With just over 3 million residents in a 605-square mile land, Mongolia is one of the least populated countries in the world. Outside of the cities, one can go for hours without seeing another human being. But where there are no people, there will surely be horses. Grazing in the fields or galloping freely on the horizon, they are an inseparable part of the Mongolian culture.
Many Mongolians today live in cities, yet the semi-nomadic lifestyle remains strong outside of the urban areas. Life in the steppe revolves around animal herding (horses, cattle, camel, sheep, and goats). As it has been for thousands of years, the horse is the most prized possession. It provides means to travel (beyond the cities, it is the main means of transport), hunt, work, and play. It serves as the source of income, food, and drink.
When the grasslands get depleted, the herders need to move to fresher pastures. Wherever they go, they lodge in ornate tents called gers with a round floor. Traditional Mongolian portable dwellings called gers consist of 88 wooden beams and layers of felt stretched over the structure. The ger itself is a testament to how closely the lives of people and horses are linked. The felt that shelters the ger from elements is made of wool and horsehair. Upon entering, the guest is seated to the left and treated to airag, fermented mare’s milk. An altar facing the entrance holds the most valuable belongings. One of them is a sweat scraper with intricate wood carvings. It’s used to clean horses during races, covering a distance between 15 and 40 kilometers, and the winning animal’s sweat is considered to bestow good fortune.
In the arduous environment of the Mongolian steppe, strength, resilience, and comfort often come from horses. Without them, the daily life of nomadic Mongolians would not be possible.