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Posted on November 14, 2017
Claire Douglas from In The Saddle tells us about her recent trip to Mongolia. Here, she highlights the best bits of her trip from the tiny horses to amazing vistas.
I was so excited when I was offered the chance to visit Mongolia as it has been a lifelong dream of mine to go there! I think this is because of its strong connection to horses and how horses are still central to the country’s culture. I set off to my epic trip half way across the world, landing in Ulaanbaatar, the capital. I was joining a special agent trip combining the current rides we offer, so that I could experience the two very different locations, the Orkhon valley and the Bayan Gobi desert.
Shortly after arriving, we were whisked off to the Hustai National Park for a late lunch followed by a jeep safari to spot the wild Przewalski horses (the Mongolian word is ‘takhi’) that have been re-introduced into the park in 1992. Due to their great camouflage they were very difficult to spot! Eventually we had a sighting and rushed over in the jeep to see them, parking nearby. After a short walk up hill we spied the herd and their babies. It was a great sight to see the closest link to prehistoric horses that exists nowadays.
After this we drove a further four hours towards to the Orkhon valley arriving at night at our next ger camp. Ger is the Mongolian word for yurt. We also met the horses and the herdsmen to be accompanying us the next day.
I was paired with a small chestnut horse (around 12hh) with a small white marking on his forehead. He was incredibly sweet and very responsive to neck reining (which is how they have trained the horses to steer). It does take some time to adjust to these tiny horses (I’m 5’ 8’’) with their short strides and flattish gaits. Mongolians traditionally ride in wooden framed saddles (see below) luckily for us they have adapted more comfortable saddles for the guest riders (although less colourful). The adapted saddles consist of a cushioned frame with metal handles to the front and back which is comfortable for long hours in the saddle. It is a different riding style compared with traditional English riding as Mongolians stand in the stirrups during anything faster than a walk for long periods at a time. I found the stamina of these horses to be incredible, they just keep going and going! We completed 40 km the first day and due to their size and flattish gait, the overall experience was quite smooth and not too tiring.
Another highlight was staying with a traditional Mongolian family. It was fascinating to see how they live without many of the modern day conveniences that we take for granted such as running water and electricity. Family life is very busy with the men herding the animals and tending to them whilst the women milk the mares and yaks as well as cooking for the family. We were invited to bring the yaks down from the mountains which was a magical experience during a golden sunset.
Then next day we rode to Orkhon Falls, a beautiful waterfall appearing out of nowhere. As we were out of season there was no one else there and it was great to have the view to ourselves. After lunch we jumped back into the cars and headed towards our next location, the Bayan Gobi desert.
We were paired up with new mounts (another little chestnut for me) and I found riding in the desert was really fun, especially up and down the dunes. However it is slower paced than the riding on the steppe as the sand is hard work for the horses.
Once we reached our lunch spot we were surprised by a caravan of camels heading in our direction, what a sight to behold! We had the opportunity of riding these majestic beasts! What a different sensation to riding a horse, much slower and much further off the ground. We set off around the dunes finishing off with a race (mine decided not to enter and went no faster than a walk!)
My trip ended with a visit to Gandan monastery and a traditional Mongolian show. It was an amazing experience to see traditional musicians, throat singers and even a contortionist. The show was really a first class experience.
This is a country unlike any other I had visited before, the big blue skies and endless scenery have really made a lasting impression on me. Riding these little horses alongside generations of horsemen is an experience I will never forget.
In The Saddle covers a range of adventurous rides in Mongolia:
For those adventurous souls who enjoy camping we have:
Camping trail, 12 nights, staying in 2 person tent, you explore remote areas of the Orkhon valley. On three days you ride into the Naiman Nuur Park with pack yaks. You spend one night spent with a Mongolian family and another at a semi-permanent ger camp.
This is a a truly, ‘into the wild’ experience as on part of this trail your kit is carried by pack yaks as the area is inaccessible to vehicles.
The pace on these days will be dictated by the terrain and the pack yaks
For those who like the idea of a two destination camping holiday exploring both the desert and steppe, we have:
Dunes and Steppes of Mongolia, 12 nights, this combines riding in the Orkhon valley with riding in the Bayan Gobi Desert. You stay in 2 person tents, spend one night in a ger next to a Nomadic family and one night at a semi-permanent ger camp.
The variety of scenery is amazing, riding in the desert is a fun experience.
The desert is tends to be slower paced than riding in the steppe due to the sand being hard work for the horses.
If you don’t wish to camp but still want to experience this great country, the following trail would be suitable as you stay in comfortable gers along the way:
Ger trail, 12 nights, you stay at semi-permanent ger camps along the Orkhon valley and spend one night close to a Nomadic family.
Mongolia Express, 7 nights, for those short on time this camping trail offers 5 days riding through Central Mongolia. You spend one night camping close to a Mongolian family.