It is traditionally said that “A Mongol without a horse is like a bird without wings.” The Plainsmen of Mongolia have long been considered some of the best horsemen in the world. Today, the education of a modern Mongolian horseman begins in childhood. Parents will place their child on a horse and hold them there before the child can even hang on without assistance. By the age of four, children are riding horses with their parents; by age six, children can ride in races; by age ten, they are learning to make their own tack.
The Mongol horse is the native horse breed of Mongolia. The breed is largely unchanged since the time of Genghis Khan, who lived more than 800 years ago. Despite their small size, Mongol horses are hardy, live outdoors all year through extreme heat and cold, graze and search for food on their own.
Mongolian tack design follows a ‘one size fits all’ approach, with saddles, halters and bits all produced in a single size. It is very light compared to traditional American Western tack. The modern Mongolian riding saddle is very tall, with a wooden frame and several decorated metal disks that stand out from the sides. It has a high pommel and cantle and is placed upon a felt saddlecloth to protect the horse’s back.
Plainsmen are required to learn everything necessary to care for a horse. This is because they do not typically employ outside experts, such as trainers, farriers or veterinarians, and must do everything themselves.
Though Mongolian horses are small, they are used to carrying riders of all sizes. Mongol riders frequently switch horses so as not to overtax any particular animal.
In Mongolian culture it is believed that the spirit of a stallion resides within his mane; thus, a long, thick mane is considered a mark of a strong animal. The mane of a stallion is never cut, though the manes of geldings and mares are. After a stallion dies, the owner may save the mane. Horses are believed to have spirits that can help or hurt their owner after death. When a deceased horse’s spirit is content, the owner’s herd will flourish.