“A Mongol without a horse is like a bird without wings.”
Urban youth rediscover Mongolia’s nomadic heritage and equestrian traditions.
Horses play a large role in the national culture of Mongolia and in the daily life of Mongolian herdsmen, considered some of the best horsemen in the world. The native equine breed of Mongolia, the Mongolian horse, is recognized as one of the oldest breeds of horses, with a bloodline dating to ancient times.
The horses’ impact in history reached a climax at the time of Genghis Khan (1158-1227), whose mounted forces amassed the largest land empire in history, reaching from the Pacific to the Caspian Sea on the outskirts of Europe.
Modern Mongolia has strong ties to its equestrian traditions, with much of the country’s rural population still engaged in a traditional nomadic herding culture. But this heritage is rapidly receding. As many as 40,000 rural Mongolians are migrating into cities each year, and nearly half of all Mongolians are now living in the capital city of Ulaanbaatar alone.
Recognizing Mongolia’s unique equestrian heritage and a rapidly modernizing society whose ties to the steppes and herding life are quickly receding, Global Peace Foundation Mongolia organized a youth adventure trip, “On the Trails of the Last Nomad: Learning from Genghis Khan,” in August 2021 covering over 250 kilometers on horseback. Several participants had never ridden on horseback before, and all learned about Mongolia’s history and culture during the experience.
“Every destination we reached, we heard historical and cultural explanations,” said one participant. “This time I felt how weak my personal preparations were. It was a rewarding journey that taught me what I needed to do in life. I want this trip to reach many people and to spread Mongolian history, culture, and traditions.”
“I probably was the one who had the most adventures and challenges,” reflected another participant. “Imagine how scared I was when I rode the horse for the first time. For me, it was a really good trip, freeing my mind and pleasing my eyes and heart.”
“My dream of many years has come true,” said another. “It was a privilege to hear a story by the fire in the middle of the night, and a huge opportunity to unlock my brain and take [out] my earplugs.”
A travel blog of the trip was posted on social media with information about Mongolia’s historical monuments and nomadic customs. The social media posts garnered more interest in horseback riding in Mongolia. GPF plans to have more horseback riding programs in the future around other parts of Mongolia.