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Mongol Horse Trails

At a GlanceItineraryDetail

Mongol Horse Trails

Introduction

The nomads of the Mongolian steppe are thriving; in fact they have seen an upturn in their fortunes and the migration of people from steppe to city has slowed in recent years. This coincides with a revival of the Buddhist faith in the aftermath of the Soviet occupation.

Gobi Desert nomads

Gobi Desert nomads

There is perhaps no other nation that relies so acutely on horses; Mongolian horsemanship is renowned throughout the world and it is strikingly different from anywhere else. Nomads keep their horses in a semi-wild condition, allowing them to live in harem groups with a stallion running free. Even during the brutal winters the horses are left to their own devices: no rugs, let alone a stable; no supplementary feeding and no hay! Furthermore, wolves are endemic in rural Mongolia and the mares must protect their foals during the long, lean winters.

We ride out on the steppe, which is the summer pastureland of Mongolian nomads, and ride in two strikingly different areas; first, the treeless steppe and then we traverse the Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Area, which is in the mountain and forest zone that borders the steppe.

The essence of this ride to get up-close and personal with the indigenous people of the steppe; we use small, mobile two-man tents and there is no vehicle support; camp is carried on yak carts. We also carry a larger ger to act as communal mess-tent. Early mornings and late evenings can be chilly, even in high summer (August). You will need to bring sleeping bag and camping clothing.

Itinerary

Day 1:  Ulaan Bator

Arrive in Ulaan Bator; we’ll meet your flight and drive you to your hotel. Tour briefing followed by dinner and a little light entertainment, Mongolia style!

Accommodation: Shangri La Hotel (or similar)
Meal plan: Dinner
Time in the saddle: 0

Mongolian horses

Mongolian horses

Day 2: reaching the steppe.

The morning begins on foot with a visit to the Gandan Lamasery which is a Buddhist temple, with stupa in front and presided over by an abbot. We should be there in time to hear morning prayers which is a remarkably peaceful experience (even for non-practitioners of Buddhism). This temple was one of the leading centres for the Buddhist revival in Mongolia. The Mongols follow the Tibetan version of Lamaism, the Dalai Lama being the supreme theocratic leader.

Around mid-morning we set off in jeeps into the Mongolian countryside. By the time we come to the Hadan Hoshuu valley we are in the steppes, there are no traces of civilization and no urban sounds; this is the world of pastoralist nomads with their horses, gers and livestock. This is their summer pasture and their stock is widely dispersed but each nomad’s flock or herd remains separate and apart from his neighbour’s. We’ll have a picnic lunch upon arrival and pitch camp.

In the afternoon there is plenty of time to meet the horses and take a trial ride to find a horse you are comfortable with.

Accommodation: camping (2-man tent)
Meal plan: full board.
Time in the saddle: 45 mins

Day 3: steppe ride

The horses you’ll be riding are owner by a single family and a couple of members of the family will accompany us throughout the ride as wranglers: there to assist with tacking up, grooming and any matter concerning the horse and your riding comfort. As we ride you’ll observe the interaction between our wranglers and other nomad clans we encounter – it’s a close community!

This morning we ride out across grassland that undulates and is lightly wooded with occasional stands of birch trees. We are sure to meet local horsemen, often relatives of our wranglers.

There will be time to watch the team setting up the ger and you are welcome to try your hand at this obscure art!

Accommodation: camping (2-man tent)
Meal plan: full board.
Time in the saddle: 6 hrs

Day 4: from steppe to forest

Camp will be struck while we’re finishing breakfast and loaded onto the yak carts. The ride this morning is in the direction of the Hentii Wilderness Area, which includes the Khan Khentii Strictly Protected Area. This is a “transition zone” between the extensive steppe grassland and the forests with come down from Siberia, far away to the north.

We will reach the new camp by mid-afternoon to be greeted by a cup of something warm in the mess-ger before settling in to the tents and taking a quick wash. Re-assemble in the ger for supper before retiring for the night to two-man tents.

Accommodation: camping (2-man tent)
Meal plan: full board.
Time in the saddle: 7 hrs

BHS rider 2011.

Riding in Mongolia

5: into the Sharbulag Valley

The trail leads through larch forests, up slopes and along mountain ridges; the views across the grasslands of the steppe are glorious, and from time to time we’ll be able to glimpse the yak carts as they trundle along the trails that follow the river banks on the broad valleys below.

By late afternoon we’ll reach the Sharbulang Valley where camp will have been set up, home for the next two nights. This itinerary is designed to be flexible so that we can adjust the trail rides to coincide with where the nomads are living. Having two nights in this camp incorporates a degree of flexibility. Day 6 will be spend riding in this area.

Accommodation: camping (2-man tent) x 2 nights
Meal plan: full board.
Time in the saddle: 6 to 7 hrs per day

Day 7: ride to the Tuul River

From camp we ascend to a pass and descend the other side to enter the Tuul River valley. The main ridge of the Hentii Mountains is in front, forming a dramatic backdrop.

Accommodation: camping (2-man tent)
Meal plan: full board.
Time in the saddle: 7 hrs

Day 8: To Jalman Meadows

Today we leave the Sharbulag Valley, crossing again the headwater of the Tuul River. We reach Jalman Meadows which is a season ger-camp, so for the next 2 nights we have the luxury of staying in cozy gers, sleeping on cot beds. This camp is operated by different nomads, so we’ll meet some new people in camp this evening.

Accommodation: ger (twin share)
Meal plan: full board.
Time in the saddle: 6 hrs

JW Jalman view from Hevtee gatsaa

Jalman Meadow viewed from Hevtee gatsaa

Day 9: Jalman Meadows

Jalman is a little more sophisticated than the camps we have used so far: there is also a ger camp here which has a small library! We will ride out today, but if you fancy a day in camp, relaxing and thumbing through some books you can do so. There are a couple of great titles about Genghis Khan, contemporary Mongolia or the local horses and you are in the perfect spot to read all about it.

This camp also has some Russian-made inflatable rafts if you prefer an easy river descent today! The rafts are loaded onto yak carts at the take-out and you and raft return to camp in style!

There is a streamside sauna, which is ideal at the end of a week riding.

The ride today is a large loop that goes through lightly forested country and returns to camp along the river bank.

Accommodation: ger (twin share)
Meal plan: full board
Time in the saddle: 6 hrs

Day 10: To Ulaanbaatar

Return to Ulaan Bator which we should reach by late morning and check into the hotel. The rest of the day is free for you to explore the city. There are loads of cafes and restaurants for lunch and the guide will be on-hand to make some suggestions. Everything is within walking distance of the hotel.  The local guide will remain on stand-by to assist with shopping suggestions, places to eat and temples to visit. In the evening we’ll meet for a farewell dinner in the city.

Accommodation: Shangri La Hotel (or similar)
Meal plan: Breakfast and dinner
Time in the saddle: 0

Day 11: Departure

We will drive you back to the airport to catch whichever flight has been arranged. Breakfast is included.

Camels

Camp is moved on camel-carts

Included in the price

Local leader (English speaking)
Meals as detailed.
2 nights hotel and 2 nights in ger lodges and 6 nights camping.
All camping equipment and  all  local  transport. (No need to bring a sleeping bag or pillow)
Local medevac coverage for evacuation to Ulan Bator.

Excluded

Lunch in Ulaan Bator day 10.
Air or train tickets in and out of Mongolia.
Visa fee.

Yurt Camp, Mongolia

Ger Camp, Mongolia

N.B. The Nadaam Games

This sporting festival takes place in Ulan Bator once a year in August. If you would like to include it you need to add an addition two days (3 nights) in Ulan Bator making a total of 14 nights.

 

Goat

Angora goat

Practical notes.

Each rider will have saddlebags to carry things like water bottle, camera and wet weather clothing. Your main baggage is carried from camp-to-camp on a wooden yak cart. You won’t have access to your main baggage at lunchtime.

Accommodation: we use gers on this ride which are large enough to accommodate several people sleeping on camp cot-beds. You do not need to bring your own sleeping bag

Staff: an English-speaking Mongol guide will accompany the group at all times. A cook will follow, with an assistant. In addition, the services of the local herdsmen will be hired along with their horses. The horsemen will come from Badrakh’s family with whom we have worked in earlier years. The Badrakh family follows a traditional lifestyle in the areas where we will be riding.

Meals: The meals will be prepared by our cook; western, vegetarian and Mongolian meals will all be produced during the ride. For breakfast we can usually buy fresh yogurt from the herdsmen in the local area to go with the supplies we carry with us.

Minimum riding ability: you need to be fit and capable of riding at all paces confidently over varying terrain, for several hours on consecutive days.
Horse Breed: the horse in Mongolia is the Mongolian Horse! What its origins are, are less easy to pin down. Records go back to 2,000 BC making it one of the oldest breeds around. Genetic research shows this breed has the greatest genetic variety of all horse breeds, which suggests an ancient strain with minimal human selection. Furthermore, its genes crop up in a large number of modern breeds. Despite is modest stature (14 hh to 14.2 hh) it is a horse, not a pony. It is also tough as tin tacks, sure footed and faithful. There are all sorts of anecdotes about this breed, but the one that most surprises me is that during the horses races at the Nadaam Festival, where the jockeys include children as young as 4 yrs, the horses are trained to gallop for 35 Km, which is staggering. Even more surprising is that if a jockey is dislodged the horse continues at full speed. The owner would rather have the winning horse, than the winning rider! Interesting philosophy on teaching kids to ride!

Whilst on the subject, and because we’re going to Mongolia, we ought to mention Przewalski’s Horse, which comes from the Asian steppe and is a true wild horse, as distinct to a feral horse. It was extinct in the wild but has been reintroduced to Khan Khentii from breeding programmes in China and southern France. We should see them on this trek.

Tack: we decided not to use the traditional Mongolian saddle – which is made of wood! The tack is based on English tack. Some western saddles available.

Rider’s involvement: you may groom and tack your horse; untack during breaks if you wish. Guides available to advise and assist as necessary.

Rider’s weight: 90 Kg max.

Best season for ride: June to end Sept.

Transport: Mongolian families frequently move from one pasture to another using traditional wooden carts.  These are drawn by whatever animals are available in the region. Here we will use yaks, or rather yak-cow crossbreeds called “hainag”. A few local herdsmen will be hired by the expedition and they will provide us with their animals.

Staying on

We can happily extend your visit to Mongolia by adding additional nights in the capital. Here are a few suggestions:
•    Travel by train (the final leg of the Trans-Siberian Express) to China, or westwards to Moscow.
•    Visit the eastern Gobi Desert and the Ikh Nart Nature Reserve. Good wildlife and remarkable rock formations.
•    Fancy some additional riding! Arburd Sands on the Gobi grasslands is accessible and completely different from anything else you will have experienced. It’s a minimum stay of two nights.
•    Hustai National Park and see the re-introduction Przewalski Horses. It takes the best part of a day to drive there from Ulan Bator. There is an excellent hotel there called the HS Khaan Ger Resort.

Please enquire for any of these combinations; we can provide a seamless travel solution.

Horse

A face only a mother can love!!

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