In support of
The Mongol Derby
The Mongol Derby is the longest and toughest horse race in the world.
Inspired by the Genghis Khan's original "pony express," competitors ride approximately 25 horses across 1,000 km of Mongolian wilderness in less than 10 days. During that time, riders fend entirely for themselves, navigating across the steppe with no marked trails and taking shelter with Mongolian herdsmen along the route or camping alone with their horse at night.
Participants change horses every 40 kilometers and ride from 8am to 7pm but, let's be clear, this is no vacation. The Mongol Derby is notoriously difficult to complete, with only half of competitors making it across the finish line. The horses that are provided for Derby competitors have all been introduced to a saddle and bridle, but their level of training and comfort around humans varies widely; this is why the race horses have been dubbed “semi-feral.” In the past, riders have suffered broken necks and collarbones, punctured lungs, and torn ligaments.
In addition to being a profound physical and mental challenge, this derby tests a rider’s ability to navigate through a foreign country with a strange language and alphabet. Riders bring their own GPS device to help them navigate through the grasslands, rivers, floodplains, mountains, wooded areas, and marshes of the Mongolian steppe. Aside from the terrain, a rider’s primary enemies on the steppe are wild dogs and marmot holes, which can cause a devastating fall if a horse’s foot gets stuck.
History of the Derby
In 1224, Man of the Millennium Genghis Khan set up the world’s first long-distance postal transmission system. Using a massive network of horse stations his messengers could gallop from his capital Kharkhorin to the Caspian sea in a few days. It’s thought the speed of this communications was one of the great tactical advantages of the Mongol warriors.
Riders carrying messages directly from the Khan would ride non-stop wearing a gergel (metal plates showing the authenticity of the message) on their belts. Messengers would leap onto their new ride at each Urtuu at full tilt. Not even the call of nature or hunger would stop them. The remnants of this horse-wise-web carried on delivering post and messages right into the 1950’s.
It was the nerve system of the largest empire in human history. Genghis Khan’s mighty horse messenger system connected ½ the planet. For a decade we’ve been rebuilding this ancient network to stage the world’s greatest equine adventure race.
Mongolian horses might only be 12-14 hands but they pack a punch. Anyone who mistakenly calls them ‘ponies’ will rescind the judgement after riding these diminutive powerhouses. These are the same hardy beasts that carried the Mongol warriors over half the world. You should think of them as equine gladiators; grass fuelled, air cooled, saddled and bridled after some serious negotiation. They don’t come when you whistle and they won’t appreciate a pat on the neck or a kiss on the nose.
The controls can be rudimentary but they are the toughest and most fit-for-purpose partners imaginable for the Mongol Derby. Impervious to heat, cold, hunger, thirst, flies, foods, deserts, and really anything else that Mongolian mother nature can throw, they can cross terrain that would make a thoroughbred weep and maintain speeds that would put them in contention in many a tough endurance ride.
Horse racing is one of the three iconic sports in the traditional Mongolian Naadam, and is taken very seriously, with horses running up to 30kms across country. Many families involved with the Derby graciously lend us their finest racehorses, though the vast majority of the horses you will ride will be the ordinary working horses of the steppe, used for herding, transport etc.
Over 1,500 Mongolian horses will be apart of the derby with each horse being catalogued and checked thoroughly before being allowed to join the race. They’re vetted before the riders take them on their less than 40km run and they are scrutinised again after completing the leg with riders not being allowed to continue until the horse is given the all clear.
The entry fee for the race itself is £11,375 (or 13,300 CHF). No small undertaking to say the least! But what's included?
25 race horses, three training horses and a handful of spare horses in case of the unexpected.
Around 250 Mongolian herders to prepare and deliver the above horses, herd them in to order and keep them grazed and watered during the race.
29 Mongolian families to feed, water, and protect the athletes from the cold at night.
A specialist medical response team on call for emergencies.
International & local equine vets to ensure the welfare of the horses and administer the vet inspections at each horse station.
Race management crew to ensure the smooth running of the race for all riders including the Ulaanbaatar operations room and UK team at The Adventurists HQ in the UK.
One day of technical training and rule explanation in Ulaanbaatar and two days of horsemanship & navigation training
A team of drivers and interpreters to transport competitors.
A one-of-a-kind custom saddle designed to fit the horses and stand up to the intensity of the race.
My very own rider race page with satellite tracking so my friends, family, and international fan base can follow along.
Press team back in the UK working to share a daily race report & commentary sent from the field together with images from the official race photographer dispatched daily from the racecourse.
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