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Mongolia's Winter Horse Festival

Mongolia’s Winter Horse Festival

The Mongol Kazakh eagle hunters of western Mongolia appear in many social media posts about Mongolia. But, although the horse herders and hunters of Mongolia’s eastern steppe rarely feature, it is their culture and way of life that is celebrated in Mongolia’s annual Талын Түмэн Адуу Winter Horse Festival.

Horsemen and hunting dogs at Mongolia's Winter Horse Festival

Mongolia’s Winter Horse Festival is typically held in the small community of Batnorov village in Khentii province, Eastern Mongolia. Khentii Aimag is rich in heritage related to Chinggis Khan and the unification of the Mongol tribes. It is also home to the Buriats (also spelt Buryat) – one of Mongolia’s ethnic groups. The community of Batnarov itself is known as a traditional craft centre for Mongolian saddles and tack. The aim of the festival – which translates into ‘Steppe Horse Festival’ – is to help preserve the heritage of the herding culture, showcase the skills and dexterity of the competing horse herders and riders and help support the livelihoods of the local surrounding communities. It is Khentii’s horse culture and traditions as well as its historical links that bring horse trainers, horse herders, and horses together in this annual two-day event.

One aspect of responsible tourism is using tourism to make better places to live in and better places to visit. Although the pandemic has had an impact on visitor numbers, prior to the pandemic, the autumn eagle festivals that take place in western Mongolia (link) could feel crowded at times and were putting pressure on local resources and facilities due to the volume of visitors. Although we offer experiences that include the autumn eagle festivals in western Mongolia, one reason we like to support Mongolia’s Winter Horse Festival is that it happens off-peak (November) and in a lesser-known destination. Also, although Mongolia’s Winter Horse Festival promotes Mongolian culture – just as the autumn eagle festivals do – it focuses on a different aspect of Mongolian culture.

Horsemen and dogs at Competition at Horsemen and hunting dogs at Mongolia's Winter Horse Festival

As well as horsemanship competitions, the festival showcases the culture of the area and this includes local horsemen and women gathering with their hunting dogs. These dogs are not the bankhar, the Tibetan mastiff style of dog typically seen outside of gers throughout the country. Instead, these are lean, fast dogs similar to Greyhounds or Whippets that are used in Eastern Mongolia for hunting gray wolves, corsac and red foxes, Siberian marmots and Mongolian gazelles. Hunting for meat and fur is very much part of the herding way of life and a traditional part of Mongolian culture and herders in Eastern Mongolia often hunt for food such as gazelles to reduce the demand on harvesting their own livestock for food, which allows them to increase their herd size. Having a greater number of livestock increases food security and the ability to generate income from livestock sales and livestock products.

Competing at Horsemen and hunting dogs at Mongolia's Winter Horse Festival

Throughout this blog post we have used the photography of Batzaya Choijiljav of @Batzaya Photos Mongolia. If you ae interested in joining us in experiencing Mongolia’s Winter Horse Festival – including our great overnight winter camp – you can find out more here – https://www.eternal-landscapes.co.uk/winter-horse-adventure-mongolia-winter-trip/

Jess @ Eternal Landscapes

Jessica Brooks
Jessica Brooks
I'm Jess Brooks, the founder of Eternal Landscapes Mongolia and the voice behind EL's blog posts. For more than a decade, since 2006, I've been based in Mongolia, working closely with my beloved Mongolian team to advocate for a tourism approach that brings about positive change.. What sets our blog apart is our deep understanding of Mongolia—our home. Unlike content from influencers or creators, our posts prioritise authenticity and firsthand knowledge as guiding principles.
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