Mongolia is a land that epitomizes everything horse, landscapes made for galloping into the distance, and a culture that eats, breathes and sleeps horses.
Horses have been a central part of the life and culture on the central Asian steppes for thousands of years, far pre-dating the rise of the Mongol Empire. Their horses, horsemanship and, amongst other things, the use of stirrups (which enabled mounted archers to be more effective) were the Mongols secret weapon in their conquests of Asia and Eastern Europe. Today horses continue to play an important part in both the daily life of nomadic herders, and also very significantly in the national culture of Mongolia. There’s a traditional saying that “A Mongol without a horse is like a bird without wings.“
Why do I think its the ultimate horse riding destination? Here’s six good reasons.
Our horses tethered to a hitching post at a lunch stop while crossing the Horidal Mountains on our Darhad Nomad’s Trail Ride, August 2017. Photo: Andy Parkinson
#1. The Horseback Way of Life
You get to experience one of the world’s greatest horse cultures from horseback, in a land where horses are still central and essential to a nomadic way of life. There’s no better way to meet and get to know Mongolian herders than to ride with them and visit their gers for a taste of traditional nomadic hospitality.
#2. No Fences
You can travel on horseback through vast landscapes unconstrained by fences, and where you could ride for weeks without crossing a road. Ride from ger to ger on the open steppes, or head into the Taiga bordering Siberia for a wilderness experience. Whether you want to ride for a morning, a week or two or even months the choice is yours.
Every evening on our Darhad Nomads Trail Ride our team would gather around the campfire and sing their hearts out. Photo: Andy Parkinson
#3 The Horses
The horses are hard core. They might be small but they are renowned for their hardiness and endurance. Mongolians are rightly very proud of their horses, so don’t call them ponies. They spend the winters foraging for themselves and fighting off wolves, usually they are the last of the livestock to receive any hay. Like Mongolians themselves they are tough and self-sufficient.
#4 The Guides
Your guides and wranglers (usually local herders who are hiring out their own horses) just love to get out and ride too. This makes for an infectious spirit out on the trail with the whole team often bursting into song, singing traditional Mongolian ballads. Even the horses get in on the act and pick up the pace.
Our riders and team at the summit of the Uurjul Pass before descending to the Darhad Valley, on our Darhad Nomad’s Trail Ride, August 2017. Photo: Andy Parkinson
#5. The Legendary Landscapes.
You’ll ride through landscapes steeped in legend and history. Rocks, springs, mountain summits and the sky above are honored and respected. This is the land from where the Huns, the Turks and the Mongols rode forth. You might even be riding trails once ridden by Chinggis Khan.
#6. It might just blow your mind.
Many travelers return from Mongolia pretty awestruck. It’s just so different from most people’s day to day life there’s a good chance you will find it a life-affirming experience too.
Hopefully that’s a few good reasons to put horse riding in Mongolia on your radar. Certainly that’s a good part of what enticed me to Mongolia in the first place. As always I am happy to give tips and advice on horse riding in Mongolia. For route and trip options have a look at my Hovsgol horse riding pages.
Andy has been pioneering unique journeys in Mongolia for almost two decades. Now based in Hanoi, Vietnam, he is focussed on designing innovative in-depth adventure travel experiences in Mongolia and across Asia.