No Trip to Mongolia is Complete Without Having Attended a Local Horse Festival and Witnessed Extraordinary Horseback Skills.
Our trip to Mongolia is turning out to be one unique cultural highlight after another. We spent the day sharing the excitement of a local horse festival in the Orkhon Valley, organised by Tsaidam Ger Camp, where we stayed for the night. The festival aims to preserve nomadic tradition and promote the talent and capabilities of Mongolia’s nomadic herders.
The Orkhon Valley is in Central Mongolia, about 360 kilometres southwest of Mongolia’s capital, Ulaanbaatar. The Orkhon Valley, a cultural landscape comprising 1,220 square kilometres, was designated a UNESCO World Heritage Site in 2004.
Mongolia’s history, culture, and people are intimately linked with horses, with children learning to ride almost from the day they can walk. In a country with 13 times more horses than people, I can understand how Mongolia has become known as the land of horses. Throughout the day, I came to appreciate Mongolian nomads’ strong bond with their horses and to understand how Mongolians have long been considered some of the best horse riders in the world.
After Meg shared snuff with some local elders and our guide explained what the horse festival entailed, we found a spot amongst the locals to watch and photograph the men, dressed in traditional costume, compete in several events, including horse lassoing, grabbing a lasso pole from the ground, and riding a wild, bucking horse. These events are designed to show off the Mongolian nomads’ unique horsemanship skills and the strength of their horses.
I wasn’t sure how I felt about the lassoing of stampeding wild horses. However, I learned it is an essential skill as nomadic households have many horses ridden infrequently and need to be re-broken in because they have been left to roam at will, becoming semi-wild. I needed to remind myself that this is their way of life and culture.
Being able to ride a bucking horse is par for the course with breaking-in horses, and this competition elicited shouts of encouragement from the crowd and laughter when horse and rider parted ways. One man who managed to stay on his horse delighted the crowd as he and his horse disappeared into the distance.
I particularly enjoyed watching the men grabbing an uurga (long pole with a lasso on the end) off the ground from a galloping horse. I was left in awe as to how they stayed on their horse because they would be well down the side of the horse, around its fast-moving legs. Their core strength must be remarkable! With all the rider’s weight on one side, how did the horse not topple over?
Some of the younger men had a competition on the side, grabbing a cigarette lighter off the ground from their galloping horse – some more successful than others. The control these young men and all other competitors had over their horses was genuinely impressive.
It was a most enjoyable, exciting day; I will take home unforgettable memories.
Editor’s Note: I originally published this blog post in February 2019 and have updated it for accuracy and comprehensiveness.
Disclaimer: This post contains no affiliate links. All views and opinions are my own and non-sponsored. All photos are my own and remain the copyright of Just Me Travel.
© Just Me Travel 2018-2023.
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