The Mongolian horse, also known as the Mongolian pony is perhaps the oldest breed of horse. It is a tough and hearty breed, reserved in a time capsule that has changed very little over thousands of years. Although categorized as a horse, this sturdy beast is of pony size and comes in all different colors. There are about 3,000,000 Mongolian horses in the Mongolian steppe and most of them roam free. Some horses are domesticated and used for daily work and food by nomads. They are also popular for horse racing. It is the second most popular event in Mongolia.
History and Origins
About 10,000 years ago, the Mongolian horse was domesticated in Central Asia. For 5,000 years, the nomadic people of Western Mongolia and Eastern Kazakstan have had a symbiotic relationship with these horses, using them for herding, food, warfare, horse racing, and transport. In the 13th century, Ghengis Kahn and his people conquered nearly 12 million square miles of Asia and Europe with the help of these horses.
Today, the Mongolian horse is still part of the daily life of the nomads, co-existing in a mutually beneficial relationship. The horse plays a significant role in Mongolian culture and there are many songs and myths that include horses that fly and visit in dreams. It is considered a sacred animal. The horse’s mane is believed to hold the horse’s strength and spirit and is never cut. The milk of the mare is often used in religious ceremonies of blessings and purification. Mongolian nomads are considered excellent horsemen and hold contests with stunts that include sliding down the body of the horse while at a full gallop.
This breed has a very high capacity to transport considering its body weight, using about 1/3 of its weight to cover long distances. They can cover between 40-50 miles per day and can work for most of the year, even in harsh weather. Different types of Mongolian horse breeds are divided by tolerance, productivity, racing ability, and body conformation. The four breeds of Mongolian horses are:
- Darkhad – Known for their strength
- Galshar – Known for their speed
- Mayngad – Known for taking good care of its offspring and racing, and also has an extra rib.
- Tes – Known for its large skeleton and racing ability
Physical Characteristics of the Mongolian horse
Conformation of a horse is not as important in Mongolia as it is in Western Culture. However, a few traits are preferred in a horse. A desirable horse would have a large head, thick and sturdy legs, a barrel-shaped body, and a Roman-shaped nose. A fine Mongolian horse would also have a thick coat to resist harsh weather, with a thick tail and mane.
- Height: Small height at 12 to 15 hands
- Weight: Lighter than the average breed at about 600 pounds
- Life Expectency: 20 to 40 years
- Color: Palomino, Bay, Roan, Dun, Brown, Black, Shun, White, Grey, and even some with zebra stripes
- Body Traits: Stocky with short legs, short neck and a large head. The hooves are hard and never shod.
Mongolian Horse’s Temperament
Because of its small stature, the Mongolian horse is very easy to mount and dismount, and suitable to ride for the elderly and women. Even small children are taught to ride at a very early age.
These horses have great stamina and are sure-footed. Once the Mongolian horse learns to accept its rider, it is generally cooperative and docile. They show a sense of calm and willingness to take a rider wherever they want to go.
Having a Mongolian Horse
Domesticated Mongolian horses live very similarly to their feral counterparts, feeding on a diet of mostly grass and very little water. They are able to dig out grass from under the snow and can be pastured in high winds and cold temperatures during the winter. Because they are so self-sufficient, they cost little to nothing to raise.
- Food and Water – Typically nothing but grass and can drink water only once a day
- Tack – Tack is made mostly of rawhide and uses knots instead of metal connectors and it very lightweight. Saddles, bits, and halters are all made in a single size. Riders often stand in the stirrups while riding. The saddle is tall, with a decorated wooden frame. It has short stirrups and a high pommel and cantle.
- Vet Check – The care of horses is almost exclusively by oral tradition that is passed down from generation to generation. Veterinary care is rare.
Common Uses for the Mongolian Horse
Mongolian horses are used by nomads for milk, racing, herding, and occasional meat. Nomads process the mare’s milk into a drink called Airag. Horse hair is used for many things, including rope, strings for musical instruments and violin bows. The horse dung is used for camp fires.
These fast and brave ponies have been used for racing for hundreds of years. Children are primarily used as the riders, starting to race as early as the age of 5. They sometimes race over the course of many miles and the horse will not stop even if a rider falls. One annual festival is at Nadaam, a celebration held in the summer.