Here's why Trump's new defense secretary is in Mongolia - and why he was gifted a tiny horse

Mark Esper horseU.S. Secretary of Defense Mark Esper is gifted a horse in Ulan Bator, Mongolia August 8, 2019.Idrees Ali / REUTERS

  • Secretary of Defense Mark Esper began his first international trip in early August and met with Mongolian officials in the capital of Ulaanbaatar.
  • Esper received a small horse as a gift, which he named Marshall after former Defense Secretary George Marshall. 
  • Previous US dignitaries have received gifts of horses, which are cared for in Mongolia. The horses are small but traditionally used in battle - including by Mongolian warrior Chinggis Khaan, Reuters reports. 
  • Visit Business Insider's home page for more stories. 

On his first foreign trip, Secretary of Defense Mark Esper visited Mongolia, where he was presented with the ultimate status gift for a warrior: a small horse.

Esper, an Army veteran, named the bay horse Marshall for U.S. Defense Secretary George Marshall, a retired Army general who served under President Harry S. Truman.

The small war horses are an integral part of Mongolian culture and are a fairly common gift for foreign dignitaries; in July, Mongolian President Battulga Khaltmaa presented US President Donald Trump's son Barron with a similar horse, which the White House named Victory. 

Members of previous administrations have also received horses as gifts from Mongolia, as well; Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel received one during a 2014 trip to Mongolia, which he named Shamrock, as did Donald Rumsfeld (his was named Montana). Vice President Joe Biden received one in 2011, which he named Celtic, according to NBC News. 

The horses are native to Mongolia, and are similar to the ones legendary Mongolian ruler Chinggis Khaan rode in battle. 

Read more: This is Mark Esper, the Gulf War Army veteran and defense lobbyist who Trump has tapped to lead the Pentagon

Esper travelled to Mongolia on Wednesday, Reuters reported, and discussed opportunities to bring the US and Mongolia closer together as Mongolia tries to reduce its economic dependence on its neighbor, China. 

"It is my deep privilege to be here, to be with you and to have the opportunity to look at different ways we can further strengthen the ties between our two countries," Esper said during his trip.

Esper stayed in Ulaanbaatar, Mongolia's capital, overnight. His is the first trip that a US defense secretary has made to the country, which is situated between US rivals Russia and China, since Chuck Hagel visited in 2014. 

Mongolia has partnered with the US on missions in Afghanistan and Iraq, and has close ties to North Korea, which the US could see as a diplomatic advantage. 

An unnamed defense official told Reuters that while there was no specific agenda for Esper's trip, it could be a good opportunity to potentially increase ties, particularly citing the opportunity Mongolia's cold climate offers for military training. INSIDER reached out to the Pentagon for more information about Esper's visit, but did not receive a response by press time. 

Esper will leave the horse to be cared for in Mongolia, but gave its caretaker a blanket used by the US Army Old Guard and received a framed photo of the horse to take home.

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