation tour of Asia in Japan on Wednesday.

michael.memoli@latimes.com

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