Mongolia’s vast and relatively untouched landscape is one of the most sparsely populated on the planet. As a result, it’s brimming with the very best wildlife watching hotspots. In addition to being lovers of falconry, Mongolians treasure their herd animals. Horses, camels, yaks, sheep and goats all play active roles in nomadic communities.
The country’s horse culture in particular is renowned all over the world. Mongolia is often referred to as the ‘Land of the Horse People’ with native horse breed, the Mongol, a vital part of culture. There are in fact more horses than people in Mongolia, but why do natives love horses so much?
Here, we delve a little deeper into the fascinating horse culture in Mongolia, revealing the history of their love of horses and the important role these beloved creatures play today.
A staple part of Mongolian life
As the saying goes, “a Mongol without a horse is like a bird without wings”. Even with the introduction of modern technology around the world, Mongolian people still rely on the horse in their daily lives.
In the Western world, horses are treated just like any other pet. In Mongolia, horses tend to be semi-wild. Instead of being ridden on a daily basis, they are herded, and only a select few are trained. The hands-off training process also comes with a relatively hands-off approach to horse care. Mongolian horses are not fed a special diet or bathed, and their semi-wild state means they graze and forage just as fully wild horses do. The horses are therefore relatively inexpensive to care for, yet provide vital sources of transportation, food and drink for the nomadic communities who roam Mongolia.
The ultimate war horse
Mongolian horses have their special place in history too. While modern day Mongolian nomads are considered the best horse riders in the world. It was Genghis Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire, who unlocked their true potential on the battlefield.
The skill of the Mongolian horsemen saw Genghis Khan enjoy great triumphs. Khan’s horse archers were particularly lethal. Mongol horses made great comrades for soldiers during the time of Genghis Khan. They also provided food, drink and entertainment in difficult wartime conditions. Horses were thought to have spiritual power too, and many believed their horse would transport them to the afterlife if they died in battle. There may be no such battles now but Mongolian horse riders are still encouraged to hone and show off their skills at various sporting competitions. Naadam Festival is the ultimate place to showcase all that natives can do on horseback.
A source of food and drink
Horse meat is widely eaten in Mongolia, but horse milk is also enjoyed as a drink. Fermented mare’s milk or ‘airag’ is a must-try for those visiting Mongolia. But beware, drinking too much airag could leave you with a nasty hangover! Adventure Prime explains more about how airag is made and why it’s so potent:
“The fresh mare’s milk is put into a leather bag called a Khukhuur. They hang this by their front door and give it a stir every time they enter or exit the ger. The fermentation process takes about two days while bacteria and yeast breaks down the lactose and produces alcohol.”
Airag isn’t the only delicacy you have to try when visiting Mongolia. Discover more traditional Mongolian dishes and beverages, so you can eat like a true local on your upcoming trip.