Getting to Ride Mongolian Horses

IMG_1189
I say “getting to ride,” as in “fortunate enough to have the opportunity to ride” Mongolian horses. Less than an hour outside the city, and the countryside feels empty and wild. The terrain was grassy, rocky and bare, but with wildflowers underfoot. Yesterday:
IMG_1182The same area in late March:
IMG_1038I am not one to say that the only way to experience the real soul of a country is through its traditional activities and rural areas. All countries change over time, and contemporary urban life is just as “real” as village or nomadic life. We outsiders like to see how people live differently than we do, but let’s not expect the old ways to be preserved for our tourist eyes.

That said, horses are a deeply cherished part of Mongolian history and culture. Besides contributing to Chinggis Khaan’s conquests, horses are part of nomadic life, used for herding, milk, and meat. Songs and poems are written in cadences to match the rhythm of galloping. Horse racing is one of Mongolia’s three traditional sports, along with archery and wrestling. These horses are small and tough, they can run for hours without stopping and are used to travelling for days.

For a lazy urbanite like me, riding is a way to engage with the part of Mongolia and its history that take place outside the city, and I’m very glad to have opportunities to ride. There are places where you can go out for a few hours with guides and have lunch — it’s a fun way to spend a Saturday or Sunday. This young woman helped us get ready back in March and was one of our guides yesterday.

You can see how small the horses are.

IMG_1033The saddles and bridles are very basic, and the horses are guided with the reins rather than the legs, more like western/cowboy style. There’s some trotting, but it’s mostly walking or galloping, unless the horses are cantering to catch up with their friends. I learned to ride hunt-seat on an English saddle, so I prefer my stirrups shorter than is common here. Yesterday the man helping us used his pocket knife to make new holes in the straps for me, which will be appreciated the next time some ten year-old uses that saddle.

Here we are taking a short break:
IMG_1184Here’s one of the guides with the horse I was riding:
IMG_1187And thank god for those guides, because once you’re over the first hill it’s easy to get lost in that vast open space. Though, of course, the horses know their way back, and if you head that direction, they’ll gallop all the way.

For a much wilder equestrian story, check out the comments below:

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7 thoughts on “Getting to Ride Mongolian Horses

  1. Joan and Wally MacDonald

    Sounds wonderful! That country side is amazing. Thanks for the photos. Last time I rode — in Bryce Canyon many years ago, I was so stiff, I could hardly walk afterward. My horse intentionally swelled his midsection while the saddle was being cinched. The result was the saddle kept sliding to one side! The guides tried cinching it again with no luck! A challenge!
    love,
    J

  2. I want to ride horses in Mongolia.

  3. Trux

    What great photos…things have certainly changed since ’91…not the countryside nor those sturdy mounts with their short choppy gaits, but hard hats, britches and chaps oh my!
    My experience was a bouncing jeep ride into those rolling hills to the yurt of my host’s extended family and an interesting introduction to arakh and arkhiy…after the very pregnant pause while our hosts waited for me to down that first bowl filled from the hide bag hanging on the walll (I had fortunately been advised to exhale sharply through the nose to push the doogies and floaters to the far side), they then proceeded to down about 12 bowls and a shot or two of arkhiy. Only when everyone’s face was glowing bright red did we saddle up and go tearing pell mell farther into the grasslands.
    My dream of riding with the Mongols unfolded at a full gallop on a sharp wooden saddle that quickly made the hunt or jockey position the only viable option. What a hoot, particularly as my hosts proceeded to succumb to their intake of arak and dissolve into bellows of laughter as some of them had forgotten to cinch their girths and so managed to stay on board but at increasingly lopsided angles. And sure enough, when I was sure we were hopelessly lost, they dropped the reins and the stalwart steeds steered us unerringly back to the yurt and more libations!

  4. What beautiful, wide-open space! I can see why you’d get on horses to explore it. BTW – I nominated you for a Liebster Award!

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