mongolian cowboy picking up stick

The Cowboys and Musicians of Mongolia

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I’m sad to say, today is our final day in Mongolia, aside from the 10 hour bus ride back to Ulaanbaatar tomorrow and our flight out the following day that aren’t likely worth mentioning as the travel is never as fun as the destination.

Horseback Riding on the Mongolian Steppe

Anyway, we enjoyed a late morning horse ride to Ganbold’s winter farm. His winter location isn’t far from his summer farm and is only about a fifteen-minute walk by horse from our ger camp.  As such, we experienced a relaxing morning riding and exploring his winter camp.

A Mongolian Nomad’s Winter Home

Nomads’ winter homes are more stable and include wooden structures along with their portable gers.  Many of the rooms are used for food storage, but the one I liked the most was the “warming” room.  In the middle stands a wood stove and around the edge are small corrals.  During the cold months, the newborn goats and sheep are in the center by the fire and their mamas are placed in the stalls.  This process helps the animals survive the harsh winters. 

For the nomads to survive in the winter, depending on the size of the family, they have to kill one yak and one older horse. It saddens me to think of eating horse, but frankly they survive on very little, so I understand the need.  At least they pick an elderly horse that might not live through the winter anyway.

Australian Saddles

After our time at Ganbold’s farm, we returned to our ger camp and tried out one of the cowboys’ saddles which is different from the western and Australian saddles we used.  Four or five of us mounted one of the cowboy’s horses and rode around in a small circle. 

The horse was young and not as responsive as the ones we rode across the steppe, so the less experience riders circled as the cowboys held a long rope like a lunge line while the others steered as best they could.

Chip, one of the beginners, who was normally dressed head to toe with a hat that draped over his ears, a buff, long-sleeved shirts, and pants so that only his nose lips and chin were exposed to the sun since he burns so badly, had a pre-trip wish to ride shirtless.  Thus for his shining moment in the cowboy’s saddle, he fulfilled his dream.

Shirtless Chip on the Mongolian Steppe

Typically, the rest of us tended to dress similarly to Chip, though not quite as covered, to keep away the flies.  Fortunately, they rarely bit us, but they practically formed nests on people’s hats and landed on our bare arms enough to make it feel like our skin was crawling.  Our clothing might make the weather appear cold, but generally it was quite the opposite.

Cowboy Rodeo at Our Ger Camp

After our fun in the cowboy’s saddle, we enjoyed a leisurely afternoon which ended up including a spontaneous cowboy rodeo!  I’m not the biggest fan of these types of events, but it was interesting to learn their culture.

They chased yaks around the meadow, roping a few.  While they rode around on their horses, once they roped the yaks, they held on to the lassos from the ground.  Many times they were water skiing across the turf as the yak drug them through the field.  Jagi, on his butt, went for a long “sleigh ride”.

Mongolian cowboy roping a yak

Yak Riding and Bucking Broncos

After roping the yak, they held it still while tying a hold around his mid-section. Then one of them mounted the yak and rode it like bull in rodeo as it ducked its head and kicked from side to side.  After the yak riding, came the mare riding.  Mares are only used for milk and are not trained to be ridden.  As such, we watched a bucking bronco competition.

Item Retrieving on Horseback

The rodeo continued as the cowboys galloped across the steppe and reached down to pick up whips and long poles.  The small horses as well as their stirrups always being tied together under the horse, helped with this endeavor, though it still appeared quite challenging. It was fun to watch them hang on by a few threads from their jeans.

mongolian cowboy picking up stick

Switching Horses at a Gallop

The last trick at the rodeo featured a cowboy jumping from horse to horse which were tied together as he galloped toward us.  I have to give credit to their abilities just like cowboys in America.  In addition, we felt honored, for them to share with us what they are most proud of…the horse life! But as I mentioned previously, there are a few parts of rodeos that challenge me.

mongolian cowboy jumping from horse to horse

Galloping Across the Mongolian Steppe

After the rodeo, we went on our final ride of the day.  I knew we got to gallop once more, so I left my good camera behind.  I was able to snap a few shots with my iphone as we walked over the crest and dropped into the valley before we trotted past herds of goats and yaks.  Finally, we got to an open stretch of uphill road, where we split into three groups…fast, medium, and slow”. 

I joined the fast group, and now that I had my stirrup unlike the other day, I thought that Mojo would fight to take the lead.  As such, as we sprinted up the hill, I simply let the reins float.  He never took the bit, and though galloping, he had a tough time keeping up with the bigger horses.  I encouraged him with a few kicks and a “chu chu” sound which is the Mongolian version our clucking to move the horse forward.

From behind, Rose said I was flying, and I did end up passing a few people, but I really didn’t catch up completely until the other horses tuckered out going up the hill.  At this time, Mojo just kept going…perhaps that is how he got his name. 

Normally, I’m not too fond of a dead gallop, as in my younger years of horseback riding, that is when I have been run away with, but these horses (or at least Mojo) had a smooth and controllable gait.  What a great way to end our last ride!

Mongolian Song and Dance

The activities of the day didn’t stop with riding.  Musicians from a secondary school located in Bulgan came to play a concert for us.  The music teacher apologized in advance for only bringing five or six students, as she explained everyone is at Naadam.  I’m not sure the ger could have fit many more people anyway, and the show they put on for us was lovely!

A boy, around 17, played the horse-head fiddle.  It was exciting to see someone play this prized musical instrument up close and personal, as we were restricted from taking photographs during the show in Ulaanbaatar at the beginning of the trip. 

After he played music, young girls, aged 13-16 dressed in deels, and sporting sunglasses and headbands to look more hip like the Mongolian pop star, Uka, danced for us.  It was a trip!  They then plucked at the strings of another fascinating instrument while a young lady sang.  Afterward, Anna and Emma, both played the violin for them and then took a short lesson on the horse-head fiddle.

The music didn’t stop there.  After dinner, we celebrated Debbie’s birthday and then enjoyed another bonfire as we thanked the staff and their families.  Of course, there is no such thing as a campfire without song in Mongolia.  Boynaa and Emma played music.  The cowboys and staff sang.  It was a fun way to end our last night on the steppe.

birthday on the mongolian steppe
Debbie’s Birthday!

Mongolian Meals

The following day, our only excitement while traveling 10 hours in a bus, was our lunch and dinner spot.  For lunch, we cooked meat and veggies on our personal grill and enjoyed the “Country Toilet”! 

For dinner, we went to an Indian Restaurant which is probably my least favorite food aside from the naan.  I managed to find a few spreads I liked, though uniquely the dish I liked the most was the beef dish, which I suppose isn’t really Indian since they don’t eat cow!  With our final meal, we celebrated Ingrid’s birthday and went out with a bang!  ETB

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Beth Bankhead

Former public finance professional turned award winning travel blogger and photographer sharing the earth's beauty one word and image at a time.

One thought on “The Cowboys and Musicians of Mongolia

  1. Wow, what a cool trip! I loved the cowboy rodeo and think I want to steal Ingrid’s paint pone, adorable!!!

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