The Mongolian horse dates back about 6000 years. This horse, known in Mongolia as the takhi, was discovered in 1881 by a Russian explorer named Przewalski, after whom the horse became known. By the end of the 1960s the horse had become extinct in the wild. Thanks to breeding reserves in Europe, it was reintroduced in Mongolia in 1992. About 150 takhi are now living in Mongolia – you can see them in Hustai National Park.
Mongolian horses today have changed a little but still maintain their wild nature. The horses live in herds, led by a stallion who guides the horses to water, shelter and safety. They are hardy and adapted to living outside in temperatures that can reach -45C, and are able to dig snow for food in any conditions. Where their ancestors’ manes were short and their coats of one colour, modern Mongolian horses’ manes grow long, and their colours are varied. Mongolian horses are small, growing to between 13hh and 14hh, but stocky, strong and great for endurance riding.
Most young Mongolians – boys in particular – learn to ride from a very young age. They will help their father with the herding of goats, sheep and horses. Some children will have the chance to ride at the Naadam festival, the biggest of which is held on 11th-13th July in Ulaanbaatar. Though there are races held throughout the year all over the countryside. Young jockeys between the age of 5 and 12 (girls and boys) race horses over distances ranging from 15km to 30km. There are 6 categories for the races depending on the horses’ age, including a category for 1 year old horses (daag) and one for stallions (azarag).
Mares are generally not ridden in Mongolia. They are used instead for breeding and producing Mongolia’s national beverage “airag”. This is fermented mare’s milk with a low alcoholic content. Mares are milked throughout the summer. The herd is brought in in the late afternoon and the foals are caught and tied with their heads low so they cannot suckle. Then every 2 hours or so the foals are allowed a short drink before milking the mares. This carries on until late evening when the foals are released and return with the herd. The milk from a white mare is believed to be very good for you. White mares are consequently particularly popular among herders.
The Mongolian style of riding is different from the Western riding. Mongols hold the reins in one hand and stand up in short stirrups. The tack is also different. The saddle is made of wood and has changed little over centuries. It has a high pommel and cantle which allowed Chinggis Khaan’s warriors to shoot with a bow and arrow from any direction without falling from their horse. A herder usually has a decorated saddle which he will use at special occasions such as the Naadam festival and Tsagaan Sar (lunar new year). This saddle will almost certainly be adorned with silver and have fancy material. Bridles are usually very simple and made from cowhide. But again you will often see horses sporting fancy silver mounted bridles at the Naadam festival. Mongolian horse equipment can be purchased in various shops in Ulaanbaatar. Perhaps the best (and by far the cheapest) place to look is at the central market (Narantuul Zakh).
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