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:
The same area in late March:
I 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.
The 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:
Here’s one of the guides with the horse I was riding:
And 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: