Mongolian horses are of a stocky build, with relatively short legs and a large head. They range in size from 12 to 14 hands high and have a cannon diameter of about 8 inches. They have a certain resemblance to Przewalski's Horse. The mane and tail are very long, and the strands are often used for braiding ropes; the tail hair can be used for violin bows. The hooves are very robust, and very few animals are fitted with horseshoes.
Mongolian horses are frugal, arduous, somewhat wily, and tread safely in rough terrain. In Mongolia, most animals are kept roaming free, and only a small number of riding animals get caught and tethered. Once the animal has become familiarized with carrying a rider, it will be calm, friendly, and very reliable.
The Mongolian saddle is very tall, with a wooden frame. It only allows marginal control of the gait. In most situations, the horse will decide the gait on its own, while the rider is occupied with other tasks (such as herding cattle). Very often, a Mongolian horse will choose to canter.
Child racing at the Naadam festival
Racing horses with a child in the saddle will run in full gallop over 35 km at a time. They are trained to keep running even after losing their riders. In such a case, they need to be stopped in the finish zone by aides waiting there especially for that purpose.
The exact origins of the breed are hard to determine. Horseback riding has been documented with the nomads of the central Asian steppes since 2000 BC. Tests have shown, that among all horse breeds, Mongolian horses feature the largest genetic variety, followed by the tuwinian horses. This indicates that it is a very archaic breed suffering little human induced selection. The data also indicate that many other breeds descend from the Mongolian horses.
Horses in Mongolia Culture
Horses are greatly cherished in Mongolian culture, particularly among the nomads because horses are very useful to people's daily lives and livelihood. A nomad with many horses is considered wealthy, and having many horses which are also in good shape is considered honorable behavior. Mongols almost never kill their horses for food unless they are in a state of extreme hunger and cattle or sheep are not available. Mongol people individually have favorite horses, each family member has his and her own horse, and some family members value their favorite horses by saving them from working under a lot of pressure.
Mongolian Wild Horse "Takhi" aka the Przewalski Horse
Przewalski's Horse (Equus ferus przewalskii, Mongolian: Òàõü, Takhi; Chinese: Yehmah), or Dzungarian Horse, is a rare and endangered subspecies of wild horse (Equus ferus) native to the steppes of central Asia. At one time extinct in the wild, it has been reintroduced to its native habitat in Mongolia at the Khustain Nuruu National Park, Takhin Tal Nature Reserve and Khomiin Tal. The taxonomic position is still debated, and some taxonomists treat Przewalski's Horse as a species, Equus przewalskii.
Common names for this equine include Asian Wild Horse and Mongolian Wild Horse. Historical but obsolete names include true tarpan and Mongolian tarpan.
Most "wild" horses today, such as the American Mustang or the Australian Brumby, are actually feral horses descended from domesticated animals that escaped and adapted to life in the wild. In contrast, Przewalski's Horse has never been successfully domesticated and remains a truly wild animal today. Przewalski's Horse is one of two known subspecies of Equus ferus, the other being the extinct Tarpan (Equus ferus ferus). The Przewalski's Horse is considered the only remaining truly wild "horse" in the world and may be the closest living wild relative of the domesticated horse, Equus caballus. There are still a number of other wild equines, including three species of zebra and various subspecies of the African wild ass, Onager and Kiang.
The Takhi Population, Appearance & Bahavior
The world population of these horses are all descended from 9 of the 31 horses in captivity in 1945. These nine horses were mostly descended from approximately 15 captured around 1900. A cooperative venture between the Zoological Society of London and Mongolian scientists has resulted in successful reintroduction of these horses from zoos into their natural habitat in Mongolia; and as of 2005 there is a free-ranging population of 248 animals in the wild. The total number of these horses according to a 2005 census was about 1,500.
Przewalski's Horse is stockily built in comparison to domesticated horses, with shorter legs. Typical height is about 13 hands (1.32 m), length is about 2.1 m with a 90 cm tail. They weigh around 300 kilograms (660 lb). The coat is similar to dun coloration in domestic horses. It varies from dark brown around the mane (which stands erect) to pale brown on the flanks and yellowish-white on the belly. The legs of Przewalski's Horse are often faintly striped.
In the wild, Przewalski's Horses live in social groups consisting of a dominant stallion, a dominant lead mare, other mares, and their offspring. The patterns of their daily lives exhibit horse behavior similar to that of feral horse herds: Each group has a well-defined home range; within the range, the herd travels between three and six miles a day, spending time grazing, drinking, using salt licks and dozing. At night, the herd clusters and sleeps for about four hours. Ranges of different herds may overlap without conflict, as the stallions are more protective of their mares than their territory.
Stallions practice a form of scent marking and will establish piles of dung at intervals along routes they normally travel to warn other males of their presence. In addition, when a female in the herd urinates, the stallion will frequently urinate in the same place, to signal her membership in the herd to other males. The stallions can frequently be seen sniffing dung piles to confirm scent markings.
The Takhi History
In the 15th century, Johann Schiltberger recorded one of the first European sightings of the horses in the journal of his trip to Mongolia as a prisoner of the Mongol Khan. The horse is named after the Russian colonel Nikolai Przhevalsky (1839–1888) (the name is of Polish origin, and "Przewalski" is the Polish spelling). He was an explorer and naturalist who described the horse in 1881, after having gone on an expedition to find it, based on rumors of its existence. Many of these horses were captured around 1900 by Carl Hagenbeck and placed in zoos. As noted above, about twelve to fifteen reproduced and formed today's population.
The native population declined in the 20th century due to a combination of factors, with the wild population in Mongolia dying out in the 1960s. The last herd was sighted in 1967 and the last individual horse in 1969. Expeditions after this failed to locate any horses, and the species was designated "extinct in the wild" for over 30 years.
After 1945 only two captive populations in zoos remained, in Munich and in Prague. The most valuable group, in Askania Nova, was shot by German soldiers during occupation, and the group in the USA had died out.
In 1977, the Foundation for the Preservation and Protection of the Przewalski Horse was founded by Jan and Inge Bouman, which started a program of exchange between captive populations in zoos throughout the world to reduce inbreeding, and later starting a breeding program of its own. In 1992, sixteen horses were released into the wild in Mongolia, followed by additional animals later on. One of the areas to which they were reintroduced became Khustain Nuruu National Park in 1998.
The reintroduced horses successfully reproduced, and the status of the animal was changed from "extinct in the wild" to "endangered" in 2005. On the IUCN Red List, they were reclassified from "extinct in the wild" to "critically endangered" after a reassessment in 2008.