With limited time and limited budget it makes sense to go on a guided horse ride. A bit more time and money would allow you to go with a local guide that will help you find a horse to rent, negotiate prices and help with communications along the way.
Adventurous travelers willing to take the risk and with plenty of time, can try to buy a horse and sell it when they are done traveling. Buying a horse has its challenges. Where to buy, how much to pay, how to define a good horse, what routes to take, how to find water on the way, how to avoid horse theft, what to do when your horse fails, how to pack your belongings and how to sell at the end of your adventure are all questions that require serious attention.
Horse riding tours in Mongolia
The following companies all organise horse riding tours in Mongolia. Some are small-scale, one-day outings, others last for weeks.
Horse riding regions and routes
- Huvsgol lake: There are several routes around the lake and up into the mountains.
- Terelje: The Terelje park is close to Ulaanbaatar. You can drive there and back, and enjoy a horse ride the same day. Terelje has several Ger camps, allowing a few days of riding between Ger camps.
- Kahrhorin: The ancient capital of the Mongol empire is a good starting point for long horse treks.
- Olgii – Altai Mountains: Olgii is in west Mongolia. The Altai mountains offer great horse treks.
Once you are out of Ulaanbaatar you can basically ride in any direction. The challenge is to make sure you know of water sources on the way. A horse has to drink, and it is impossible to carry sufficient water for the horse. Choosing routes along river beds makes sense, and wherever you see nomadic dwellings or herds you can be sure to find water. Be aware that distances between settlements can take a few days of riding.
Renting a horse in Mongolia
The basic price for renting a horse is around $10-$20 per day. You also pay the guide roughly the same price for a day. The guide’s price can be spread out between all the riders in a group. Riding tours arranged by tour operators cost more – but include transportation, food, translation and staying at Ger camps.
Buying a horse in Mongolia
Where should you buy a horse in Mongolia? Best is to get out of Ulaan Baator for the best price/quality. But Ulaanbaatar (try the black market) is a good starting point for horse accessories, like a western saddle. The Mongolian saddle which is common in the country side is not comfortable for long distance riding.
You will be better off buying a horse at your starting point. The distances between regions are measured in thousands of miles, and it would not be easy to transport a horse cross country on dirt roads. You can approach nomadic families and ask about horses. In the more popular tourist regions
you have a better chance of finding a nomadic family willing to sell a horse to a foreigner.
Best starting points are Terelj, which is fairly close to Ulaanbaatar, Kharkhorin, just a few hours drive west from Ulaanbaatar, riding along the khangai valley, Khatgal in the north, on the Khuvsgul lake shores with beautiful trails around the lake and into the mountains surrounding it and Olgii in the most western region of Mongolia, riding into the Altai mountains.
Finding a good horse
Naturally a nomadic family will not offer you the best horse. If they have them they need them. They will be happy to sell you those horses that are less suitable for their needs. You will have to accept that as a fact of life, unless you are willing to pay a fortune for a few days or weeks of riding. Be sure to test ride the horse before buying, and ask for guidance regarding taking care of any particular horse. After long and cold winters, the horses are not at their best. It takes a few months for them to gain back what they have lost during winters that last from November to April.
Price of a horse in Mongolia
Travelers have reported buying a horse for about $100 – $200. It seems that a more reasonable price would be around $300 – $500.
The horse theft reports do not mention violent theft. There have been several reports of horses disappearing mysteriously at night or on a hazy day. In several cases the horses somehow returned to the owner’s ranch. Even Tim Cope, a very experienced traveller, suffered twice from horse theft. If you have a Mongolian guide with you, chances are quite low that someone would dare to steal your horses. When you are hosted by a nomadic family no one will come close to your horses. It is when you are camping out alone, and weather conditions place you deep in your tent that your horses are vulnerable.
If you plan on a long cross country ride you will actually need 2 horses. One to ride on and a second one to carry your belongings. It is crucial to have the equipment well balanced on both sides of the horse. Try out your packs on a pack horse before buying one. The great advantage of a pack horse is that it doubles as backup horse, in case your riding horse fails.
Selling your horse
Best bet would be to find a fellow traveller at one of the more popular tourist locations. Nomadic families with herds might be interested to buy the horse, obviously for much less than what you paid for to begin with. You might just as well consider to donate the horse to a nomadic family at the end of your trek.
Whispering Mongolian to horses
Choo is the sound that makes a Mongolian horse start going. Mongolian horses are used to having the rider climb up to the saddle from the left side
of the horse. The roots for that habit go back to Genghis Khan’s warriors, who held a sword in the right hand, leaving the left hand free to hold the saddle and reins while climbing up.
Extra: More general information about horse riding in Central Asia.