More photos of Mongolia’s reindeer-herding minority ethnic group, the Tsaatan, by Joel Santos.

Children are responsible for training reindeer for riding, because the reindeer are not strong enough to carry an adult until they are fully grown, and it works best to introduce them to the idea early. A two year old reindeer, old enough for a child to ride, is called dongor; an adult reindeer is a hoodai.


The Tsaatan (or Dukkha) are an ethnic minority who fled to Mongolia from Russia during WWII. It’s a small group, less than 300 people according to the most recent census, mostly living near Tsaagan Nuur.

They herd reindeer for milk, which they make into yogurt and cheese. Over centuries, the reindeer have been bred to have spines strong enough for riding. They hunt for meat, killing a reindeer is rare. 

Photos by Joel Santos.