Traveling by horse in Mongolia

Mongolian horse: A unique creature for nomads

 Mounted on their remarkable horses, Chinggis Khaan and his army of skilled cavalry were able to conquer much of Asia and Eastern Europe, establishing the largest empire in the world.

For many centuries horse has been the main part of the nomad’s life but still maintain their wild nature.

The horses In Mongolia live in herds, led by a stallion who guides the horses to water, shelter, and safety.  The horses are hardy and adapted to living out in temperatures that can reach -45c, and are able to forage for food in any conditions. Mongolian horses are small – growing to between 13hh and 14hh – but stocky and strong and great for endurance riding.  Although n Mongolian horse is smaller than western and Arabian breeds it has strong muscles naturally intelligent and loyal to the owner.

The Mongolian horse is one of the most ancient horse breeds in the world. According to the archeological funding, Mongolians had domesticated and used horses for their lives since 2000 B.C.

Mongolian horse breeds have descended from the Takhi, well known as the Przewalski horse. They have similar body

 TRAVELING BY HORSE AMONG ENDLESS STEPPE

Horse Breed: Native Mongolian horses.
Height of horses: Approx. 12 – 14hh
Weight limit:  90kg / 198lbs
Required level of ride: Beginner-Advanced
Highly recommended destinations for horseback riding in Mongolia:

  • Orkhon river valley, central Mongolia
  • Northern Mongolia, route to Taiga reindeer people
  • Khan Khentii Mountains in Eastern Mongolia
  • Gorkhi-Terelj national park, nearby Ulaanbaatar
  • Western Mongolia, Altai Mountains

Best time to ride: June – October

Traveling by horse in Mongolia is not just an adventure or holiday, but it is the opportunity to explore the wilderness, great steppes and immerse yourself with a culture of nomads that you wanted to learn about. During horseback riding expeditions – learning new skills, pursuing your interests, and of course, just relaxing and enjoying the ride and company.

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Benefits of horseback riding: Doctors approve horseback riding offers the following health benefits.

Core Strength: Horseback riding is an isometric exercise, which means it uses specific muscles to stay in certain positions, in this case, keeping balanced on the horse. As a result, postural strength becomes very important in horseback riding.

Balance and Coordination: Staying balanced becomes more challenging the faster and more quickly the horse moves. Cantering or galloping and jumping, for example, are much more difficult than a simple jog or trot. The rider must develop coordination skills to move the body with the horse in order to help the horse stay balanced.

Muscle Tone and Flexibility: Along with the core muscles, the inner thighs and pelvic muscles get the biggest workout as a rider positions himself or herself. This exercise helps with good overall muscle tone and flexibility.

Cardiovascular Exercise: Depending on the type of riding and the speed and agility of the horse, horseback riding can require more effort, energy, and cardiovascular capacity.

Mental exercise: There are many mental benefits to horseback riding. There’s a confidence that comes from learning how to handle and interact with this huge animal. You really learn about yourself as you experience time on a horse.

Additionally, horseback riding to be a very relaxing and calming experience. Horseback riding grounds me. It takes me away from any other worries or issues because, for the time being, the only focus is on riding and staying on the horse. While horseback riding In Mongolia is a great exercise, same time true benefit you may get now is the connection with the wild nature, horses, and contributing lives of local nomads.

What to expect from horse riding journeys?

  1. Meet authentic nomads and visit their ger
  2. Contribute their lives (rent horses and yaks)
  3. Ride a yak or pack your luggage
  4. Capture breathtaking photos of nature or nomads
  5. Test airag (Kumis) or authentic nomadic cuisine
  6. Play Mongolian traditional games
  7. Challenge yourself and boost your confidence

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Look Mongolia’s featured events

ICE FESTIVAL

Date: early March
Location: Khuvsgul lake

photo by: O. Munkhnasan

The harshness of cold winter could not resist the beauty of the lake Khuvgul, which attracts visitors with its calmness, and shines as a clear crystal. The annual Ice Festival which takes place in March will provide a unique opportunity to experience Mongolian games in frozen lakes including traditional ice shooting competitions, horse sledding races, skating competitions, shaman`s rituals, dog sledding journeys, and displays gilding ice sculptures by local artists.

To sense the winter beauty of the lake Khuvsgul take your warm clothes and head to Khatgal village on the lakeside.

 

THOUSAND CAMEL FESTIVAL

Date: 6-8 March
Location: Bulgan soum, Umnugobi

photo by: Zaya

The Thousand Camel Festival which is held every March in Mongolia’s Gobi is one of the major springtime events that are gaining popularity with both domestic and international travelers in the country.

The Camel Festival is organized by the Amazing Gobi Association and supported by the provincial government to highlight the significance of camels for the local and national economy and to promote the camel herding traditions and showcase the skills of nomads in the Gobi. In 2016, a very special Camel Festival took place – to stage a record for the Guinness Book. In March of that year, 1115 camels came from provinces from Gobi region of  Mongolia, to compete in racing of 15km distance and showcased skills of taming wild camel, camel packing, parade their decorated camels and riders in festive costumes, display their best breeding stock of camels, and enjoy cultural performances.

 

NAADAM FESTIVAL

Date: 10-13 July
Location: Nationwide

photo by: Zaya

This annual sports festival is the most famous celebration across the country. It features the three manly sports: wrestling, archery, and horse racing. Naadam is celebrated across the country and every town and village holds its own wrestling, archery, and horse racing contests. The official Naadam opening ceremony in Ulaanbaatar is quite spectacular. Riders dress as Chinggis Khan’s entourage and lead a huge procession around the Naadam Stadium, which features hundreds of adults and children dressed in costumes, representing all Mongolia’s ethnic groups. In Ulaanbaatar, wrestling takes place in the main stadium, while archery competitions occur all around the structure; the famously perilous horse races are held at Hui Doloon Khudag located 40km west of Ulaanbaatar city.

 

OIRAD PEOPLES’ CULTURAL FESTIVAL

Date: 4-5 Aug
Location: Uvs province, Uureg lakeshore

Photo by: Aduuchii Batsukh

Many people may imagine western Mongolia as hunters in heavy fur costumes holding golden eagles, but there are many treasures to see behind this.  There are many ethnic groups living in western Mongolia, which include the Durvud, Torguud, Bayad, Uuld, Zakhchin, Myangad, Uriankhai, and Kazakhs. Therefore, culture and traditions are diverse and distinguished by their folklore art and many other features.  Surely, various native cultures and folk arts among ethnic people are attractive and charming.

Since 2006, locals and the Oirad Theater in Ulaangom town have initiated Oirod People’s Folk Festival to preserve and promote intangible cultural heritage, including Hoomei throat singing bielgee folk dance, Tuuli epic song, and musical instruments including Ikel huur, Tovshuur, and Tsuur as well as tangible heritage. Since 2013, the festival was extended to the world and Oirad people all over the world can be involved in the event.
Oirad people from villages from Khovd, Uvs, Bayan-Ulgii provinces, and tribes settled in Siberia, Kalmyk, Xingjian Uyghur, Qinghai (Deed Mongol) and Inner Mongolia gathers in the Turgen Mountains (on the coast of Uureg Lake) to greet each other and share their inherited folk arts threatened with the influence of modernization.
For travelers planning to visit western Mongolia in early August or folk art lovers, we highly recommend that you stop by the Oirad People’s Folk Festival to experience the authentic culture of the Altai Mountains and meet the most hospitable people.


GOLDEN EAGLE FESTIVAL

Date: the first weekend of October
Location: Ulgii town

photo by: Zaya

The Golden Eagle Festival or Eagle Festival is an annual traditional festival held in Bayan-Ulgii province, Mongolia. Every year, eagle hunters from every corner of the country gather to celebrate their falconry heritage and compete to show the hunting skill skills of both the birds and their trainers.

The opening ceremony of the festival starts with a parade of eagle hunters from different villages of the Bayan-ulgii province and Kazakhstan as well, followed by sporting activities and competitions of hunting skills with the golden eagle. Besides, cultural exhibitions, demonstrations, and handcrafts in the center of the town of Ulgii. Witnessing a sensational event and meeting the people dressed in full eagle hunting regalia and mounted on groomed decorated horses will be one of the life adventures.

Other sporting activities include horse racing, archery, and the highly entertaining kukbar ((tug of war on horseback).

A smaller festival, the Sagsai Golden Eagle Festival on 17-18 September each year especially for photographers, cinematographers, and photojournalists, and the Altai Kazakh Eagle Festival are also held each year in the nearby village of Sagsai in the last week of September. It follows much the same pattern as the larger Golden Eagle Festival, with about 40 eagle hunters participates

 

 

Photographing in Mongolia

Mongolia is a vast country with sweeping landscapes. There is a variety of photographing scenes such as landscape, people, culture, religion, and wildlife as well. To capture the most stunning images need to plan well.

Gears: In remote areas, you may travel without electricity for a number of days, therefore you need a sufficient amount of extra batteries.  You may shop in Ulaanbaatar for it before start your journey to get lost in Mongolia.

Dust: Travel route to unique places are not easy, is mainly dusty and bumpy. Keep your camera and lenses sealed in safety bags while driving on earth roads.

Light: Summer days are long, so the best time to take landscape photos is dawn and dusk, before 10 am and evening 6 pm to 8 pm is the key time.

Photographing people.  Before you photography please ask. *tanii zurgiig avch boloh uu? Especially in urban areas and some particular parts of the country people do not like to be models. If they do not want to be photographed please respect them.

On the other hand, rural people are happy to be photographed if you ask. Take their social contact and send their photos after the trip. It will be a great memory for them.

When you take a portrait most of the people shows very serious face. So ask them to smile and do something to make them smile before pressing the button.

If you are going to use the photo for commercial use, please do not forget to sign for photo release permition.

Photo not allowed:  Photography is prohibited inside monasteries and temples, especially, during religious ceremonies and shamanistic rituals. However, you may photograph temple exteriors and monastery grounds. Sometimes able to obtain special permission to take photographs for an extra fee. Please ask to pre-arrange it from your guide or land service provider.

Sensitive areas such as border areas, military facilities are not allowed to photograph too. To travel places 50km distance from the border it is required to obtain border permission.  Please ask to pre-arrange it from the land service provider.

In the museum and folklore concerts photographing and video graphing are allowed with a certain amount of tax. Mainly it is 15000-25000 mnt for the photo, 30000-50000mnt for video permit.

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Naadam Festival

This annual sports festival is the most famous celebration across the country. It features the three manly sports: wrestling, archery, and horse racing. Naadam is celebrated across the country and every town and village holds its own wrestling, archery, and horse racing contests. The official Naadam opening ceremony in Ulaanbaatar is quite spectacular. Riders dress as Chinggis Khan’s entourage and lead a huge procession around the Naadam Stadium, which features hundreds of adults and children dressed in costumes, representing all Mongolia’s ethnic groups. In Ulaanbaatar, wrestling takes place in the main stadium, while archery competitions occur all around the structure; the famously perilous horse races are held near the Chinggis Khan Airport.

Wrestling
Wrestling is the most popular of all Mongol sports. While the sport takes place in countries all over the world, Mongol-style wrestling involves distinct rituals and techniques, which some historians claim originated 7,000 years ago.

There are no weight categories or age limits in Mongolian national wrestling. The wrestlers wear heavy boots (gutuls), a very small, tight-fitting loincloth (known as zodog and shuudag), a pair of sleeves that meet across the back of the shoulders, resembling a tiny vestige of a jacket, and a pointed cap of velvet. The contestants come out during the competition, leaping, dancing, and flapping their arms like an eagle. Each wrestler has his attendant herald. The aim of the sport is to knock your opponent off balance and throw him down, making him touch the ground with his elbow and knee. The loser walks under the raised arms of the winner as a sign of respect and unties his vest, after which the victor, again performing the eagle dance, takes a turn round the flag in the centre of the field. The victor receives symbolically important prize-biscuits and aaruul, or dried curds; once he has tasted these, he offers them to his seconds and to spectators.

Traditionally, either one thousand and twenty-four of five hundred and twelve wrestlers participate in a contest–today the latter is more common. At the National Naadam festival held in Ulaanbaatar, nine rounds are held. Those who lose in one round are eliminated from further rounds.

A wrestler who beats five opponents at the event is awarded the title of “Falcon”; one who wins seven rounds is given the title “Elephant”. A wrestler becomes a champion by winning nine rounds, obtaining the title of “Lion”, and if he wins two years in a row, he is called “Giant”. If a wrestler becomes a three-time champion at Naadam, the attribute “Nation-wide” is added to his title. A fourth such accomplishment and he is dubbed “Invincible”.

The winners of the tournament receive honorary titles and are also awarded various souvenirs. For them, however, the main award is the truly nation-wide popularity and fame that they acquire in the process.

Horse Racing
Another popular and ancient Mongolian sport, which traces its origins back to the Bronze Age, is horse racing. For the Naadam races, trainers select horses at least one month before the big day. The animals are separated from the herd, taken to an adequate pasture, and trained. Racehorses are divided into several age groups: two, three, four, and five-year-olds; over five years or adult horses, and stallions. The riders range in age from five to 12. Mongolian children are generally excellent equestrians, as many boys and girls have been riding since infancy. As the popular saying goes, “The Nomad is born in the saddle”.

Small saddles are made especially for children, but they usually prefer to ride without them. They are not only superb riders but also skilful tacticians; they know how to hold the horse back so it has enough strength to last the entire race. Competitions are not held on special racetracks, but right across the steppe, where riders are confronted with various obstacles such as rivers, ravines, and hills. The distance varies according to the age of the horse–between 15 and 35 kilometers. Riders dress in bright, comfortable clothes. On their backs, they wear various symbolic designs, which also embellish the horses’ attire. The start and the finish provide a race’s most exciting moments. Before the beginning of each contest, the young jockeys ride round the starting point three times yelling the ancient call, “Giingo!”, a kind of war-cry. When every horse steps behind the boundary line, an official gives the starting command and the riders surge forward, setting the long-awaited race in motion.

After the main Nadaam races, winning riders trot a full circuit around Ulaanbaatar’s Central Stadium, accompanied by a herald. The winning horse receives the honorary title “Forehead of Ten Thousand Race Horses”, and the five runners-up are awarded medals and are informally dubbed the “Airag Five”. Tradition dictates that the victorious riders do three laps on their mounts, on the winning horses do three laps of honour, then ride to the grandstand, where each child drinks a large bowl of airag—fermented mare’s milk. He or she (most riders are boys, but some girls have been known to compete) then pours some on his mount’s rump. The Herald, in turn, chants a poem about the virtues of the horse, its rider, and its owner. Riders who finish last also figure into the post-race ceremony. The slowest horse and his jockey make their way to the main platform after the winners have departed. Although the young boy’s face typically conveys vexation and shame, he faces no derision from the spectators. Instead, they shout encouragement and to boost his confidence, and a nationally renowned storyteller recites a special ode expressing faith in the boy’s future success.

Archery
Ample information about archery appears in historical documents dating back to the 13th century and even before. Many believe the technology for this celebrated ancient sport emerged in the region as early as 300-200 BC, but historians say, archery contests were first held in the 11th century.

Mongols use a compound bow, built from layers of horn, sinew, bark and wood. When unstrung it is not straight, but curved. Archery remains more archaic and ritualistic than the nation’s other sports.

Targets consist of small woven-leather rings (some of which are painted red), laid out on the ground in a row, several meters across. Flat targets offer a challenging exercise in gauging trajectory for the archers. In olden times, women did not participate in these contests, but in the last few decades, they have started to do so. The distance to the targets is about 75 meters for men and 60 meters for women. Men shoot about 40 arrows and must score no less than 15 points to advance in the competition; women shoot 20 arrows and must score at least 13 points using the same bow as the men.

When an arrow hits the target, a group of people standing near the target (acting as judges) raise the cry of “Uukhai!”, and make signs with their hands to indicate a hit. The archer who scores the most points wins, earning the title Mergen (Super-marksman) as a result.

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