Without a doubt the best way to experience the mountains and backcountry of Kyrgyzstan is on horseback. And this is coming from someone who isn’t a big horseback rider.
Yes, I love adventure. Sure, I love animals. I mean, yeah, horses are cool. But am I a tried and tested rider with heaps of experience in the saddle? Nope. In fact, I am still pretty skeptical borderline total scaredy cat when it comes to riding things that have a mind of their own ever since the Great Camel Fiasco of 2013. Somethings just leave a scar.
But in spite of my fears, I yearn for adventure and overcoming challenges while traveling even more. And if there is a place that couldn’t be more suited for that, it’s Kyrgyzstan.
A country that pretty much defines the cliche “hidden gem” Kyrgyzstan is standing up now and just asking to be noticed. A growing modern corner of Central Asian that is a melting pot of languages, cultures and histories, while tourism is only starting to grow there, the traditions of the nomads remains strong.
And nothing is quite so central to Kyrgyz culture quite like the horse.
Once you get into the wilds of Kyrgyzstan, you have pretty much two options – your feet or a horse. I initially was planning on doing a multi-day hike but ended up arriving with bronchitis, and luckily was able to switch to a horse trek instead.
See you can do that there. Trails are trails, and the pony is still a very much acceptable form of transport. Hell, even when we are driving out of Bishkek you would see a road worker canter by you on the road carrying a shovel in one hand. Watching Kyrgyz people ride blows me away. They are the most incredible horseback riders; nothing with throw them off and they are so good at making it look effortless.
I was no stranger to long horse treks after spending a month riding with the eagle hunters in remote western Mongolia in 2014. Just like riding a bike, right? Right???
Here are some of my favorite and most memorable thoughts I had back in the saddle horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan this summer. Enjoy!
1. How is this so amazing?
If I’m being totally honest here, I was actually a bit nervous the day we started our horse trek into the mountains. The original plan was to hike for three days, but instead we swapped last minute to riding because I couldn’t walk 10 feet without hacking up a lung.
After a mellow morning at our yurt camp at Kara-kyz in the Jerghez Gorge, we managed to acquire horses and porters and we were off. As you do.
It was just like riding a bike! Even after years of not riding, it felt like it all came back to me. I had forgotten how much I loved riding. I had the biggest grin on my face as we made our way up into the mountains, further and further from civilization.
Completely lost in my own thoughts, it was the happiest I had been in a long time.
2. Is that marijuana?
We rode through colorful fields of flowers, through lush green valleys with towering mountains in the distance. It smelled divine. I was in heaven.
Then my inner monologue about finding my true purpose in life and joyous reverie was broken by my friend saying “that looks a lot like marijuana. Wait that’s definitely weed. Ditch weed.”
Turns out weed grows wild in the remote valleys of Kyrgyzstan. Who knew?
3. Shit, my ass hurts
After hours of trail riding through the mountains we start to climb up to a huge wide open valley at the end of the day. Smoke trails rise in the distance from the shepherd’s huts and we begin to see other horses in the distance.
Full of confidence and joy, I kicked my little horse into action and cantered/galloped into the camp with the biggest smile on my face. We camped with local shepherds that night.
Fuck guys, it gelt so amazing.
Til I climbed out of the saddle and basically fell over. Man, riding hurts the bum and the knees. Takes some getting used to.
4. OMG am I dead?
We spent the next day winding our way up into the mountains, making our way towards some of the alpine lakes, crossing many rivers and weaving our way through the valleys. It was a big day. I’ll also disclose that helmets aren’t really a thing in remote Central Asia.
Trail riding in Kyrgyzstan is mixed terrain. It’s not really even a trail. At one point we were heading up over slippery mud rocks and my horse stumbled. I think it caused the saddle bags to slip because a few seconds later my saddle slid off depositing me on the rocks.
I landed on my elbow and ribs. Blind pain, white light, am I dead? You know that sharp pain you get as a kid when you hurt yourself during recess and you cry; it was like that. Deep breaths, don’t cry in front of the men. Ok, I can move my arm. I’m not dead. Ok, I’m alive, I can keep going. Surely I won’t fall off again.
Guys, I fell off again.
The very next day too. And that time it was totally my fault; I accidentally led my horse into a mud pit avoiding more slippy mud rocks and I flew over her head into the mud. At that point my horse had had enough of me and bolted clear across the valley through a bog.
Blink, blink, ok I’m not dead but I was upset and that time I threw a bit of a tanty. I mean, who falls off daily? Fucking hell, someone teach me how to stay on a horse in the mud.
5. When can I do this again?
For me horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan is the epitome of a true adventure. It may not seem like it but for me it was really challenging, not something inherently easy or that I was fearless doing, which means once you do it, it feels all the sweeter.
For me, true joy in travel comes from making me do things that are hard, learning new skills and overcoming fears. That’s what I’m all about.
Even though I’m a complete and total liability on a horse apparently, I still had an amazing time, with crazy highs and lows and before we even finished I was thinking, damn where can I do this next?
I guess I really did love it.
Have you ever considered doing a horse trek? Do you enjoy overcoming personal fears and challenges? Is Kyrgyzstan on your bucketlist? Spill!