Kyrgyzstan is the best place in Central Asia to saddle up and join the seasonal nomads on the high pastures. CBT offices (www.cbtkyrgyzstan.kg) throughout the country can organise horse hire for around 700som per day on short notice. Several agencies advertise organised horse treks, though most simply sub-contract. For a well-organised tour with decent horses it's worth approaching reputable providers directly, including Shepherds Way Trekking and CBT, or through yurt-camps.
Some self-sufficient travellers have occasionally purchased their own horses/donkeys for around US$1000/300 at animal markets in Osh or Karakol (where prices are relatively reasonable) and after a month or two riding or cajoling them across the mountains, sell them again in Bishkek, conceivably for a modest profit. In reality such an idea requires considerable experience and relies on finding a well-trained animal, not the cheapest one around.
A good source of equestrian insight, notably about the sturdy Kyrgyz breed, is Kyrgyz Ate, coordinators of the At-Chabysh Festival.
For those seeking real expeditions, Kyrgyzstan offers the allure of three 7000m+ peaks, notably the majestic Khan Tengri and relatively 'easy' Peak Lenin (partly in Tajikistan but accessed from Kyrgyzstan). The latter is also probably the world's most accessible and inexpensive 7000m to climb, but don't let those relative terms fool you into complacency. It can still be a killer. There are many unclimbed peaks, notably in the Kokshal range bordering China, and a remarkable series of cliffs and ridges in southwestern Kyrgyzstan. The granite walls of the Karavshin area are world class, but their popularity has yet to fully recover from an infamous episode in 2000 when four rash American climbers were kidnapped by IMU militants on the 750m-tall Yellow Wall. The tale, thought by some to be highly overdramatised, was the subject of Greg Child's 2002 book Over the Edge.
For climbers and mountaineers wanting less full-on challenges, there are lots of options in the valleys south of Bishkek.
Kyrgyz Alpine Club's useful website (www.kac.centralasia.kg) is blocked by some servers as a security threat.
Silk Road Water Centre organises rafting on the Kökömeren (Grade IV), Chuy (Grade III), Naryn (Grade IV) and Chon-Kemin Rivers (Grades II to III). The season runs from 25 June until mid-September. Wetsuits are essential in the glacial meltwater.
Despite the fact that 94% of the country averages over 2700m, skiing in Kyrgyzstan is still not well known. Currently the only developed ski bases are around Bishkek and Karakol, but freeride skiing is increasingly popular near Jyrgalan, Arslanbob and the Alay. The season runs from mid-November until mid-March. With the advent of heli-skiing, Russian-built MI-8 helicopters are ferrying adrenaline junkies to altitudes of over 4500m for descents of up to 5km.
Covered in mountains and lakes, Kyrgyzstan offers unrivalled opportunities to take to the hills. The areas around Bishkek, Karakol, Kochkor, Naryn and Sary-Chelek are the major trekking regions, although most CBT offices can suggest countless alternatives.
Border-area permits are required to access some of the most important mountaineering and trekking areas areas, notably the central Tian Shan (Khan Tengri), Chatyr Köl/Köl-Suu, and Peak Lenin regions. Agencies can organise these as part of a package, but many are increasingly reticent to do so for nonguests.The cost is typically around US$30 and agents advise leaving a month for the processing, but some agents can speed things up and have the documents within a couple of days at extra cost.