'Song of the Horse' | Circle Round 90

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(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)
(Sabina Hahn for WBUR)

Think about one of your goals: something you hope to achieve.

We’re about to meet a character whose goal is to make music. But he doesn’t believe he’ll achieve that goal… until he makes a very unexpected friend!

Our story is called “Song of the Horse.” It’s inspired by a tale told in Mongolia, a country in East Asia.

Voices in this episode include Doug Lockwood, Maurice Emmanuel Parent, Kimberly Schraf, David Archuleta and Sherry Cola. Grown-ups, look for stand-up comedian Sherry Cola on the Freeform network drama, Good Trouble. Singer-songwriter and American Idol star David Archuleta kicks off his Ok, All Right Tour on March 30th, 2020; it will run throughout the US into May.

This episode was adapted for Circle Round by Rebecca Sheir. It was edited by Circle Round’s executive producer, Katherine Brewer. Circle Round’s original music and sound design is by Eric Shimelonis. Our artist is Sabina Hahn.

ADULTS! PRINT THIS so everyone can color while listening. We’re also keeping an album so share your picture on FacebookTwitterInstagram or Pinterest, and tag it with #CircleRound. We'd love to see it! To access all the coloring pages for past episodes click HERE. Our resident artist is Sabina Hahn and you can learn more about her HERE.

Things To Think About After Listening

When’s the last time you did something kind for a friend? Think about what it was, then pick a grown-up in your life and tell them all about it. After that, ask them about a time they showed kindness to a pal!

Musical Spotlight: Morin Khuur (Horsehead fiddle)

This bowed stringed instrument (see a picture of it here) with a scroll shaped like a horse’s head is among the Mongol people’s most important and beloved musical instruments. Festivals are held in its honor, and nomads who travel the countryside use the morin khuur for many purposes, from celebrating the start of a new year to marking the end of a long day herding sheep!


NARRATOR: There once was a young shepherd named Suho. Suho lived with his grandmother in a hut in the countryside, where winters were so frigid that the moment you stepped outside and sunk your feet into the snow, the frosty air would make your teeth chatter, and your eyelashes freeze!

So the people of the countryside herded sheep, and used the wool from those sheep to make warm clothing and blankets, so they could stay nice and cozy through the harshest months.

Suho enjoyed being a shepherd, but his true passion… was music. He and Grandmother were too poor to buy a flute or a horn or a drum, but Suho clung to the hope that someday, he could play a real musical instrument of his own.

For now…

SUHO: (singing)

NARRATOR: ...he contented himself by singing songs for his sheep as he led the fleecy creatures around the countryside.

SUHO: (singing continues)


NARRATOR: One day, Suho was out herding his sheep… and singing to them... when he heard something unusual.

[SOT: young horse sadly neighing]

SUHO: (singing stops) What’s that I hear? It sounds like a horse! A very young horse… and it doesn’t sound happy.

NARRATOR: Suho followed the sound to a patch of scraggly shrubs. And there, lying on the ground, was a tiny white newborn foal, with its spindly legs curled beneath its slender body.

SUHO: Hey there, little fella! Where did you come from? Where are your parents?

NARRATOR: The white horse looked up at Suho with big, sad, brown eyes.

SUHO: (realizing) Oh… you don’t have any parents, do you? Actually, either do I! Ever since I can remember, I’ve lived with my grandmother. (beat) Say… why don’t you come and live with us? A little fella like you shouldn’t be out here alone!

NARRATOR: Suho crouched down and stroked the horse’s velvety nose. The horse nuzzled Suho’s hand and swished its milky-white tail.

SUHO: Alright, then. It’s a deal, little fella. You’re coming home with me!

NARRATOR: When Suho got back to the hut, Grandmother was so surprised, she dropped the sweater she was knitting.

GRANDMOTHER: Suho! What’s this? Where did you find this beautiful baby horse?

SUHO: I found him while I was herding the sheep, Grandmother! Can we keep him? Please?

NARRATOR: Grandmother knew Suho often got lonely way out in the countryside. She wasn’t about to refuse her grandson a new friend.

GRANDMOTHER: Of course we can keep him, Suho! He’ll stay in the yard with the sheep. Just promise you’ll take good care of him, okay?

SUHO: I promise, Grandmother. Don’t you worry!

NARRATOR: Well, indeed, Grandmother had nothing to worry about. Suho took excellent care of the little white horse, and before long it grew into a big white horse, with long, powerful legs and a gleaming white mane and tail that sparkled brighter than the winter snow.

Suho and the horse became inseparable. All day long, the horse helped Suho herd his sheep. It used its strong legs to chase after stragglers… then, quick as lightning, it rounded the animals back into the fold.

And when Suho sang for the sheep…

SUHO: (singing)

NARRATOR: ...the white horse often let out a whinny or a neigh, as if the two friends were performing a duet.

SUHO: (singing continues)

NARRATOR: One winter, the blizzards that pummeled the countryside were so bitter and harsh that Suho and his grandmother lost many of their sheep in the snow and cold. By the time spring rolled around, Grandmother was wringing her hands with worry.

GRANDMOTHER: Suho, our flock has dwindled down to practically nothing! What are we going to do? How will we make ends meet?

SUHO: I don’t know, Grandmother. But I promise… I’ll think of something.

NARRATOR: Well, Suho didn’t need to think for very long! That week, he learned that the governor was planning a great race at his palace in the capital city. A great horse race! And the winner would walk away with a massive chest full of gold coins.

Suho thought about how swiftly his white horse galloped when it was rounding up the sheep… how lightning-fast its powerful legs moved. Immediately Suho knew that if he and his horse entered the race…?

SUHO: ...we’re sure to win! (beat) Then… with all the gold we’ll take home... Grandmother and I can live comfortably… and I can finally buy myself a musical instrument! And play real music forever!

NARRATOR: On the day of the race, Suho and his horse trotted all the way across the countryside, and through the big iron gates of the capital city.

When they reached the governor’s palace, hundreds of other horses and riders were waiting. Suho noticed that all of them were dressed to the nines. The riders wore bright leather boots, shiny silk robes and lustrous fur hats; their horses wore glittering bridles and glistening saddles. Suho, meanwhile, was dressed in his usual threadbare work clothes, and all his horse had on was a scuffed-up saddle with a broken stirrup!

SUHO: (to his horse) Wow, fella — those riders and horses sure are fancy! (beat) But no matter. The second the race starts, you and I will show them what we’re made of!

NARRATOR: Suho held his head high as he and the white horse took their place at the starting line. High above them, on one of the palace’s many balconies, the governor sat on a grand throne. Beside him was his daughter, Geriel [GAIR-ee-uhl], and the palace’s many guards. The governor smiled down at the thousands of onlookers gathered below.

GOVERNOR: Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen! Thank you for coming to my palace for the grand horse race! As you know, today’s winner will be rewarded with a chest full of gold coins. May the best rider win!

[SOT: race starting, horses galloping, crowd cheering, etc]

NARRATOR: As the race began, the horses took off like a shot. The wind whipped against Suho’s face… and his ears roared with the rumbling thunder of galloping hooves. He could hardly believe how fleet-footed the other horses were!

But after a few moments, Suho noticed that those ‘fleet-footed horses’ started lagging behind… and he and his white horse were pulling ahead!

SUHO: (as he rides) Attaboy, fella! Attaboy!

NARRATOR: As Suho and his horse raced closer and closer to the finish line, the cheers, whistles and claps from the crowd seemed to grow louder and louder.

Next thing Suho knew…

[SOT: crowd erupts]

NARRATOR: ...the crowd erupted in a deafening roar, and the governor sprung to his feet.

GOVERNOR: (above the cheering) Ladies and gentlemen! We have our winner! Come into the palace, young man, and claim your prize!

NARRATOR: Suho leaped off the white horse and gave it a hug.

SUHO: Way to go, fella! We won! We won!

NARRATOR: A guard led Suho and his horse into the palace, where the governor was waiting. Standing on one side of the great man was his daughter, Geriel. On his other side was the massive chest of gold coins - the reward that Suho had won fair and square in the race.

But as the shepherd was about to learn, claiming his well-earned reward wouldn’t be as easy as he thought!

NARRATOR: What do you think happens next?

We’ll find out, after a quick break.


NARRATOR: I’m Rebecca Sheir. Welcome back to Circle Round. Today our story is called “Song of the Horse.”

NARRATOR: When we left off, Suho and his white horse won the governor’s big race. But as they entered the palace to claim their reward, the governor looked them up and down… then wrinkled his nose and scowled.

GOVERNOR: Wait a minute!!! You’re the fellow who won my race?!? From up on the balcony I could hardly see you. But now that I have a closer view... look at your shabby clothes! Look at your horse’s pathetic saddle! (scoff) There’s no way I’m awarding my riches to such a ragamuffin!

NARRATOR: Suho couldn’t believe his ears. He took a breath, then knelt down on one knee.

SUHO: With all due respect, Your Excellency… my horse came in first place! He beat out all the others!

GERIEL: What he says is true, Father!

NARRATOR: The governor’s daughter, Geriel, stepped forward. The governor glared at her.

GOVERNOR: Geriel, this has nothing to do with you!

GERIEL: I don’t care! This man — I’m sorry, what’s your name?

SUHO: Suho…

GERIEL: Suho and his horse won the race fair and square, Father! And now you’re sending him home with nothing? That isn’t right!

NARRATOR: The governor thought for a moment. Then he rubbed his hands together.

GOVERNOR: Actually… my daughter makes a good point. There’s no reason you should go home empty-handed, Suho. That’s whyyyyy…

NARRATOR: He flashed his eyes toward the white horse.

GOVERNOR: … I am going to buy your horse!

NARRATOR: Suho felt his mouth go dry.

SUHO: ‘Buy my horse’? I’m sorry, Your Lordship, but my horse is my best friend! I could never part with him! He’s not for sale!

GOVERNOR: Ohhhh… “Not for sale,” you say? Very well, then. (beat) I’ll just have to take him!

GERIEL: Father! No!

NARRATOR: Next thing Suho and Geriel knew, two of the governor’s guards seized the white horse.


SUHO: You can’t do this, Your Honor! You can’t take my friend!

GOVERNOR: Oh, no…? (beat, icy) Watch me.

NARRATOR: The horse whinnied and whined as the guards led it to the stable.

[SOT: horse]

SUHO: This isn’t right! You have to let me take him home! You have to --

NARRATOR: Before Suho could say another word, two more guards latched onto his arms, marched him out of the palace, and slammed the big wooden doors shut behind him!

[SOT: door slam]

SUHO: What in the world just happened??!? Somehow I won the governor’s race… but I lost my horse! (beat) And now I have to go back to Grandmother with nothing. No riches… and no friend.

NARRATOR: Suho fought back tears as he trudged away from the palace, through the big city gates, and down the long dirt road back to his hut in the countryside.

Back at the palace, the governor couldn’t wait to show off his brand new racehorse. The greedy ruler got all dolled up in his most elegant riding gear, then had the stablehand dress the white horse in a shimmering bridle and saddle.

GOVERNOR: Now, it’s time to ride this magnificent creature! Stablehand, help me mount this horse.

NARRATOR: But as the stablehand hoisted the governor onto the horse’s back, do you know what happened?

The white horse reared up, kicked its powerful front legs into the air, and threw the governor to the ground!

GOVERNOR: Oooooph!

NARRATOR: Then the horse sped away at full tilt… away from the palace… through the city… and straight toward the tall, iron city gates.

GOVERNOR: (calling out) This is unacceptable! That horse is mine! Catch it! Catch it!!!!

NARRATOR: One of the guards scurried to the city gates and shut them tight.

[SOT: gates shut]

NARRATOR: When the horse reached the big iron doors, it came to a halt and swung its head up and down.

[SOT: whinny]

NARRATOR: Then, quick as a wink, the horse whirled around and went charging back through the city. People, dogs, cats and mice dove out of the way as the horse bounded through the streets, with the governors’ guards hot on its heels.

Meanwhile, back at the palace, the governor’s daughter, Geriel, begged her father to let the horse go.

GERIEL: He isn’t even yours, Father! Please! Open the gates of the city and let the horse return to the countryside! To his friend! To Suho!

NARRATOR: But the governor would not budge. So Geriel did the only thing she could think to do. She sprinted to the stables, hopped on her gray mare, and headed to the city gates. When she got there, she reached out her hands, and with all of her might, she grabbed on to the heavy iron doors…

GERIEL: (ad-lib effortful sound of grabbing on to doors) Grrrrrgghh….

NARRATOR: ...and flung them wide open.

[SOT: gates open] 

NARRATOR: Then Geriel called out to the white horse.

GERIEL: Okay! Go, fella! Go! Go home!

NARRATOR: Quick as a flash, the white horse came careening toward Geriel. It glanced at the young woman, then bounded through the big iron gates before bolting off toward freedom.

GERIEL: (calling after him) Attaboy, fella! Attaboy! 

NARRATOR: Meanwhile… at Suho’s hut in the countryside... the young man was inconsolable. Grandmother tried telling him his favorite jokes and stories, but it did no good. Suho was despondent without his best friend, the horse.

But just when Suho was convinced he’d never smile again...

[SOT: whinny outside door]

NARRATOR: ...he heard a familiar sound. The young man got to his feet, and went running out of the hut.

SUHO: Hey, fella! You’re home!

NARRATOR: Suho rushed to the white horse and gave it a big hug. He could feel the animal’s heart beating much faster than usual, and could hear how its breath was short and labored. It was clear the horse had run harder than ever to get back to its friend.

SUHO: (trying to calm the horse) Now, now. It’s okay. I’m going to take care of you, fella. Really good care. Just be calm, be calm…

NARRATOR: Suho lay the horse down on the ground. Then he covered its quaking body with a blanket, and began…

SUHO: (singing)


SUHO: (singing continues)

[SOT: horse hooves approaching]

NARRATOR: But all of a sudden…

SUHO: (singing stops)

NARRATOR: … Suho stopped his song.

SUHO: Wait — why do I hear horse’s hooves approaching? Is it the governor? Or his guards? What if they try and take my horse away again? I can’t let them! I --


NARRATOR: Suho felt a wave of relief wash over him. For when he glanced up, who should he see riding a gray mare but the governor’s daughter! The one who had been so kind to him back at the palace!

SUHO: Geriel! What are you doing here?

GERIEL: I’m the one who let your horse go free, Suho! I followed him to make sure he got home okay!

SUHO: Well... he definitely got home...

NARRATOR: Suho petted the white horse’s nose.

SUHO: ...but I’m not sure how ‘okay’ he is. He doesn’t seem like himself at all.

GERIEL: Well, he’s been through a lot.

NARRATOR: Geriel hopped off her mare and cocked her head.

GERIEL: Suho… was that you singing to the horse just now? It sounded so pretty. Keep going.

NARRATOR: Geriel knelt down beside Suho. Together, they stroked the horse’s gleaming white mane, as Suho began to sing.

SUHO: (ad-lib singing, fade down during narration below)

NARRATOR: Suho sang until the sun went down and the moon came up. At some point, he stopped singing and drifted off to sleep. So did Geriel. And when Suho and Geriel woke up the next morning…

SUHO: / GERIEL: (ad-lib waking up sounds)

NARRATOR: … the horse didn’t wake up with them. The poor creature’s tired heart had stopped beating during the night.

But something else had happened during the night, too. Suho had a strange and wonderful dream… a dream about the white horse. And in the dream, the white horse opened its mouth… and spoke!

HORSE: (with reverb, to designate dream) Suho. It’s time for me to go now. But I know a way that we can be together forever... and you can make music forever. Just like you always wanted!

SUHO: (with reverb, to designate dream) You do, fella?!? What is it?

HORSE: (with reverb, to designate dream) (slowly, carefully) Go out into the countryside and find a piece of wood. A nice, solid piece of wood. Then use that wood to make… a fiddle and bow. Take the hair from my mane and make the fiddle’s strings. Take the hair from my tail and make the bow’s strings. Then… at the very top of the fiddle… high up on the neck… carve a horse’s head — one that looks just like me.

NARRATOR: And wouldn’t you know it… that’s exactly what Suho did. He made a horsehead fiddle, with horsehair for strings.

That horsehead fiddle is now known as the morin khuur, and it’s one of the most popular and revered instruments in all of Mongolia. Festivals are held in its honor, and many Mongolians keep the morin khuur in their home, in hopes of bringing peace and happiness to their family.

And if you believe the legend, it all began with a kind young shepherd who loved his horse… and loved his music… and wanted to find a way to keep both of them in his heart… forever.

Headshot of Rebecca Sheir

Rebecca Sheir Host, Circle Round
Rebecca Sheir is the host "Circle Round," WBUR's kids storytelling podcast.



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