Naadam Festival

by Hidden Trails 06/02/2019

Every horse lover knows that Mongolia is a country where horses occupy an important place. Elizabeth Kendall, a renowned English author, once said while travelling through Mongolia: "A Mongol without a horse is like a bird without the wings." Therefore, it seems only natural that horses play a great role when it comes to the country’s national holiday celebration: the Naadam Festival.

Naadam takes its origin from the famous Khan’s army who was renowned for its brave and skillful soldiers. Warriors were chosen based on their performance mainly on the 3 following disciplines: wrestling, horserace and archery.  Naadam started to be recognized as a nationwide celebration in the 1920s, and, nowadays, it is known to honor the victory of Mongols over the Qing Dynasty. 

The festival officially lasts 3 days and is held the second week of July in Ulaabaatar. However, some regions, provinces and villages set up their own festival dates. During the festival, most Mongols dress with the beautiful and colorful traditional costumes called “dell”. 

The festival features 3 main “games”: Wrestling, Horse Race and Archery.

Mongolian Wrestling

Mongolian wrestling consists of 3 different categories: bull wrestling, Khalkh wrestling and Inner Mongolian wrestling. All require participants to wear specific costumes, perform ancient dances and complete rituals. Despite those common traits, each category has different set of rules.

Horse races

Mongolians are known for their horse races all over the world, and the most important races of the year happen during the festival. Participating horses are divided into 6 categories based on their age. Depending on the age category, various distances are covered: two-year-old horses race for 10-12 km (6-7,5 miles), for instance, stallions race for 23 km (14,5 miles) on average, and seven-year-old ones race for 25-26 km (15,5-16 miles). The jockeys are usually between 5 and 13 years old and encourage their horse by singing a special song called “giingo”.

Because of their nomadic lifestyle, Mongols have been practicing archery for centuries. Everyone is represented in this category, from young men to female and even children. Competitors can choose between 3 different categories: Khalh, Buriad and Uriankhai. Each category uses its own type of bows and arrows and distance of the targets also vary depending on the category.

This year, the festival is taking place from July 10th to the 12th. July is one of the best months to visit Mongolia as temperatures usually range between 10 and 23°C (50 to 73°F). If you are planning on witnessing this incredible event, you can decide to join one of our Mongolian horseback riding holidays ( This way, you will get to immerse into the Mongolian culture and fully enjoy the festival at the end of your trip. 

We recently added a new trip to Mongolia called the Steppe Nomads Ride ( On this 11-day ride (13 days if you are planning on adding the Naadam Games extension), you will have the opportunity to tour across the Mongolian Gobi Desert sand dunes and steppe lands, hosted by the Steppe Nomads themselves - the largest remaining pastoralist people. This is a ride like no other that promises experiences and memories you will never forget!

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