Mongolia, a land of vast steppes, rugged mountains and nomadic traditions, beckons to adventure seekers and nature lovers. If there is one thing that would compass this, it would be going on a horseback expedition. In October, we embarked on a two-week trip adventure in this mesmerizing country, and one of the highlights of our journey was horse riding in the vast wilderness.
The 7 day expedition was in partnership with Stone Horse Mongolia. In this horse riding guide, we’ll share our experiences, insights, and practical tips to help you prepare for an unforgettable horse riding adventure in Mongolia.
The Role of Horses in Mongolian Culture
Horses are an integral part of Mongolian culture, deeply woven into the nomadic way of life. These resilient and sturdy animals have been the trusted companions of Mongolian nomads for centuries, serving as transportation, livestock herders, and even companions in the vast and remote landscapes. Understanding the significance of these majestic and strong creatures in Mongolia’s culture and history will enhance your appreciation for the intimate adventure that lies ahead.
Why Horse Riding is the Best Way to Experience Mongolia
Mongolia’s landscapes are nothing short of breathtaking, and there’s no better way to immerse yourself in this rugged beauty than by exploring on horseback. Whether you’re galloping across endless steppes at sunset, traversing pristine forests, or splashing through the endless rivers and brooks, horse riding allows you to connect with the land and explore off the beaten paths that other modes of travel simply can’t match.
For those seeking some peace and inner reflection away from their busy city life and hectic work schedules, this multi day expedition provides you moments of solitude and serenity that few other activities can provide. Do note though that multi day horse trekking may be physically demanding, especially for an unfit traveler, but with some prior preparation and practice, the rewards are well worth the effort.
Mongolia’s Landscapes and Terrains
Before you embark on your horse riding expedition in this country, it’s essential to understand the diverse landscapes and varied terrains you’ll encounter over the days. From the rolling grasslands of the steppes in Khan Khentii Mountains to the fascinating rock formations in Gorkhi Terelj National Park to snow capped mountains in the Altai Mountains, Mongolia offers a wide range of landscapes to explore.
From endless rolling hills to river crossings.
Be physically and mentally prepared for riding through gentle trails or jumping across narrow streams, as each day may bring a new and exciting challenge. It’s good to be mindful that while certain seasons will come with certain expected weather patterns, for example plenty of sunshine in summer and colder nights in Autumn, pack appropriate clothing for varying weather conditions in a given season. Mongolia’s weather can be unpredictable, so bring layers that can be easily added or removed. Thankfully during our time there around early October, we did not experience snowfall, however there was one morning of snowfall just a week before we arrived, so prepare for the unexpected.
Preparing for Your Mongolian Horse Adventure
Understanding the Mongolian Horse
Contrary to the common practice of keeping domesticated horses in solitude or stables due to ownership constraints or limited space, Mongolian horses thrive in a different setting. These horses, existing in large herds, enjoy a mostly free roam. This unique arrangement contributes to their mental stability and adaptability to the challenges of their environment.
In comparison to other horses around the globe, Mongolian horses are generally smaller in size but impressively robust. Their remarkable endurance enables them to traverse extensive distances across rugged terrains such as mountains and swift-flowing rivers. Notably, their compact stature offers a distinct advantage, providing a more comfortable riding experience, especially for beginners. The minimized impact felt from their movement and the ease of control make these smaller horses a favorable choice, particularly for those who may not possess substantial strength when handling larger counterparts.
Stone Horse Mongolia takes great care in selecting and caring for their horses, ensuring that they eat well throughout the year, are healthy, tamed and well-trained. They own their horses and have a bond with each of them and a deeper understanding of their personality traits. Majority of other horse riding tour companies rent out the horses from local nomad families for the duration of each tour and hence lack that intimate connection.
For this reason, you can trust Stone Horse and their animals to guide you safely through your expedition even if you’re not a very experienced rider.
Starting your Journey
Here are some suggestions that could help with making your horse riding experience better. Spend time observing and interacting with your horse before your journey begins. Building trust and familiarity with your horse is key to a successful trek. Also, listen to the guidance of the experienced horsemen as part of your expedition. They know each of their horses personalities well and can provide valuable insights into each horse’s temperament and behavior.
Basic Riding Techniques and Safety
If, like me, you’re a beginner when it comes to horse riding, it’s essential to familiarize yourself with basic riding techniques and safety guidelines. There should be ample preparation and discussion made ahead of time with your horse riding operator, to discuss your horse riding abilities, comfort level with horses and fitness level.
Some ways to prepare ahead of time is to take some basic introduction to horse riding lessons in your home-country, or come earlier to Mongolia to have a few days of beginner lessons with your tour operator. You can learn the basics like approaching your horse, bonding, mounting, going into a trot and transit to a slow or fast canter.
You can also request for some additional helpful and useful tutorials online to get a grasp of the fundamentals, such as mounting, steering, and controlling your horse. But a word of caution that the source should be reputable and you should be aware that theory versus actual encounter and riding a horse in a landscape you are new to can differ greatly. Lastly, it’s critical to pay attention to the safety guidelines provided by your horsemen and tour operator from the beginning. This includes safety tips like wearing a riding helmet and following the instructions of your guides.
Bonding and Connecting with Your Horse
Building a bond with your horse is an essential part of your riding experience. Spend time with your horse, grooming and petting it to create a sense of trust and connection. As you ride together, communicate with your horse through gentle cues, and you’ll find that your journey becomes more enjoyable and harmonious. During our trip, we learned some basic terms and techniques to get the horse to move from a stationary position or move faster.
Tips and Insights:
- Do not approach your horse front facing, as it can scare them. Start with approaching them from the side and fiddle with the saddle and equipment on them before progressively moving closer to their head and offer strokes and pets on the ears, face or forehead. This gives them time to be aware of your presence and your contact, and warm up to your advances.
- Offer your horse treats like apples or carrots as a way to establish a positive association with your presence. However, note some of the horses might reject your food if they are not exposed to such types of ‘human’ food. In such cases, just go around picking the best grass and bring it to them, they’ll be grateful for your gesture.
- Pay attention to your horse’s body language while approaching them or riding. It will give you insights into their mood and comfort level. Do note that a lot of Mongolian horses have a herd mentality, so they may feel a bit of discomfort being too far away from the herd. Be prepared that they could run back to their friends.
Essential Gear for Riding
When preparing for your horse riding expedition in Mongolia, packing the right gear and essentials is important for a safe and enjoyable adventure. While Stone Horse Mongolia provides some necessary equipment like helmets, half chaps and “wilderness toilet kit”, it’s advisable to have the appropriate riding attire and other essentials to ensure a comfortable journey. Here’s a detailed breakdown of what to pack:
- Riding Boots: Sturdy, well-fitted boots with ankle support. Good hiking boots will do.
- Riding Tops: Long-sleeved moisture-wicking layers. I recommend a sleeveless down vest to help regulate the heat. Breeches or jodhpurs are good to have, but not mandatory.
- Riding Pants: In my opinion, tight fitted stretchable pants are great, and you need not invest in a pair of riding pants.
- Accessories: Neck Warmers, gaiters and riding gloves (normal gym gloves or garden gloves work fine too).
- Wicking Socks: A lot of them, for riding and daily use.
- Personal Medications: Essential meds, basic first aid kit.
- Personal Toiletries: Travel-sized soap, dry shampoo, toothpaste.
- Sun Protection: Sunscreen, sunglasses, wide-brimmed hat.
- Towel: Compact, quick-drying travel towel.
- Insect Repellent: Protection from insects (especially in summer time).
- Cash for Tipping: Local currency (Mongolian Tugrik) or USD.
- Personal Comfort: Travel pillow, earplugs, eye mask.
- Hydration: Refillable water bottle, hydration tablets if you have a sensitive stomach. A water bottle with a filter also helps.
- Personal Snacks: Energy bars, nuts, dried fruits.
- Hygiene: Hand sanitizers, wet wipes, toilet paper.
Stonehorse provided us with a lot of these essentials, especially those listed at the bottom part of the list, which were extremely handy and made the trip very comfortable. We came prepared with a lot of snacks to find that there is ample catered for in the trip.
This concise packing list ensures your comfort, safety, and preparedness for your Mongolia horse riding adventure. Remember, though, to pack as lightly as you can as everything will have to be carried by your horse and less stuff on its back will be more comfortable.
Tips and Home Workouts to Help with Horse Riding
Ensuring your body is ready for the demands of horse riding is crucial for a comfortable and enjoyable experience in Mongolia. Here’s a guide to home workouts and exercises tailored to enhance your core strength, balance, and flexibility:
- Planks: Perform plank exercises regularly to build a strong core. Start with 30-second holds and gradually increase the duration as you progress.
- Leg Raises: Lie on your back, raise your legs, and lower them slowly without letting them touch the ground. Aim for 3 sets of 10 reps.
- Russian Twists: Sit on the floor, bend your knees, lift your feet off the ground, and twist your torso to touch the floor on each side. Do 3 sets of 15 twists.
- Single-Leg Balance: Stand on one leg with your eyes closed for 30 seconds. Switch legs and repeat. This exercise enhances proprioception and balance.
- Bosu Ball Workouts: Incorporate Bosu ball exercises to challenge your balance further. Simple squats and lunges on a Bosu ball are effective.
Riding Position Drills:
- Chair Exercises: Sit on a chair without using the backrest to mimic the riding posture. This helps condition your body to maintain an upright position.
- Visualize Riding: Close your eyes and visualize yourself riding in the correct posture. Focus on keeping your back straight and your weight centered.
- Leg Strength: Strengthen your leg muscles with exercises like squats, lunges, and calf raises. These help you maintain stability in the saddle.
Remember to warm up before each workout and gradually increase the intensity and duration as your fitness improves. Consistency is key, so aim to incorporate these exercises into your routine at least 3-4 times per week. By preparing your body through these workouts, you’ll be better equipped to fully enjoy your horse riding adventure in Mongolia, minimize discomfort, and ensure a memorable experience.
Choosing the Right Horse Riding Tour Operator in Mongolia
Selecting the right tour operator is a pivotal decision that can significantly impact your horse riding expedition in Mongolia. It’s not just about the costs or the most popular landmarks to ride to; it’s about finding a partner with the same vision and standards, to ensure you have a holistic experience.
Knowledge, Expertise and Quality Standards
Finding a horse riding tour operator with high-quality horse riding equipment, stringent safety standards, a team of seasoned professionals good with horses and familiar with the Mongolian terrain is paramount for an enjoyable horse riding expedition. Quality horse riding equipment like saddles, stirups and camping equipment ensures both your comfort and safety throughout the journey, while adherence to rigorous standards guarantees a worry-free experience for riders.
Choose to work with operators with decades of professional horse riding expertise, not just doing it as a side activity to maximize tourism opportunities. If you pick the right tour operator who possesses in depth horse knowledge, know-how and expertise, you can trust your guides and horsemen to navigate diverse terrains and handle any unforeseen situations in the great outdoors competently. Stone Horse Mongolia’s founders, Sabine and Keith, have lived in Mongolia for over 25 years and have ample experience managing their own horses and tours.
Choosing such an operator not only enhances your overall experience but also provides peace of mind, allowing you to fully immerse yourself in the beauty of Mongolia and the thrill of horse riding, knowing you are in good reliable hands as a beginner to horse riding
Responsible and sustainable tourism is at the forefront of our journey. Choose a tour operator that is firmly committed to sustainable and conservation practices and the protection of Mongolia’s pristine natural environment. It’s crucial to ensure that the operator actively works to minimize the ecological footprint of their expeditions. This means adhering to Leave No Trace principles and respecting the habitats of the incredible wildlife that call Mongolia home.
Immersive Horse Riding Experiences Off the Beaten Path
The true allure of Mongolia lies in its remote and untouched wilderness. There is so much to explore in Mongolia beyond the usual popular camping spots and lookout points that tour groups bring. Seek out a horse riding tour operator that is not afraid to take you off the beaten path, allowing you to explore hidden valleys, remote mountains, and secluded landscapes that vehicles cannot access.
Exploring Remote Valleys and Mountains
Only the best of operators are equipped and ready to go deeper into these regions purely on horseback, without a need of vehicles to transport goods. Venturing into these less-trodden areas not only guarantees a more authentic experience, but also helps to reduce the impact of tourism on well-known sites. It’s about forging your own trail and creating unique memories.
Safety should always be of utmost priority. Look for a tour operator that shares this commitment by providing essential safety equipment like riding helmets, first-aid kits, and possess reliable communication devices like satellite phones. Experienced guides should offer thorough safety briefings and tips, and their expertise will ensure you feel secure and at peace during your adventure. They’re not just guides; they’re your safety net.
A Well-Rounded Experience
Consider the holistic experience provided by the tour operator, from comfort to cuisine. From immersive tent camping to warm ger camps to hot showers and hot chocolate, there is a wide range of experiences one can choose from, based on your budget. I definitely recommend experiencing a horse riding expedition that includes living in the traditional Mongolian gers, as it’s extremely unique and offers a glimpse into the nomadic lifestyle. It’s definitely also warmer and more comfortable for colder months like October and for travelers who are not as used to the full camping experience.
Stone Horse provides comforts while camping, like heated dining tents, tables and chairs.
Is Mongolia Good for Vegetarians
Mongolian cuisine, renowned for its authentic rich meat dishes and carbs heavy diet, can be an exciting adventure for travelers. For those who are vegetarians or have varying food preferences, adapting to local dishes might pose a challenge during extended travels.
However, Stone Horse Mongolia goes above and beyond to ensure that your culinary experience is a healthy and delightful one. Their diverse menu is thoughtfully curated to cater to both Mongolian and Western tastes, offering a harmonious blend of flavors from breads to salads to stews to dried fruit and hot chocolate. Their extremely nutritious and delicious meals not only keep you energized for your daily explorations but also provide a delightful introduction to some Mongolian dishes. I’m a vegetarian and while avoiding meat is not very common in Mongolia, I felt well taken care a nutritied by Stone Horse. I don’t know if other tour operators would be able to cater to vegetarian diet.
Handling Common Challenges and Unexpected Situations
Adventuring in Mongolia on horseback can be a thrilling experience. However, it’s important to be prepared for common challenges and unexpected situations that may arise. Here are some scenarios you might encounter and how to handle them:
- Equipment Checks and Measures: Familiarize yourself with all the gear before the trip. Always inspect your horse riding equipment to ensure safety before riding off. Things that can happen is your saddle coming loose, the whip unraveling while riding or your horse reins are clipped on wrongly.
- Language Barrier: English is not widely spoken in remote areas. Learning a few basic Mongolian phrases can go a long way in communication. If you would like to be extra cautious, go with a tour operator with English speaking guides, like in the case of Stone Horse.
- Wildlife Encounters: Mongolia is home to diverse wildlife, including wolves and bears. While encounters are rare, it’s essential to know how to react if you do come across wildlife. Always listen to your guide and horsemen, stay calm and slowly back away without turning your back on the animal.
Mongolian Cultural Etiquette and Respect
Respecting Mongolia’s rich cultural heritage is essential during your horse riding expedition. Here are some cultural etiquette tips to keep in mind:
- Greeting Customs: When meeting Mongolians or nomad families, offer a friendly nod or a handshake. It’s customary to greet elders and authority figures first.
- Gift-Giving: Small gifts from your home country are appreciated as gestures of goodwill. Make sure you plan and buy them ahead of time before arriving. Gifts like sweets or souvenirs can also be shared with your hosts.
- Entering a Ger (Yurt): When entering a traditional Mongolian ger, always step over the threshold rather than on it. The left side of the ger is typically reserved for guests, so sit there if offered a seat.
- Offering and Receiving Food: When offered food or drink, it’s polite to accept, even if it’s just a small sip. Finish what you are given as a sign of respect.
- Handling Money: Handle money and objects with your right hand or both hands as a sign of respect. The left hand is considered impolite for such gestures.
- Photography: Always ask for permission before taking photos of people, especially elders and monks. Some may prefer not to be photographed.
By being mindful of these cultural norms and demonstrating respect for Mongolia’s heritage, you’ll not only have a more enriching experience but also foster positive interactions with the local people you encounter on your horse riding expedition.
Embrace the Nomadic Spirit
Venturing on a horse riding expedition in Mongolia is an opportunity to immerse yourself in the heart of this captivating land, where the nomadic spirit thrives. As we concluded our unforgettable 7-day journey, we gained a profound appreciation for Mongolia’s mesmerizing landscapes, the enduring connection between humans and horses, and the sense of community and bonding that defines this remarkable place. Whether you’re an experienced rider or a novice, Mongolia promises a horse riding adventure like no other—an invitation to commune with nature, forge lasting connections, and discover the untamed beauty of the Mongolian steppes.
Safety and expertise are paramount in ensuring the success of your expedition. Choosing a responsible tour operator, like Stone Horse Mongolia, not only guarantees your well-being but also supports sustainable and eco-friendly travel practices. By treading lightly on this pristine wilderness, we contribute to the preservation of Mongolia’s natural beauty and the welfare of its magnificent horses.
So, seize the reins, saddle up, and embark on your own horse riding odyssey in Mongolia. Let the spirit of adventure guide your path as you bond with your fellow riders, the local community, and the incredible horses that accompany you. As you depart, you’ll carry with you the indomitable spirit of the Mongolian steppes, forever etched in your soul.