Ride Like a Mongolian
There are more horses in Mongolia (3 million) than people (2 million) and to fully immerse yourself in Mongolia’s culture and back-country mount up and ride across the steppes into the sunshine and glacial mists.
That’s not a romanticized adventure travel image, but reality on Tusker’s 15-day multi-tasking journey into Mongolia’s Altai Tavn Bogd National Park. Travelers have the option of hiking it, or riding a horse (or both), and many Tusker tribe members opt to ride like Mongol nomads. But before saddling up, come prepared.
By the time they’re two years old, many Mongolian kids are on horseback. When they’re six some are racing and at 10 are making tack. Westerners aren’t expected to come to Mongolia shooting arrows at full gallop as Genghis Khan’s army could. Tusker’s head wrangler Eddie Frank would like to see his clients come to Mongolia with the riding basics. And if you want to ride like a Mongolia he runs a regular riding clinic on the trip. You’ll come back a “rider.”
Eddie recommends taking riding lessons before the trip to feel confident on the trot or cant as well as in the mount and dismount. Horse grooming skills, which a lot of north American riding teachers seem to focus on, are not required as Tusker’s Mongolian wrangling crew does all that.
“You need to be secure in the saddle. Every person who comes on our trips has different riding abilities. Some need a minimum of several months of lessons before the trip, others less. Trekkers can treat this trek as a riding clinic if they like. I give daily lessons for those who wish to refine their skills, and trekkers come away much more confident and capable,“ Eddie said. “A lot of our riders can’t get enough time on horseback and spend the entire trip on their horse. Some opt to do both, riding and hiking each day. Everyone who does ride – goes home a better rider.”
Saddle Bag Essentials
No other Tusker trip offers extensive horseback riding as does the Mongolia Trek, and this requires special gear for those opting to ride. All riders need to bring their own helmets. Eddie said some clients bring riding helmets, and some bring bicycle helmets. Neither are expensive. Bring a ball cap to fit under your helmet to ward off sun.
Riding gloves prevent blisters and Eddie recommends a trip to your local hardware store that usually carries goat skin gloves that are supple. A small water hydration pack is advised. A normal day-pack is not practical, as you don’t want to be top heavy while riding. For that reason each horse has a saddle bag and your small water bottles comfortably fit in them.
To Ride or Not to Ride?
Eddie said the biggest mistake on his Mongolian Trek is underestimating what it takes to be in the saddle for long stretches. It can be uncomfortable for some and that’s why spending time on horseback before the trip is important.
Safety is Tusker’s first concern on all its trips. For that reason Tusker uses Australian saddles. Eddie says it’s like riding in a secure racing seat with a seat belt – it’s a much safer saddle than a western or English saddle due to the braces for your knees, called “poleys.”
Still, the chance to travel through Mongolia’s river canyons to the massive glaciers is a once in a lifetime experience. To be part of a living history doesn’t happen often, so saddle up, and ride with the spirit of Genghis Khan and today’s Mongolian horsemen. Ride like a Mongolian.