• January 17th, 2024

Mongolian horse culture: A gallop through tradition

“Conquering the world becomes a seamless journey when the reins are in your hands atop a powerful horse.” – Genghis Khan

Imagine a time when the mighty Mongol warriors swept across continents, their trusty companions, the Mongolian horses, carrying them fearlessly and tirelessly. Picture these diminutive yet sturdy creatures, wild and untamed, conquering extremes from the icy chill of minus 40 degrees Celsius to the scorching heat of plus 30 degrees Celsius. Welcome to the world of Mongolian horses – the intercontinental ballistic missiles of the thirteenth century.

In Mongolia, the impact of horses on culture is unparalleled. With over 5 million horses, nearly double the human population, Mongols have a deep connection to these animals. Renowned as exceptional horsemen, Mongolian children start riding at 3-5 years old, continuing a tradition that dates back to Genghis Khan’s military campaigns. Today, horses remain vital in Mongolia, serving as transportation, sources of milk, meat, and hair. Nomadic households, often with over 200 horses, use a hands-off approach to care. Mongolians rarely name their horses, relying on color and markings for identification.

In the heart of this untamed landscape, horses are not mere creatures; they are revered members of the nomadic Mongolian family. The male horses, numbering in the thousands, serve as transportation, racing champions, and, occasionally, a source of sustenance. The mares, though rarely ridden, play a crucial role in providing milk, with some even experiencing the honor of being ridden by children and women.

Herding becomes an art form as families tend to their four or five favored riding horses from a herd of 25 or 30. These magnificent animals, symbols of wealth and status, work tirelessly, often racing across the steppe during the thrilling Naadam Festival – a celebration of speed and skill that unfolds beneath the endless Mongolian sky.

Racing isn’t just a sport; it’s ingrained in the social fabric. The National Naadam Festival in Ulaanbaatar sees the culmination of this tradition, where the thunderous hooves of horses echo the spirit of a nation. Even the youngest riders take part, racing yearlings and two-year-olds, forging bonds with their steeds from an early age.

Mongolian horsemanship is a spectacle to behold, a harmonious dance between rider and horse that defies Western conventions. The riders trust their horses, allowing them the freedom to navigate the terrain while they perform daily tasks. It’s a relationship built on mutual understanding and respect.

These remarkable horses, unburdened by breeding societies or registries, are nature’s own masterpiece. Standing between 12 and 15 hands, with short necks and legs, they defy traditional norms with their pony-sized stature and diverse colors. Their strength and endurance, often working well into their late teens, set them apart from the modern equine landscape.

In a world dominated by high-performance horses, the Mongolian horse stands as a testament to resilience, embodying the essence of a nation. In Mongolia, where horses are more than transportation – they are a way of life, a cultural icon, and a cherished companion. “Mongolians see horses the way most people see their cars.” It’s a connection that transcends time, echoing the words of Genghis Khan as these indomitable creatures continue to carry the spirit of Mongolia across the ages.

Frequently asked question

Is Mongolia a safe destination?

Absolutely! Mongolia boasts one of the world’s lowest crime rates, making it a remarkably safe destination comparable to the US and Europe. Embrace the warmth of Mongolian hospitality as locals welcome you with open arms.

How do I get to Mongolia?

Embark on your Mongolian adventure via air or train! MIAT Mongolian Airlines offers year-round flights to Europe and Asia, including Berlin, Beijing, Seoul, Tokyo and Istanbul. Foreign carriers like Air China, Korean Air, Asiana Airlines, Air Busan, Aeroflot and Turkish airline.

What’s the weather like in Mongolia?

Contrary to popular belief, Mongolia isn’t the coldest corner of the world. Winter lasts from November to March, with the most frigid temperatures occurring only in mid-December to January. Summer brings cool winds, and the best time to visit is from mid-June to mid September for sunny days and lush landscapes.

When Is the best time to visit Mongolia?

Plan your visit during the Mongolian summer, from mid-June to the first week of September, for optimal weather. Experience sunny days and lush steppes, ensuring a safe and enjoyable journey.

What are the roads like?

Driving in Mongolia often means off-road adventures, especially outside Ulaanbaatar. While main travel destinations have paved roads, remote areas like the Altai Mountains, the far west, and the Gobi attractions may require off-road driving.

What’s Mongolia’s Currency?

Mongolia uses the tugrik. Exchange rates have been stable, ranging between 3420-3500 Mongolian tugriks against 1 USD. Exchange currencies at banks in Ulaanbaatar, as countryside options may be limited. Credit cards work in major city establishments, but having tugriks is advisable for smaller shops and rural areas.

What Kind of Plugs Are Used?

Mongolia uses a 220V standard, with most sockets accepting round twin forks. Bring an adaptor for devices with flat forks, available at most international airports.

What About Internet and Postal Services?

The central post office offers reliable postal services. Mobile services are widespread, especially in central towns, using GSM and CDMA networks. Mobile phone signal is quite good in Mongolia, although coverage may be patchy in remotest areas. The main carriers are Mobicom,Unitel, Skytel and G-Mobile. Mobicom and Unitel operate on GSM (Global System for Mobile communication). G-Mobile and Skytel are both on the CDMA network.

Can I Speak English?

While Mongolian is the official language, English is increasingly spoken, especially in urban areas. Learning basic Mongolian is appreciated, and a phrase book can be handy for communication.

Where Should I Stay?

Enjoy 3-4 star hotels and motels, guesthouses in Ulaanbaatar and unique accommodations in the countryside, from tourist camps to nomadic families. Immerse yourself in local culture by staying with nomadic families, providing a rich cultural experience.

Can I Follow a Special Diet?

Absolutely! Mongolia caters to various dietary needs. Notify your tour operator in advance, and vegan and vegetarian options are available, even in remote areas.

What Transportation Options Are Available?

Explore Mongolia in 4×4 vehicles, covering 100-430 km per day. Domestic flights are excluded in programs, and horses or camels may be used for trekking in inaccessible areas.

Are There Baggage Restrictions on Domestic Flights?

For domestic flights, the weight limit is 10 kilograms for checked baggage and 5 kilograms for hand luggage. Be mindful of overweight charges, approximately $2.5 per pound.

How Much Should I Tip?

While tipping is not mandatory, it’s recommended and fair to local partners. Tipping amounts vary based on trip factors.

What Should I Pack?

Pack light, using squashy, lockable, and waterproof bags or backpacks. A day pack for essentials and a smaller bag for trek storage are advisable.

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