What to Prepare for Horse Riding Trip in Mongolia

Setting off on a horseback voyage across the rolling steppes of Mongolia is an invitation to explore vast landscapes and ancient cultures. Through this article, I, Cez, along with my wife Lydia and our close friend Kai, will share our preparations and insights for a trip that takes you into the wild heart of Mongolia. With guidance from the experienced horse riding expedition team at Stone Horse, we navigated the diverse and often challenging terrain, learning the essential skills for a horseback riding trip in Mongolia.

lydia and i enjoying our first experience on horse back
Lydia and I enjoying our first experience on horse back

We’ll delve into the specifics of gearing up for the ride, understanding the weather patterns across seasons, and the crucial aspects of physical and mental readiness. Moreover, we’ll guide you through engaging with Mongolia’s rich cultural tapestry, from language to local customs, ensuring you’re truly prepared to embrace the nomadic way of life. This article is your starting point for an unforgettable adventure in Mongolia, where every horizon is a new discovery.

Horse Riding in the Mongolian Steppes

The Mongolian steppes, an expanse of untamed wilderness, stretch under the vast sky in a tapestry of green and gold. To traverse this endless terrain, one must be equipped not only with a sense of adventure but also with the guidance of those who know it best.

horse riding as a group in the mongolian landscape

The Importance of Expert Guidance

A reliable horse riding tour organizer becomes your compass in the vastness of Mongolia. Stone Horse Mongolia, founded  by Sabine and Keith, offers that essential balance between a comfortable and safe trip with the right expertise. Their decades-long experience in the region translates into an unparalleled understanding of the steppes’ subtle cues—from weather patterns to the behavior of the wildlife and the horses themselves.

sabine and tisha with the epic mongolian landscape
Sabine and Tisha with the epic Mongolian landscape
keith introducing me to my loyal companion for the next few days
Keith introducing me to my loyal companion for the next few days

While our trio did not have any prior exposure to riding, it is important to note that in order for your trip to be as enjoyable as possible, it is recommended to embark on some basic riding lessons or introductory class prior to that to get the best of the horse riding experience. Stone Horse makes the effort to get on a call, or even a series of calls, prior to the trip to understand your capabilities as a rider and cater to your experience, such as matching you with a suitable horse of theirs that matches your expertise. Therefore, while you definitely do not need to be an expert rider, the aim of the trip is not to teach you how to ride a horse for the very first time, but provide you with the holistic multi-day opportunity to enjoy the vast Mongolian countryside on horseback as confidently as possible.

A distinct feature of Stone Horse that sets it apart from other riding tours is the sense of independence it offers riders. You’re not bound to the “nose to tail” style of riding you may experience in other tour operators in and outside Mongolia, but you have the liberty to guide your horse’s path and step out of the controlled line with the rest of the horses if you wish. 

traveling in a row is not common for other horse riding tours
Traveling in a row is not common for other horse riding tours
stick together or run free like pam and cynthia
Stick together or run free like Pam and Cynthia

Logistical Concerns on the Steppes

Logistics in such an expansive and remote landscape pose unique challenges. The absence of marked trails or signposts means relying on natural landmarks and an internal compass developed through years of experience. This is why the seasoned guidance of local experts is invaluable. They manage the route, ensuring you’re on track to the next checkpoint or camping spot, which is crucial when paths can be altered by seasonal changes like flooding or erosion.

Also, the use of pack horses by Stone Horse rather than vehicles to transport supplies opens up access to unique and less accessible regions in the mountains that you would not be able to experience with a regular tour company.

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the use of packhorses allow access to more unique locations
The use of packhorses allow access to more unique locations

Potential Dangers and Difficulties

The Mongolian steppes are home to more than just beauty—there are real dangers like wolves or weather changes. Weather can shift unexpectedly, with storms rolling in swiftly or waking up to an overnight snowfall. Without shelter in the traditional sense, one must be prepared and well equipped for all weather conditions. Wildlife, though often more curious than aggressive, must be respected from a distance, and only those who know their habits can assure a safe encounter.

The Role of Tour Organizers

Tour organizers like Stone Horse Mongolia handle these concerns adeptly. Their preparations include weather-appropriate gear, well-maintained equipment, and contingency plans for unexpected events. The horses are a testament to their approach-well-cared-for, well-trained, and suited to riders of varying experiences. These horses we ride with, just like the guides, are an integral part of the journey.

stone horse even manufactures their own western style saddles for the smaller mongolian horses
Stone Horse even manufactures their own ‘western style’ saddles for the smaller Mongolian horses
tisha, sabine's loyal companion, guarding all the equipment
Tisha, Sabine’s loyal companion, guarding all the equipment

Unlike some tour companies that hire horses from nomadic families, Stone Horse owns over 40 horses. These horses are well-trained, healthy, and have a good temperament. They are also familiar with the other horses in the group, which is beneficial even for less experienced riders, as their horses will always try to stay close to the pack. Keith and Sabine are personally committed to acquiring the best horses for their clients. The horsemen who accompany the trips are also there to ensure the guests’ safety.

As natural herd animals, it's important that the horses provided by a tour organizer are used to each other
As natural herd animals, it’s important that horses provided by a tour organizer are used to each other

Embracing the Journey

our prime picnic spot on day two
Our prime picnic spot on day two
Kai taking a nap by a stream
Kai taking a nap by a stream
cez exploring the area near our picnic spot to check out the yaks
Cez exploring the area near our picnic spot to check out the Yaks

Riding through the Mongolian landscape, we witness the stunning array of scenery, from rolling plains to hills, marshlands, and forests, yellow with autumn colors. About every two hours, we take a break to enjoy the view and recharge. Our stops include a well-prepared picnic lunch in the midst of nature. We relax with a nap in the lush grass by a stream, lulled by the gentle sounds of water and nature, while our horses graze peacefully nearby. At night in camp, we take in the night sky filled with stars. These moments, immersed in the raw beauty of Mongolia, bring us close to the heart of unspoiled nature.

our first night out where we camped under the stars
Our first night out, where we camped under the stars
the remaining nights we spent staying in ghers set up by one of the stone horse horsemen
The remaining nights we spent staying in Ghers set up by one of the Stone Horse horsemen

Essential Riding Gear and Attire for Mongolia

Venturing into the Mongolian wilderness on horseback is an experience that is as physically demanding as it is spiritually rewarding. The attire you choose is not just about comfort; it’s a layer of protection against the whims of nature. Here’s how to gear up appropriately:

Headgear for Protection and Comfort

  • Sun Hat or Cap: A wide-brimmed hat or baseball cap is good to shield against the relentless Mongolian sun. Do note that you’ll be wearing a helmet on top of it, so a soft cover cap or visor would work fine..
  • Beanie for the Cold: Mornings and evenings can be frigid, especially during the autumn months, making a warm, lightweight beanie can be an indispensable part of your kit. Bring some of your own, or Stone Horse also kindly provide their branded beanies on request for the trip.
  • Bandana or Neck Gaiter: These versatile pieces serve as additional protection from the sun and can help prevent windburn.

Handwear for Grip and Warmth

  • Riding Gloves: Durable leather gloves ensure a firm grip on the reins and protect your hands from blisters during long rides. Garden gloves or gym gloves would be fine too base on our personal experience..
  • Warmer Gloves: For non-riding times, a pair of wool or polypropylene gloves keep the chill at bay without adding bulk.

Layered Clothing for Versatile Climates

  • Thermal Layers: Lightweight polypropylene thermal tops and bottoms are recommended for autumn trips when temperatures drop.
  • Sweaters and Jackets: A polypropylene sweater or a light down jacket that can be compressed into a stuff sack is advisable for cooler nights and unexpected temperature dips. I personally recommend a vest style down jacket which makes it more breathable with change of temperatures.
  • Wind and Rain Protection: Weather in Mongolia can change swiftly. Wind and rainproof jackets and pants are a must-have to stay dry and comfortable while on horseback.
good gear is important such as a helmet for safety different layers for the changing conditions sunglasses and g
Good gear is important; such as a helmet for safety, different layers for the changing conditions, sunglasses and gloves

Riding Gear for Comfort on Horseback

  • Pants: Choose well-fitted riding pants with a reinforced inner leg area to prevent chafing where contact with the saddle occurs. The fabric should be stretchable for ease of movement and snug enough to avoid bunching or snagging during the ride.
  • Tops: Long sleeve UV protection tops are great for wind and sun protections. Choose ones made from breathable fabric to maintain comfort and less odor during long rides. If you are keen, merino wool material tops are great for warmth, breathability while still odorless.
  • Half Chaps: Leather or synthetic half chaps protect your lower legs from chafing against the saddle and brush. Stone Horse provided us with these for the expedition.
  • Knee Guards: Choose lightweight, impact-resistant knee guards. Ensure they are comfortable for long periods, offer good flexibility, and are easy to wear with riding pants.
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Footwear for Riding and Relaxation

  • Riding Boots: Comfortable riding boots or lightweight high cut hiking boots are crucial for stability in the stirrups and protection against the rough terrain.
  • Camp Shoes: At the end of a day’s ride, your feet will thank you for a pair of lightweight walking shoes or slip on sandals to relax around the camp.

Additional Gear for Overall Preparedness

  • Riding Helmet: Safety comes first, and a well-fitted riding helmet can prevent serious injuries. Stone Horse provided us with helmets.
  • Socks: Several pairs of wool or polypropylene socks will keep your feet warm and dry. A big MUST to prepare a few sets for a multi-day trip.

Personal Items and Supplies

When packing for the Mongolian steppe, each item must be carefully considered for its necessity and function.

Hydration and Health

  • Metal Water Bottles: The dry air in Mongolia makes hydration a constant priority. Metal bottles are durable and eco-friendly options and can be easily warmed up over a hot stove. This is provided and refilled with filtered water by Stone Horse. If you want to be double safe like us, bring a compressible water bottle with a filter. It’s helpful for those who have extra sensitive stomachs.
  • Personal First Aid Kit: If traveling in a group, it’s best that someone in the party brings along a portable first aid kit to address minor injuries. I personally recommend to include personal medications like lozenges, flu, allergy tablets and active charcoal pills.

Outdoor Hygiene Packs

  • Toiletry Essentials: A toothbrush, toothpaste, and biodegradable soap should suffice. A sports towel is handy for quick dry-offs.
  • Hygiene Accessories: Toilet paper, a lighter for burning used paper, hand sanitizer, and wet wipes are critical for maintaining hygiene when facilities are sparse. This is provided by Stone Horse.

Packing Essentials

  • Dry Bag and Saddle Bags: A 20-liter dry bag protects your gear from the elements, while a saddlebag allows for easy mounting on the horse and access to essentials while riding. Provided by Stone Horse.
  • Insect Repellent and Sunblock: For protection against the sun and insects, especially during the summer months.

Navigational and Leisure Equipment

  • Camera and Binoculars: Capture the vastness of the steppes or spot wildlife in the distance. Extra batteries and memory cards are a must.
  • Torch or Headlamp: Vital for those late-night tent setups or navigating the camp after dark.
  • Gift from Home: If you are going to interact with the nomad or herdic families during your trip, it’s nice to have with you a small gift from your home country to share with them. Sweets and chocolate are also welcome.

Every item you pack for this Mongolian horseback journey carries significance – it’s not just about your safety and comfort, but also about respecting the horses that will be your companions. By packing light and considering each item’s weight, you show care for these noble creatures who will carry you across the steppes. Your thoughtful preparation and packing habits don’t just enhance your own experience, they also contribute to the well-being of the horses. This approach ensures a memorable adventure that respects both the traditions and the majestic creatures that define Mongolia.

One key element that sets Stone Horse Expeditions apart from other riding tour organizers is the use of customized western style saddles. These saddles, designed with both rider comfort and horse health in mind, provide a vastly superior ride compared to traditional Mongolian saddles. 

Physical and Mental Preparations for a Horse Riding Trip in Mongolia

A journey across the vast Mongolian terrain on horseback is as much a physical endeavor as it is a mental one. To fully enjoy and thrive during this adventure, one must prepare both body and mind for the unique demands of horseback riding and the nomadic lifestyle.

Physical Fitness for Riding

Building Core Strength and Endurance

  • Core Stability: A strong core is essential for maintaining balance and posture while riding. Exercises like planks, side planks, and Russian twists can help build this strength.
  • Leg Conditioning: Your legs not only guide the horse but also absorb the impact of the terrain. Squats, lunges, and calf raises will increase muscular endurance and strength. If you have some pre-existing knee problems like me, it’s best you work more on glutes, hamstrings and butt workouts.
  • Lower Back Support: Horse riding can strain the lower back, so incorporating exercises like supermans, bird-dogs, and gentle back stretches into your routine is crucial.

Flexibility and Mobility

  • Stretching: Regular stretching improves flexibility, allowing you to mount and dismount with ease, and helps prevent muscle soreness after long rides. Yoga or Pilates can be particularly beneficial for riders
  • Joint Mobility: Exercises focusing on hip and ankle mobility will make the long hours in the saddle more comfortable and help in managing the horse effectively.
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lydia stretching before we continue our ride
Lydia stretching before we continue our ride

Cardiovascular Fitness

  • Endurance Training: Horse riding is an endurance sport. Activities such as running, cycling, or swimming will build cardiovascular fitness, ensuring you have the stamina for long days of riding.

Mental Preparation for the Adventure

Embracing the Nomadic Mindset

  • Adaptability: Develop a mindset that welcomes change and challenges. This could involve exposing yourself to different outdoor conditions like sleeping in the cold and learning to find comfort in discomfort.
  • Mindfulness: Cultivate mindfulness through meditation or breathing exercises to enhance focus and calmness, which are vital when dealing with unpredictable situations during the ride.

Overcoming Fears and Mental Blocks

  • Visualization: Use visualization techniques to imagine yourself riding confidently. This practice can help overcome anxiety and build mental resilience.
  • Incremental Exposure: Gradually expose yourself to riding at different paces in a controlled environment to build confidence for the varied riding experiences in Mongolia.
  • Bonding: Spend time with horses before your trip, if possible, to understand their behavior and to build trust—two elements that will greatly enhance your riding experience.

Practical Exercises for Preparation

For Lower Body Strength:

  • Squats: 3 sets of 10-15 reps
  • Lunges: 3 sets of 10 reps on each leg
  • Calf Raises: 3 sets of 15 reps

For Core Stability:

  • Planks: 3 sets of 30 seconds to 1 minute
  • Russian Twists: 3 sets of 20 reps

For Flexibility and Mobility:

  • Yoga or Pilates sessions: At least twice a week
  • Hip Circles: 3 sets of 10 reps in each direction
  • Ankle Rolls: 3 sets of 10 reps in each direction

By integrating these exercises and mental practices into your preparation, you can ensure that you are physically equipped and mentally attuned to the demands of horse riding in Mongolia. This holistic approach to readiness will not only enhance your experience but also align you with the nomadic traditions of resilience and harmony with nature.

Weather Conditions and Best Time to Visit Mongolia

Mongolia’s climate is a land of extremes, largely due to its high altitude and its continental position far from any ocean. This creates a unique as well as incredible set of weather patterns that any visitor, especially those planning a horseback adventure, should come prepared to experience.

Late Spring: May to June

Mongolia emerges from its harsh winter into the welcoming arms of late spring, a period of rejuvenation. The weather, though unpredictable, offers its own charm. On any given day, you might bask in warm sunlight, only to bundle up as the temperature dips later. Rain showers also make an occasional appearance. It’s during this time that Mongolia truly comes alive, with vibrant greenery blanketing the expansive steppes – an idyllic backdrop for any adventurer. Daytime temperatures typically range from 10-20°C (50-68°F), but be prepared for colder nights that can still fall below freezing. This unpredictable climate calls for a clever packing strategy – breathable fabrics for the day and snug layers to combat the chilly evenings.

High Summer: July to August

These months mark the peak tourist season, with the Naadam Festival in July being a particular draw. Expect warm to hot days, with temperatures ranging from 20-30°C (68-86°F). However, the Gobi Desert can be scorching, with temperatures soaring above 40°C (104°F). The steppe is vibrant and active, with longer days allowing for extended rides. Rainfall is higher, particularly in July, which can lead to lush landscapes but also to muddy conditions that may affect travel.

Early Autumn: September to Early October

This period is often considered the ideal time for a horseback trip. The crowds of summer have dispersed, and the heat subsides to a comfortable coolness, with temperatures ranging from 15-25°C (59-77°F). The landscape begins its transformation into a riot of autumnal colors, offering a stunning backdrop for riders. However, early snowfalls are possible, especially in the northern regions, adding a crispness to the air and a crunch underfoot.

Mid to Late Autumn: Mid-October to November

By mid-October, the weather takes on a chillier edge as winter starts across the steppes. Daytime riding is still enjoyable with temperatures around 0-10°C (32-50°F), but one must be adequately prepared for below-freezing temperatures at night. It’s a time for  hearty meals and huddling around campfires, as the clear skies present a canopy of stars unlike any other.

During our October adventure, we experienced this seasonal cusp firsthand. While the sun warmed our faces during the day, the evenings brought a biting cold, necessitating the warmth of our triple-layered sleeping bags. It was a stark reminder of nature’s contrasts—a reminder that in Mongolia, you must be as adaptable as the nomads who have traversed these lands for millennia.

triple layered sleeping bags are great for the winter
early morning while chilling in the tent

For any traveler planning to visit Mongolia for a horseback trip, understanding these seasonal nuances is crucial. It allows for precise planning and ensures that the experience is both comfortable and safe, capturing the indomitable spirit of Mongolia without the discomfort of being unprepared for its capricious climate.

Connecting with Locals in Mongolia

Language: The Key to Cultural Immersion

Basic Mongolian Phrases

  • Greetings and Common Courtesies: Learn phrases such as “Sain baina uu?” (Hello), “Bayarlalaa” (Thank you), and “Za” (Yes). Practicing proper pronunciation shows effort and respect.
  • Navigational Language: Phrases for directions and places, like “Barij yavah ve?” (Where is…?), can be invaluable when exploring.
  • Transactional Language: Knowing how to ask for prices and quantities, like “Une hed ve?” (How much is this?), is practical for market visits.

Cultural Norms and Traditions

Understanding Etiquette

  • Dining Customs: Familiarize yourself with local dining etiquette such as accepting food and drink with your right hand or with both hands, and always leaving a bit of food on your plate as a sign of abundance.
  • Visiting Gers: When entering a ger (a traditional Mongolian tent), it’s polite to not step on the threshold, and to sit to the left of the entrance, unless directed otherwise.
interior of a traditional mongolian ger during our time in mongolia. its definitely warm and cosy for the nights.
Interior of a traditional Mongolian Ger during our time in Mongolia. Its definitely warm and cozy for the nights.

Appreciating Local Customs

  • Nomadic Hospitality: Be prepared to accept offers of food and milk tea, which are signs of hospitality. Even if you do not drink or eat everything, tasting is a sign of respect.
  • Dress Appropriately: Dress modestly, especially when visiting monasteries or older nomadic hosts. Shoulders and knees should typically be covered.

Cultural Sensitivity

  • Photography: Always ask for permission before taking photos of people or their possessions.
  • Religious Practices: Show respect towards ovoos (sacred stone heaps) and other religious sites; follow local customs such as walking around them clockwise.
  • By equipping yourself with these linguistic tools and cultural insights, you will be able to forge deeper connections with the Mongolian people, enriching your travel experience with moments of genuine human exchange and mutual respect.

Final Checklist: Ready for the Adventure!

me and the epic mongolian countryside
Me and the epic Mongolian countryside

As you gear up for your Mongolian horseback riding adventure, the checklist is clear: prepare for the terrain and weather, gear up appropriately, get physically and mentally ready, connect with the locals, and journey responsibly. This expedition is more than a trip; it’s an immersion into a way of life that has remained unchanged for centuries, a chance to ride through the heart of Mongolia’s culture and history. With these preparations, you’re not just ready for an adventure; you’re set for a life-changing experience.

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Picture of Cez Krol
Cez Krol
I’m always positive and never bored – there’s just so much more to see and experience! I began my journey around the world in 2011 with just $400 and one-way ticket to Asia. Still going and blogging today. You can typically spot me working on a laptop or rock climbing.
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1 thought on “What to Prepare for Horse Riding Trip in Mongolia”

  1. Avatar of Leanne

    Oh, that’s so beautiful! I didn’t even know horseback riding was an option! Its awesome you guys made it to Mongolia. Still living the dream, glad the virus didn’t stop you guys!

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