Riding Kyrgyz Horses and Living As a Nomad

This is a blog post about my experience in Kyrgyzstan… but the truth is, I had always dreamed of going to Mongolia. I had heard so many people talk about the wonders of the landscape and the tough little Mongolian horses, the great wide plains for cantering and the local nomadic yurts. This was ranked high up on my bucket list.
One evening, I met with a couple of friends for dinner- the kind of friends who are always on the road living crazy, unique adventures and have the best recommendations. I remember distinctively telling them about my intention to go to Mongolia to ride horses, until I was stopped abruptly by one of them.

“Mongolia? Forget it, go to Kyrgyzstan! It’s much better.”

He continued: “Kyrgyzstan is actually everything that Mongolia is not”

Wait… what? These words resonated in my head like I had just been told I just had the wrong dream this whole time. He explained that Kyrgyzstan has amazing, beautiful mountains and alpine lakes, while having the iconic nomadic lifestyle and yurts that we traditionally picture when thinking about Mongolia.

One of the great things about Kyrgyzstan is that it is not a very touristy country at all. A diamond in the rough, and a really underrated destination. It is true that I had heard so many people talking about going to Mongolia to ride horses that I felt it had become the “new popular destination”. He showed me a couple of pictures of his last trip, and I was sold. Next thing I knew, I was booking my trip to Kyrgyzstan with the equestrian travel agency Cavalngo.

My journey horseback riding in Kyrgyzstan:

This two-week journey was divided into two parts. For the first part, we went up the mountains for a few days, sleeping in tents and staying over in small villages while learning about the local culture. I believe this was the most physically challenging for our horses as we kept climbing for several hours in a row until we reached one of the highest points accessible by foot. The second part was Lake Song Khol, located at 3000m in altitude, and surrounded by large plains where horses roaming freely and happily. Our aim was to do a complete circle around the lake in 4 days.
Considering the altitude we spent most of those 2 weeks (around 1500-3000m), I was impressed by the toughness of the Kyrgyz horses. Small, yet sturdy, this ancient breed is powerful and resistant. Imagine holding a steady gallop for a few minutes at 3000m in altitude?
The oxygen levels being much lower, I found myself short of breath very quickly.
Over the course of a couple of weeks, we were eating food and sleeping in yurts like the locals. I have to say my (usually sensitive) digestive system had a hard time getting used to this new diet (local meats and rice, everyday). Luckily, their magic potion and local delicacy, called “Kumis”, or fermented mare milk, was the solution to all of my issues.

If you are ever considering such a trip, note that, for the most part, there are no bathrooms or toilets in the area. In fact, I have never in my life felt so disconnected and far away from everything. No electricity, no hot water, no Internet and no reception. Just yurts, horses, locally sourced food… and some of the most spectacular skies I have ever seen in my life.

This “hardship” made it all the more charming and exciting. I would not have had it any other way, and believe me, I love me a comfy bed and a nice home cooked meal. This is what makes the experience unique, and these are ultimately the things you look back to thinking “seriously? I actually did this?” A few tips for those considering a horseback riding trip to Kyrgyzstan:

Useful Tips:

  • Bring snacks. You may end up in the saddle for many hours between meals.
  • BYOS (Bring Your Own Soap): If you are feeling up to it, you can bathe in some of the alpine fresh water lakes on the way. Granted, the water is cold (trust me, I tried), but sometimes some cleaning is necessary! Help conserve this pristine Nature and quasi-untouched land by making sure to bring some biodegradable soap.
  • Bring biodegradable wipes: Trust me, you’ll need them…
  • Sunscreen and warm, waterproof clothes! As you know, when you are up in the mountains, the sun can hit you pretty hard, even if the outside temperature is relatively low. While my journey was during the summer, the nights were considerably cold. You can run into some pretty cold wind and rain showers throughout the day as well. I brought my waterproof jacket as well as some light waterproof pants to cover my breeches.
  • Snacks and gadgets: If you have space in your suitcase, you can bring some pencils, paper or toys/gadgets to give to the kids living in the small yurt villages. Living in such remote places means they are very happy to receive anything you can offer them 🙂

5 thoughts on “Riding Kyrgyz Horses and Living As a Nomad

  1. Had gone there last year August 2018 and covered the same place(Song kol lake)..Beautiful and scenic places..Galloping was soooo fun though i was a beginner….Highly recommended…

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