Horseback riding in Kyrgyzstan
All you need to know before going on a horse ride and our recommendations for finding a local guide
In this article, we give you some tips on how to organise your horse riding trip in Kyrgyzstan: where to find horses? At what price? The best treks in the country and our selection of local guides!
Horseback riding in Kyrgyzstan
To go horse riding in Kyrgyzstan is to immerse yourself in the thousand-year-old lifestyle of Kyrgyz nomads. This authentic experience allows you to take advantage of the wide open spaces and breathtaking landscapes that the country abounds with! This activity is geared towards both beginners and experienced riders. Kyrgyz horses have a very calm temperament, and you will generally have someone there with you. Depending on what you want to do, it is possible to go out riding for half a day, or take on the mountains for several days at a time.
If you are planning to go horse trekking, you can either go through a travel agency or rent horses privately. There are many local agencies that organise excursions on horseback.
How do I find horses?
Going with a local Kyrgyz agency
If you have organised a tour with an agency, you will usually be accompanied by an English-speaking guide and a “horseman”, which is someone who deals exclusively with the horses (this is generally the horses’ owner). The price you pay covers the horse rental, the two guides, and your overnight lodging and food for the duration of your trek. They can be found in bigger cities, such as Kochkor, Naryn, and Karakol, and in places that are close to tourist attractions.
Going with a CBT
The CBT or “Community Based Tourism Association” was created in the 2000s, with the support of Switzerland, to meet the demand for tourism while promoting responsible tourism that benefits local stakeholders. Even if the intention of these associations is absolutely praiseworthy, today the CBTs have become their own small businesses, since they are extremely lucrative. There are CBTs in all the tourist areas of the country, offering all kinds of services: excursions on foot, on horseback, car rental, stays with local people, etc. We have seen a lot of abusing the system (excessive prices, overbooking, underpaid families…) and a service that is not always up to standard. This is why we encourage you to go directly through nomads or small local agencies.
Directly with nomadic people
The other option is to rent directly from individuals, nomadic or otherwise, on the ground. The first advantage of doing it this way is that you are paying local people directly for their services, without an intermediary. In addition, they will very probably invite you to eat a meal with them or follow them around as they go about their daily lives. It’s a guaranteed authentic experience! The main disadvantage is that these horses are not necessarily used to being mounted by beginners, so this may be a fairly challenging experience. Moreover, you will not get the benefit of having a guide explain certain aspects of the landscape or the animals to you. Get our English-Kyrgyz phrase book here.
Basic rules when horse riding in Kyrgyzstan
If you are a beginner, never set out without an escort
Although it is possible to rent horses without a guide, we strongly advise you to always go riding with a guide or a “horseman”. The Kyrgyz people start riding from a very early age, so they know the terrain and their horses extremely well. It is vital to be accompanied by at least one person who knows horses, especially if you are a beginner.
Equipment and safety
Agencies rarely provide protective equipment, such as riding helmets, as it is expensive and is not used by the locals. If you plan on spending more than 3 days out riding, it might be a good idea to invest in a pair of riding trousers. In any case, you should expect your bottom to be sore! Wear closed toed, high-cut shoes. If it rains, you may want to wear a raincoat. Be careful though, because some horses are bothered by the rubbing sound that raincoat material makes. To prevent your horse from breaking into a gallop while you are on its back, we recommend that you dismount to put on and take off your raincoat.
“If you want to go horse riding and help out a local guide, you can buy a riding helmet before your trip (about $17) and offer to give it to your guide at the end of the trek. This way, you can protect yourself and help your guide and any travellers who come after you. “
Well-being of the animals
Equestrian tourism is very lucrative in Kyrgyzstan. In fact, almost every family has horses that they can make available to agencies or rent directly to tourists. Some horses are overexploited, and as a result their health is compromised. So as to not encourage these sorts of practices, we recommend that you discuss this with your guide. Tell them what your requirements are. The horse shouldn’t have been ridden by multiple groups of tourists in succession: it should be able to rest and eat properly between groups. Check to make sure that the horse is not injured near the saddle, its tail, or its hooves. Some horses are not shod, which may be painful for them if you go trekking on rocky terrain. If your horse is limping or seems to be suffering during a trek, dismount and continue on foot or ask your guide if you can switch horses.
Get insurance against accidents
Do not go horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan if you do not have insurance. Horses are unpredictable, as is the terrain (marmot holes, slippery roads, etc.). As a result, you are at risk of having an accident. It is best to be insured if you need to be hospitalised on site or if repatriation becomes necessary.
Our advice when riding a horse
If you have never been horse riding, don’t be afraid. Kyrgyz horses are very calm and relatively small. If a horse is nervous, its owner will not let you ride off with it unless they trust you.
Never let go of the reins. Pull gently on the right to turn right, or gently on the left to turn left. To stop, pull down on the reins sharply and yell “tak tak”, which means “easy does it”. If you pull up, the horse is likely to rear up and kick (standing up on its two back legs!).
Do not put your feet fully inside the stirrups. Keep only the tip of your feet in the stirrups so that the rest is free. The reason for this is simple: if you fall, your foot may stay stuck in one of the stirrups, and that can be very dangerous.
If you want to break into a trot or a gallop, you can give your horse a sharp little kick with your heel on its side and yell, “shoot shoot”, which means “faster”. If the horse doesn’t listen, give it a little slap on its behind. Go ahead and make your voice as authoritative as possible!
The mythical horse trek to Lake Song-Kul
Lake Song-Kul, which sits at an elevation of 3100 m, is one of Kyrgyzstan’s signature destinations for horse riding. Surrounded by green pastures and snow-capped summits, this sky-blue lake is breathtakingly beautiful. Many agencies offer equestrian excursions to Lake Song-Kul, which generally last three full days, with two nights spent staying in yurts. This is an unforgettable experience!
We have dedicated an entire article to Lake Song-Kul, which you can read here.
Here are some other ideas for places to go horse riding:
- Chong-Kemin: wild and relatively untouched by tourists, Chong-Kemin National Park offers several 1 to 3-day routes for horse riding.
- Besh-Tash: in just one day, you can reach Lake Besh-Tash on horseback and wander around the surrounding area.For experienced riders, it is possible to take on a 9-day trek to Lake Sary-Chelek.
- Sary-Chelek: very well known among the Kyrgyz people, this turquoise lake surrounded by forest is ideal for a multi-day trek.
- Köl-Suu: a magnificent one-day ride to the lake from the yurt campsite and back again.
- Jirgalan: there are many possible 1 to 5-day excursions around this little village. We did, however, notice that the prices were higher than in other places.
- Tash-Rabat and Chatyr Kul: it is possible to do a 3-day horse trek starting from the village of Kuzul-Yuu, not far from Naryn. This trek passes by Lake Chatyr Kul and ends at the Tash-Rabat caravanserai. This little known route is worth going out of your way for!
Our selection of local guides
In this article, we would like to highlight different local actors that we have met during our trips in Kyrgyzstan. We put you in contact with Kyrgyz guides or families whose service deemed to be excellent, primarily based on their knowledge, benevolence and listening skills. All these people have read and signed our ethical charter, which includes themes such as animal welfare and respect for the environment.
Timur, a passionate and very interesting guide!
Timur is a young Kyrgyz guide from Song-Kul. Since he was a little boy, he has spent the summer with his family in a yurt camp on the northwestern shore of Lake Song-Kul. He has learned English from the tourists he loves to guide through the mountains surrounding the lake.
He will answer all your questions about Kyrgyz customs and traditions. He can organise a horseback ride to Song-Kul lake of 2 to 3 days.
- Day 1 : Son-Kul-Kilemche.
Transfer to the village of Kyzart. You can arrive by Public transport or taxi. We will meet you in the village of Kyzart.
You will have lunch at a small local house with your guide. After lunch, we will start the tour to the Kilemche pasture (you can leave some things in Kyzart and take only the essentials for 3 days).
The ride will last approximately 4.5 hours. On the road you can enjoy beautiful small rivers, mountains, flowers, and local houses where shepherds live in winter. After 4.5 hours of horse riding you will arrive in a family yurt camp to spend the night. You will meet the shepherd and his family. If you like, you can drink hot tea and kumyz (horse milk), enjoy the last lights of the day to walk around the pastures or just get to know the locals. Dinner and night in the yurt.
- Day 2 Kilemche-Son-Kul.
After breakfast, we set off to the Son-Kul Lake through the pass Tuz-Ashuu. (3400 m) At the top you will see a beautiful view on the lake. After a short rest, we will go to the yurt camp where you will spend the night. Lunch in the yurt. After lunch, you can take a walk by the lake and enjoy the silence. Or just get to know the locals. You can try milking a cow or helping in the kitchen (this is optional). Dinner. After dinner, you can enjoy a starry sky without light pollution
(if the weather is good). Night in a cozy and warm yurt.
- Day 3. Son-Kul – Kyzart.
After Breakfast, we return to the Kyzart village by the Uzbek Pass (3,200 m). Lunch at Kyzart. After lunch, you can continue your journey.
- Day 1 Kyzart-Song-Kul.
The tour will start at the village of Kyzart. You will have lunch in a small local house with your guide (it is possible to start the tour before lunch if you spend the night before in Kyzart). After lunch, the horseback ride to the lake will start through the pass Kara-kyia (3,300m). The ride will last up to 4.5 hours. The pass offers a magnificent panoramic view of the Son Kul mountains. After a short rest on the top, we will go to the yurt camp where my family will welcome you. If you like, you can drink hot tea and kumyz (horse milk) or enjoy the last lights of the day to walk around the pasture. At sunset, the whole family is getting busy. The shepherds prepare to release the herds and cows to feed them at night and the women prepare dinner in the yurt for the guests and family. I really like this moment (sunset, horses by the lake, warm yurt, beautiful views, silence). Dinner and night in the yurt.
- Day 2 Song-Kul – Kyzart
Breakfast. After breakfast, back to Kyzart village (via Uzbek pass). If you want to spend more time in Son-Kul lake we can return after lunch. Lunch at the village of Kyzart. End of the tour after lunch.
WINTER PRICE : please note that during winter, price is 20% to 30% more expensive (There is no more yourt, so a cooker will accompagned you!)
Price for 3 days :
|Number of people||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||8||9|
|Price for the group (soms)||14000||20500||27000||42000||49500||58500|
Price for 2 days :
Number of people 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9
Price for the group (soms) 10500 15500 19500 27500 32500 37500 45600 51000 55900
- Price includes :
Accomodation and meals in the yurt
English-speaking guide, Timur
For a group of 4 or more, Timur is accompanied by one horseman. And for 7 people and more, by two horseman
- Price doesn’t include :
Transfer to Kyzart village
Transfer after tour
On a adoré ce trek de 3 jours avec Timur ! Les paysages sont magnifiques, on est en petit comité et on dort dans sa famille, dans des petits camps de yourtes. On a partagé de super moments le soir à apprendre à cuisiner des plats locaux avec sa mère ou jouer aux cartes. Timur est adorable et parle très bien anglais ! Les chevaux sont bien traités et ont toujours envie de nous emmener au galop ! En bref, on a adoré cette parenthèse hors du temps 🙂
Juste incroyable ! Timur et sa famille ont été des hôtes attentionnés et très intéressants. Tous les repas étaient délicieux. Concernant les chevaux, ils étaient en bonne forme et super bien dressés. En tant que débutant, nous avons eu un plaisir énorme. Notre seul regret est de ne pas avoir prolongé ce tour.
Merci Timur, Uzi, Bolote, Buru et tous les autres.
Nous avons voyagé avec Timur pendant 3 jours. Nous n’étions pas du tout expérimenté à cheval. Nous avons adoré, c’est une expérience authentique, des paysages magnifiques, je n’oublierai jamais ce voyage de trois jours. Vous partez de Kyzart avec des montagnes de paille (début septembre), des petites rivières, des traversées de chevaux, yachs et autres et des vues incroyables et le lac de Song Kul bien sûr. Timur est un guide exceptionnel et ses chevaux sont bien entretenus, il s’intéresse même à conserver le site de song kul comme il est d’un point de vue écologique et culturel, il parle très bien anglais grâce à ses rencontres avec les touristes. Aussi je trouve le prix plus que raisonnable pour pas dire pas cher, n’hésitez pas à donner un tip !
What a great trip! We had the most amazing two day trip with Timur, starting in Kyzart at his family’s place, heading over the mountains along the ridge to their summer yurt camp at lake Son-Kol. The Lake is on high altitude, so don’t forget to bring some warm clothes! Timur and family are great companions, not only knowing the ins and out of their area, history, and culture. Even more, they are well connected in the community and can organise a stay for the night in Kyzart or help your onward travel. Best recommendation, exchange your WhatsApp number early on and you’ll have best contact with him to organise the trip.
Would I go with Timur again? 100%
Partis pour un trek de 3 jours à cheval, nous avons vécu une expérience inoubliable. Accompagné de deux super guides sociables, accueillants, et serviables, nous avons eu la chance d’admirer de magnifiques paysages sur le dos de chevaux très gentils. Les personnes qui nous ont accueillis tout au long de notre périple ont été d’une grande hospitalité. Dormir dans des yourtes et partager leur repas au bord du lac Son Kul fût une expérience incroyable.
PS : personnes sensibles des fesses s’abstenir.
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Contact Timur for a tour !
Discovering nomadic games in Suusamyr with Temirkhan!
We met Temirkhan in Bishkek where he runs a charming hostel. Originally from Talas, his family goes up to the mountain pastures of Suusamyr every summer. Temirkhan invites you to accompany him to visit his family, only 3 hours away from the capital. The ideal opportunity to discover the nomadic life and traditions as well as the beautiful landscapes of the Suusamyr valley.
Guided by Temirkhan, who speaks English, you will have the chance to participate in traditional horseback riding games, discover Kyrgyz cuisine and folk music during a 2-3 day horseback ride. The ride goes through the mountains and leads to the Muztor Lake and the beautiful Ala-Bel Gorge.
- Day 1: Horseback riding and discovery of the shepherds’ life
Departure in the morning from Bishkek. The road takes 3-4 hours. Meeting with Temirkhan’s family at 12:00. Horseback riding through the mountains to the yurt camp “Tunduk Suusamyr” in the gorge “Muztor”.
1 pm Lunch at the yurt camp.
2 to 4:30 pm horseback riding in the vicinity of Muztor and climbing to the panorama of the gorge “Ala bel”.
4:30 to 6pm Discovery and participation in nomadic games on horseback in the middle of the mountains with local youth and the hosts of the yurt camp.
6 pm to 7 pm Discovery of the daily life of the herders.
7 pm Dinner.
- Day 2: Ascent to the Muztor lake and traditional music show
8:30 am breakfast.
9:30 am Ascent on horseback to the lake Muztor, located at 3250 m of altitude.
1 pm Arrival at the lake and discovery of a panoramic point of view at 3700 m of altitude, lunch in altitude.
4 to 5 pm Return to the yurt camp “Tunduk Suusamyr” and free time
5 pm Traditional music concert (Manas storyteller, traditional songs and music).
5:30 pm Discovery and possibility to participate in nomadic games (Ulak tartysh).
7:30 pm Dinner. Night under the yurt.
- Day 3 : Nomadic games and lunch under the yurt
8:30 am breakfast.
9:30 am archery.
10:30 am Ordo atish (alchi) and Kan talamay game.
12:30 am Lunch in the yurt.
1:30 pm Departure to Bishkek.
- Day 1: Horseback riding, nomad games, archery and introduction to the sheperds’ life
Departure in the morning from Bishkek. Meeting at 12:00 with the guides at the turn of the road in Talas. Horse riding through the mountains to the yurt camp “Tunduk Suusamyr” in Muztor Gorge.
1 pm Lunch
2 to 4:30 pm Horseback riding in the vicinity of Muztor, climbing to the Panorama on the Bishkek-Osh highway, the gorge “Ala bel”.
4:30 to 6 pm horseback riding games in the middle of the mountains with the local youth and the owners of the guesthouse.
6 to 6:30 pm archery.
7 pm dinner and night under the yurt.
- Day 2: Horseback riding to Muztor Lake, traditional singing and music show
8:30 am Breakfast.
9:30 am Horseback riding to the lake “Muztor”, located at an altitude of 3250 m.
1 pm Arrival at the lake and then a panoramic peak at 3700 m altitude, lunch.
3:30 pm return to the yurt camp “Tunduk Suusamyr” to attend a traditional music show (Manas storyteller, traditional songs and music).
4:30 pm Snack.
Back to Bishkek at 7:30pm
3-day hike :
|Number of people||2||3||4||5||6|
|Price per person (soms)||18420||15425||13740||on request||on request|
2-day hike :
|Number of people||1||2||3||4||5||6|
|Price per person (soms)||22740||13980||10660||9060||on request||on request|
For the 3-day hike, we need at least 2 people. It is possible to join another group. The price for groups of more than 7 persons is given on request.
Private transport Bishkek-Suusamyr (round trip) for a car in included in the price.
The Temirkhan family’s yurts are in the beautiful and wild Suusamyr Valley. The mobile network is almost totally absent there, which is why trips are only made from Bishkek by private car. Indeed, it is impossible to meet directly in the Suusamyr valley (no network, random location of yurts, etc.). Authentic experience guaranteed!
The price includes:
- The guides
- Folk music show (Legend of Manas epic, komuz games, etc)
- Accommodation in the yurt
- Participation in horse games
The price does not include:
- Insurance during a trip
- Individual expenses
- Transportation from the city of Bishkek and back
Don’t forget to take with you:
- Your good mood
- Warm clothes (depending on the weather raincoat)
- Comfortable shoes
- Bath accessories (towel, wipes, toothpaste, etc.)
- Hat or cap
It was a great pleasure to have a 3 days horse trekking with Timur! It was the first time for myself and my wife to ride a horse, but Timur made it easy for us – even though sometimes the trail was challenging, we were able to make it and enjoy the boost of adrenaline! Beautiful views, sleeping in the yurts, meeting local Kyrgyz people – all will remain in our memories for the rest of the life!
Contact Temirkhan for a tour !
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