Sakha Horse Trek

Ride the Russian Taiga

After a challenging first exploratory trek to the region in 2018, and a follow-up in 2019, we are keen to head back for further adventures. Ride the legendary Yakut horses with our friends amongst the Even and Evenki peoples.

Trip Length:
Trip Length:
17 days

Daily plan

Price:
Price:
$4,700 NZD

What's included?

Time in the Saddle:
Time in the Saddle:
12 Days

Scheduled Departures

Including current availability

30 Aug - 15 Sept 2021
When would YOU like to travel?
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You want to take us where?

When we say we are going to the Republic of Sakha, most people give us a blank look. If we try Yakutia (its alternative name), that doesn't help much. But if we say Siberia, people start to be able to place it - and then dismiss it as a cold, desolate wasteland.

That's a mistake, as this vast area is incredibly beautiful. How vast is it? Almost the size of India, but with a tiny percentage of the population. So it's a big, beautiful, empty wilderness. Perfect for exploring on horseback!

We take packhorses into the taiga, a road-less mix of low valleys, mountains, lakes, huge braided rivers, and forest. And yes some bog too. This is the land of bears, moose, and snow sheep to keep a watch for.

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Who is this trip aimed at?

This trek is suited to adventurous riders and trekkers, who do not mind ‘roughing it.’ This area of Siberia is very remote and undeveloped, and involves a significant amount of packhorsing. As the trip is exploratory, riders who are looking for a challenge, and are not afraid to get out of their comfort zone (sometimes way out), will especially enjoy it.

If you are not an experienced rider, that's OK, the horses are generally calm. It's more important that you have significant outdoor experience and have travelled well off the beaten track previously. To date we have only invited our past riders, who we know are right for this trip. We are slightly nervous to be offering it more generally, so we will be asking you to tell us about your relevant experience.

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The Yakut horses

We thought the Mongolian horses were tough until we met these guys. With temperatures as low as -70C in winter, the Yakut horses need to be even tougher. They are a native breed, unique to the Sakha (Yakut) region, and are bred for meat as well as riding.

You will be amazed at where these horses will carry you. We think of them as the tanks of the taiga - they just plough on through the deepest bog and thickest forest. They are not exactly built for speed, but when the terrain allows, they will get up to a nice gallop. Much of the time the terrain calls for a slow pace. 

The tack is rough but functional. Unusually, there is only one rein - controlling the horse involves a combination of neck-reining and English style. It makes sense once you are there!

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The Journey

Your first challenge is finding your way to Yakutsk, the regional capital, where we meet. We start by crossing the mighty Lena River by ferry and begin a two-day drive east along the infamous Road of Bones (so named because of the hundreds of thousands of prisoners who died building it during the Stalinist era). 

After meeting the horses, we ride to our basecamp that was once a large horse breeding collective, in Soviet times (our luggage goes by tank - it's Russia after all). From here we load up the packhorses and head in to the taiga. There are no roads and few people, so it's an opportunity to experience true wilderness travel. Local people live a fairly subsistence lifestyle, hunting and fishing and living off the land as much as possible. We aim to immerse ourselves in this culture and discover a different way of living.

A look at our 2019 trek

In September 2019 we returned and met up with Erina and Semion, and their son Duguidan, who we first met in 2018. For the next 2 weeks we explored the surrounding wilds, sometimes with packhorses, and sometimes based at the family's summer herding camp. Autumn was well under-way, turning the larch forest to gold, and bringing a dusting of snow.

Jesse Lyons from Hold The Dog Photography accompanied us, and created this video  - it gives you a brief introduction to what a ride in the Sakha Republic looks like.

 

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Meet the local people

Siberia has seen relatively little tourism, so it offers a uniquely authentic chance to experience one of the last native horse cultures, surviving and thriving in the post-Soviet world. Hospitality and survival go hand in hand and will include you as you become part of the Sakha family.

The majority of people in the area where we ride, and our local team, are ethnically Yakut, Even, and Evenki. There are some major differences in these ethnic minority cultures compared to other parts of Russia, but essentially they live a traditional lifestyle adapted from their cultural roots and Soviet experiences.

As in Mongolia, hospitality, horses, and connection to nature are a major aspect of the culture and an essential part of everyday life in this tucked-away corner of the northern world.

Trip Plan

We hesitate to use the word 'plan', as that is just asking for trouble. Sakha is remote and has not fared particularly well in the post-Soviet world. Life can be chaotic here. We are at the mercy of the weather and any manner of unexpected events. Please understand that this Trip Plan is based on what we have done previously, and what we aim to do in 2021, but is highly flexible.

Day Activities
Day 1 Meet in Yakutsk, famous as the coldest city on earth, with temperatures down to -50C in winter (don't worry, it's still pleasantly warm in September). First group dinner together where you can try authentic local food such as frozen fish salad, grilled reindeer, and horse steaks.
Day 2 See the sites of Yakutsk, such as the Kingdom of Permafrost, with it's quirky underground ice sculptures, and the Mammoth Museum, which features extinct ice-age animals - including of course a giant mammoth skeleton. Stock up on anything you need in Yakutsk, as you won't see much for sale for the next two weeks.
Day 3 Drive the Road of Bones east for two days (850km), passing through occasional small villages and in to increasingly remote territory. There are rivers to cross, and no bridges, so where we end up staying will depend on the timing of ferry sailings.
Day 4 Eventually we veer off in to forest near the village of Yuchyugey, and travel by tank for the final leg of our journey, to reach the homestead of our hosts Erina and Simeon. By homestead we mean a traditional Yakut log cabin in a clearing in the forest, without electricity or running water.
Day 5 Meet the horses, and ride to the family's summer camp (30km), which will be our base while we prepare the packhorses. Our luggage will be transported to camp by tank (the way is only passable with this tracked vehicle, or by horse).
Day 6 Preparation for packhorsing. A day ride in the area to check you and your horse are ready to head in to the taiga. We will leave anything that is non-essential here, and pack just the bare necessities to travel light.
Days 7 to 12 For the next 6 days we will explore the area to the south, a wilderness of forest, marsh and mountains. Bivouac at abandoned reindeer herder camps along the way. Learn to live like our hosts from the Yakut and Evenki communities.
Day 13 Eventually we will end up back at our base at the summer camp.
Day 14 Ride back to the homestead.
Day 15 Drive east to the town of Ust-Nera. This small town on the banks of the Indigirka river has seen better days, and is now semi-derelict. But it does have a functioning airport. We don't encourage 'ruin porn' but if post-apocalyptic is your thing, you will love Ust-Nera!
Day 16 Fly from Ust-Nera to Yakutsk. If there is time, we will see some more of the city.
Day 17 Depart Yakutsk

The area where we ride

This map shows the area where we ride. The nearest settlement is the small town of Yuchyugey (zoom in enough and you will find it!).

What you need to know about riding in Sakha

If you don't see an answer to your question here, please see our general FAQs, or we are happy to have a chat

What's included in the price for the Sakha Horse Trek?
When do I need to arrive in Yakutsk?
How do I get to Yakutsk?
Is it easy to get a Russian visa?
Is it safe to travel in Sakha?
Tell me about the accommodation

Straight From the Horse's Mouth

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Sakha is a challenging place to ride - the sort of trekking that some would call character building...