Organize a horseback riding tour in Kyrgyzstan with a guide
Why horseback riding in Kyrgyzstan?
To ride a horse in Kyrgyzstan is to immerse yourself in the thousand-year-old way of life of the Kyrgyz nomads. An authentic experience allowing you to enjoy the wide open spaces and breathtaking landscapes that abound in the country! This activity is for beginners as well as experienced people. It does not indeed require any particular skill if it is not listening and patience. The Kyrgyz horses have a very calm temperament and you will generally be accompanied. According to your desires, it is possible to make a half-day ride or to leave to the assault of the mountains during a few days. It is very easy to find horses, especially in the tourist areas where agencies will offer you their service to organize your excursion. In this article, we first explain where to find horses, the mistakes to avoid when going on a horseback excursion and we give you some tips on how to ride horses.
Finally, this article also aims to highlight different local actors that we met during our trips to Kyrgyzstan. We put you in contact with Kyrgyz guides or Kyrgyz families whose service we liked a lot, by their seriousness, their kindness and their listening. All these people have read and signed our charter of ethics, covering topics such as animal welfare and respect for the environment.
Where and how to find horses and a guide in Kyrgyzstan?
If you are planning a horse trek, there are several possibilities that we present below.
Leaving with a local Kyrgyz agency
There are many local agencies organizing horseback riding excursions. Usually you are accompanied by an English-speaking guide and an “horseman” i.e. a person who looks after the horses exclusively (usually the owner of the horses). You pay a price which includes the rental of the horses, the two accompanying persons, your overnight stays (usually in a yurt) and your food for the duration of the trek. You will find agencies in big cities such as Kochkor, Naryn, Karakol and near tourist sites.
Leaving 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. If the intention of these associations is absolutely praiseworthy, today the CBTs have become real 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 observed many abuses (excessive prices, overbooking, underpaid families…) and a service that is less and less available. This is why we encourage you to go directly through nomads or small local agencies.
Directly with nomadic guides
The main advantage of this approach is that you pay the premises directly for their service, without any intermediary. Moreover, they will surely offer you to share a meal with them or to follow them in their daily activities. Authentic experience guaranteed! The main drawbacks are that the horses are not necessarily used to being ridden by beginners, which can make the experience quite sporty (even dangerous). Moreover, you will not benefit from the translation of a guide to have explanations about the landscape or the animals. To help you, in Kyrgyz horse is said “At” and how much is said “skolka”. With these two words, you should already be able to negotiate your horse ride 🙂
Basic rules before going horseback trekking in Kyrgyzstan
If you are a beginner, never leave without being accompanied
Kyrgyz people have been riding horses since they were very young, they know their horses and the terrain very well. Moreover, when you leave with an agency, you will generally be accompanied by a guide (speaking English) and an “horseman” in other words, the owner of the horses. It is therefore essential to go with at least one person who knows the horses, especially if you are a beginner. If you are going with horses from a nomadic Kyrgyz family, ask to be accompanied in the same way.
Equipment and protection
Few agencies provide protective equipment, especially riding helmets, because they are not used by the premises and are very expensive. If you want to go horseback trekking and help a local guide, you can buy a bomb before your trip (15€ at Decathlon) and give it to your guide. This way, you protect yourself and do a service to your guide and to the travellers after you. If you plan to ride more than 3 days, riding pants may be a good idea. But in any case expect your buttocks to hurt! Wear closed high shoes. If it rains and you want to put on your raincoat, be careful because some horses can’t stand the rubbing noise of the raincoat fabric. To avoid him galloping when you are on his back, we advise you to get off the horse to put on and take off your raincoat.
Equestrian tourism is very lucrative in Kyrgyzstan. Indeed, almost every family has horses that they can make available to agencies or tourists directly. Some horses are therefore overexploited and their health is thus endangered. In order not to encourage this kind of practice, we advise you to talk about it with your guide. Explain your requirements to him. The animal must not be chained to groups of tourists, it must be able to rest and eat properly between groups. Check that the horse has no injuries in the saddle, tail or legs. Some horses are not shod, which can be very painful for them if you are trekking on rocky terrain. If your animal limps or seems to suffer during a trek, continue on foot or ask your guide to change horses.
Be insured in the event of an accident
Don’t go horse trekking in Kyrgyzstan if you are not insured. Even if you are experienced, animals are unpredictable as is the terrain. So you are never safe from an accident. It is better to be insured if you need to be hospitalized on the spot or if repatriation is necessary.
Our little tips for riding a Kyrgyz horse
If you’ve never been on a horse before, don’t be afraid. Kyrgyz horses are very calm and quite small. If a horse is nervous, the owner won’t let you go with it unless he trusts you.
Always hold the reindeer in one hand. Pull slightly to the right to turn right, slightly to the left to turn left. To stop, pull the reindeer sharply downwards, shouting “Tak Tak” which means “gently”. Pulling upwards may cause the horse to turn (stand on its two hind legs!).
Do not put your feet fully into the stirrups. Just keep the tip inside the stirrups, and the rest free. The reason is very simple: if you fall and your foot is stuck in the stirrups it can be very dangerous.
If you want to trot or canter, you can give the horse a little kick on the side of the horse by shouting “Chout chout” which means “faster”. If he doesn’t listen, give him a little slap on the buttocks. Don’t hesitate to use your most authoritative voice possible!
The legendary horse trek to Lake Song Kul
Lake Song Kul, perched at 3100 m altitude, is one of Kyrgyzstan’s key destinations. Surrounded by lush green pastures and snow-capped peaks, this azure-blue lake is breathtakingly beautiful. Many agencies offer horseback riding excursions to Song Kul Lake, usually 3 full days, with two nights in a local’s home. An experience you won’t soon forget!
Unfortunately this lake is a victim of its success and tourist yurts are invading the banks. If you wish to access the lake on horseback, it is therefore important to choose an agency and/or guide with an ethical and eco-responsible conscience, i.e. an agency that respects the animals’ well-being, that does not bury its waste around the lake and that pays the horse owners and the welcoming families a fair price. We have therefore chosen to recommend guides that we ourselves have met and who meet these criteria (see our ethical charter).
Adis, a young guide full of promise!
Adis is a certified Kyrgyz guide. Despite his young age, Adis surprised us with his seriousness and flexibility. With a first aid training, he is concerned about the safety of his guests. But above all, as he says himself “the most important thing for me is to make our guests happy”. He speaks fluent English, Kyrgyz, Russian, and a few words of French which he tries to learn from French-speaking tourists. A real pleasure to travel with him!
Day 1: Kyzart – Kilemche
Departure is from the village of Kyzart, which you can reach by public transport or taxi (Adis can arrange transport for you). Lunch in the village of Kyzart. After lunch, horseback riding at Kilemche yurt camp. Along the way you will enjoy the impressive landscape of our beautiful mountains. On arrival you will have free time to walk around, explore the area and see the life of the local nomads. Kilemche is situated at 2500 m above sea level. Dinner and overnight stay in yurts.
Day 2: Kilemche – Zhalgiz Karagay Pass – Son Kol (Tuz Ashuu)
This day will be the highlight of the visit. The trail passes through the difficult Zhalgyz Karagay Pass at 3400 m above sea level and opens up to a beautiful panoramic view of Song-Kol and the surrounding mountains. After about an hour’s ride, lunch will be served in Jaman Zhaman Echki’s yurts. After lunch, the trail follows the shore of the Song-Kol lake. The beauty of this lake is breathtaking. At night the stars reflect on its surface and the lake becomes even more mysterious. Dinner and overnight stay in the yurts at the yurt camp.
Day 3: Son Kol – Kara-Kiya Pass – Kyzart
After breakfast, we climb to the Kara-Kyya Pass, offering another amazing panoramic view (altitude 3400 m). After descending to the village of Kyzart, lunch and dinner in a guesthouse.
Prices for three days (full service)
|number of people||1||2||3||4||5||6||7||8||9||10|
|Price for the group (soms)||11600||16600||21600||33200||38200||43200||54800||59800||64800||69800|
The price includes :
Accommodation and meals in the yurt – English-speaking guide
One rider for 3 people
The price does not include :
The air flight
Transportation costs to Kyzart (5$ by public transportation, or 50$ by taxi)
Although Lake Song Kul is one of the most popular destinations in Kyrgyzstan, Adis can offer you other tours, less touristic and wilder!
OunTravela has not referenced all these tours because the possibilities are endless! Do not hesitate to ask him via our form.
Here is a non-exhaustive list of the services offered:
- Organization of horse trekking between 2 and 21 days
- Organization of trekking in Yak
- Winter tours on Lake Song-Kul
- Reservation of guesthouse in Kilemche and transport Bishkek-Kilemche-Kyzart-Kochtor and all other places in Kyrgyzstan
Great organization, great food and great people. our horseman was very helpful and gentle. the accomodations during the horse riding trek were perfect in the yurts.
Everything was perfect! Great accommodation, great food, perfect guide, we had the best time on our trek to Song-Kol. Highly recommended.