If there’s one thing that symbolises Mongolia more than anything, it’s the horse, and the symbiotic relationship between horse and man. Indeed, the country’s horses easily outnumber its human population. Mongolia’s equine culture runs deep and children here are, more often that not, in the saddle even before they have properly grasped the art of walking. Horses play an integral and practical part in the daily life of Mongolians, providing a mode of transport and an invaluable helper for herding sheep and goats, producing airag, a national beverage of fermented mares’ milk and, historically, carrying warlords into battle resulting in the Mongol domination of vast swathes of territory as far west as Austria.
Riding can feature as little or as heavily in your itinerary as you wish, from a couple of hours walking beside a river to a week-long adventure across the steppe. It’s worth bearing in mind that after a long, harsh winter, horses are not at their freshest and, therefore, a focused riding holiday is best organised from late spring onwards.
While not the most elegant steeds we’ve come across, Mongolian horses are stocky and hardy, perfect for carrying all shapes and sizes, beginners and the more experienced alike. Ranging from between 12 and 15 hands, with short necks and legs, they are, in fact, more ‘pony sized’. You’ll find riding styles vary from what you may be used to: the reins are held in one hand and riders often stand in their stirrups when trotting or cantering. The horse is given the freedom to work things out for itself and, thus, any attempt by the rider to control the horse too much, is likely to result in rebellion! Mongolian horsemen, who will act as your guide, are world-class, and we know some of the very best.
Here are five top tips for riding in Mongolia:
1 Treat horses with respect: approach them carefully from the left hand side and remember that they are semi-wild and may not warm to too much petting or cuddling.
2 Use a neck-reining technique to steer with the reins in one hand.
3 Don’t use your legs or heels to kick your horse to go faster, instead say ‘tchou!’
4 When trotting and cantering, stand up in the stirrups.
5 When you dismount, keep your foot in the stirrup until you are on the ground.
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