June 2021 – the Mongolian Horse

Posted on May 26, 2021

As we turn the page of our In The Saddle calendar to June 2021, we see a group of riders crossing Arburd Sands on the edges of Mongolia’s Gobi Desert.

The picture was taken during the Steppe Nomad Ride. This route explores the vast treeless plains, with no trace of human activity except for the nomads and their herds. During the latter part of the trip, you ride across the Gobi grasslands to Arburd Sands, where you encounter Mongolia’s northernmost sands dunes.

Read on to find out more about the unassuming stars of this fascinating country – the Mongolian Horse.

Riding across Arburd Sands, leaving only hoofprints.

The Mongolian Horse

The Mongolian Horse is an ancient breed, credited with helping warrior Genghis Khan establish the great Mongol Empire.

Mongolian horses made excellent warhorses due to their stamina, hardiness and ability to forage on their own. They may be small in height, but they played a vital role in helping Genghis Khan conquer the world and form the Mongol Empire. They provided transportation, were mounts for hunting and used as food for Genghis Khan and his armies.

By uniting warring tribes of Central Asia in 1206, Genghis Khan formed an empire that eventually encompassed the lands of modern China and extended as far as Poland and Hungary to the west – the world’s biggest land empire.

The Mongol Horse – an ancient breed that helped form an empire, (credit Ana Nordenstahl).

Mongolian Horses Today

The Mongolian horse is little changed since the time of Genghis Khan, remaining essentially free from human interference. They live in quasi-feral herds in vast open spaces, much as they have done for centuries. These little horses are hardy enough to survive temperatures ranging from 30°C in the summer, to -40°C in the winter. They drink water as they find it and graze the open plains, without the need for any hard feed. 

Nomads living in the traditional way own more than 3,000,000 animals – outnumbering Mongolia’s human population.

Horses outnumber humans in Mongolia.

Standing between 12hh and 14hh, Mongol horses are stocky, with short legs and quite large heads. Also known for having excellent stamina, Mongolian horses can canter continuously for up to 10km. Allowed to live in much the same way as wild horses, they are low maintenance and do not require shoes or hoof trimming.

In Mongolian culture, the most desirable horses are those with large heads and barrels, good coats for resistance to the cold and thick manes and tails for protection. A Roman nose is considered important, because horses with dished faces are thought to have difficulty grazing. When walking, a horse’s hind footprints should fall into or outside of the fore footprint.

Often left to forage on their own, Mongolian horses will search out the best grazing, (credit Ana Nordenstahl).

Regional Differences

It is said that horses from different parts of Mongolia display different characteristics. Horses from the Mongolian Steppe, such as the Khentii Province, tend to be  tall and are very fast. Those from mountainous regions tend to be smaller, but are very strong. Horses from the Darkhad area of northern Mongolia may only weigh around 250kg, but can carry loads of up to 300kg – more than their own bodyweight.

Horses from different parts of the country show certain characteristics.

Nomadic Life

Horses are central to the nomadic lifestyle – providing transportation, food and drink. Most animals roam freely, with a small number of riding horses caught and tethered. The herd generally stays around the family’s dwelling, but may travel several kilometres away to find the best grazing.

Horses are regarded as a form of wealth. Of the five kinds of herd animals in Mongolia (horses, camels, yaks, sheep and goats), horses are highly prized. A nomad with many horses is considered to be wealthy.

Wealthy nomads are those with numerous horses.

Horse Racing

Mongol horses are also used for the sport of racing – one of ‘the three manly arts’ alongside wrestling and archery. Races can be up to 35km and involve thousands of horses. Foreign breeds may be faster than Mongolian horses, but there are not many breeds that can rival their stamina.

In Mongolia, racing is the sport of the people and everyone participates. Families select the best horse from their herd and take it to the fair to race. The horses are often ridden by children, who are lighter in the saddle – they might be as young as 6 years old.

Horse racing is a really popular sport in Mongolia.

Riding Holidays in Mongolia

Horses are very much central to nomadic life in Mongolia, so a riding holiday here is as much about the cultural experience as it is the equestrian experience.

In The Saddle offers riding trips in a range of environments – from the grasslands of the Gobi Steppe and the forests of Gorkhi-Terelj National Park, to the Khan Khentii area.  The blog My Magical Mongolian Adventure! – In The Saddle highlights some of the unique experiences of visiting Mongolia.

Journeys normally last about 10 nights, with accommodation ranging from tents, to tepees and ger camps.

For more information on riding a Mongolian Horse in its native land, please do call us on +44 (0) 1299 272 997 or email rides@inthesaddle.com

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