Horses are essential to the nomadic lifestyle, and life in the mountains and on the steppes would be impossible without them. Horses were used for everything from transportation to war, from payment to companionship. Mare’s milk is an part of Kyrgyz cuisine, and meat and leather can also be important products. Tourists can easily find Kyrgyz souvenirs related to horses, such as intricate horse whips or antique saddles.
Kyrgyz horses tend to small, hardy animals that do well in the harsh terrain and extreme weather. Central Asia has been famous for its horses throughout history, with raiders and traders coming from Russia and China specifically to get horses. Przewalski’s horses, the last remaining completely wild horses in the world, have been reintroduced to Mongolia and western China, though these horses are not related to domestic horses.
Horses have always been essential to warfare, and are even are credited as the main reason Genghis Khan was such a successful warrior. Some men were buried with their warhorses, as being separated even in death was unthinkable. Horses play roles in courtship and marriage ceremonies, where horses would be included in the bride price for a girl’s hand in marriage. Stealing a horse could be punished by death.
Horsemanship was equally valued among the Kyrgyz. Children learned to ride sometimes even before they could walk, and lots of time was spent developing both horse and rider. There are even unique proverbs in Kyrgyz, like “a horse is a man’s wings”, and “govern your horse carefully, or you will become a pedestrian”.
Visitors may be surprised to see violent horse games, or to learn that Kyrgyz people eat horse meat. Though the relationship may seem tougher on the horses than in other places, the most important thing to know is that horses are deeply respected in Kyrgyzstan, and caring for them is of the utmost importance. There may be a difference in how horses are cared for around the world, but it would be wrong to assume that horses in Kyrgyzstan are not cared for.