Horse racing in Mongolia / by Ora Buerkli

The Mongolians love their horses. Horse racing is very popular and part of every Naadam (fair) and wedding. They have a reputation for being the best horseman in the world. The competitive spirit is fierce, the stakes potentially high. At times, they will ride their horses for days to reach the location of the races. They don't use a saddle and the riders are children between 8 and 16 year old. The reason they don't use a saddle is because they feel it is safer this way for the young children. This way, if they fall off the horse the risk of a foot stuck in the stirrup is eliminated. The children learn how to ride around 3 years of age. Winning a race brings much honor to the family and depending on the size of the race also significant financial rewards. At the finish line the family awaits, the tension is high. If there is a disagreement on who the winner is a ferocious fist fight may ensue. The sound advice to those photographing at the finish line was to avoid at all cost being asked to use our photos as proof as to who has won. Can get tricky. The women wait at the sidelines and throw candy at their rider and eating a candy thrown at such an occasion is important, as it means you partake in the celebrations. Watching and photographing the races was an elating experience.

Waiting for the races to start

The riders, raising much dust, ride to the starting point of the races

A race held as part of a wedding is sponsored by the groom, he holds the Mongolian flag at the finish line

At a Gobi desert Naadam I spotted a girl Jockey. Not yet a common sight.

The proud family gathering around the winner, admiring the certificate handed out for participation.

Riding the horses home after the races