Des­ti­na­tion: MON­GO­LIA

Practical Horseman - - Practical Tips & Talk -

Set­ting My Sights on The Mon­gol Derby

This sum­mer I’ll be com­pet­ing in the Mon­gol Derby, which is touted as the long­est and tough­est horse race in the world.

Come Aug. 1, I’ll fly some 6,500 miles from Wash­ing­ton, D.C., to the na­tion that lies be­tween Rus­sia and China and is known for vast rugged ex­panses and a no­madic cul­ture. I’ll have three days of pre-race train­ing. Then on Aug. 8 the 600-mile ad­ven­ture will be­gin.

I was in­tro­duced to the Mon­gol Derby in 2013 through a first­hand ac­count by Amer­i­can cow­boy Will Grant in Out­side mag­a­zine. Cap­ti­vated, I scoured the In­ter­net for more about the race, which loosely fol­lows the route cre­ated by Genghis Khan in 1224 to carry rid­ers whose mis­sion was to de­liver in­for­ma­tion and fa­cil­i­tate com­mu­ni­ca­tion through­out what would be­come the largest con­tigu­ous em­pire in his­tory. Ev­ery year, I fol­lowed the race. But it wasn’t un­til last sum­mer, when some­one I’d met—Ten­nessean Les­lie Wylie from the web­site Event­ing Na­tion—was a com­peti­tor, that it oc­curred to me maybe I could be one, too.

I was sur­prised when less than a week af­ter sub­mit­ting my ap­pli­ca­tion I had an in­ter­view with Erik Cooper, a for­mer Mon­gol Derby com­peti­tor and cur­rent sup­port­crew mem­ber. He was con­vinced I was a shoo-in. Truth be told, I wasn’t as sure. As an even­ter, I have zero en­durance-rid­ing ex­pe­ri­ence and the most time I’ve ever spent in the sad­dle in one day was for six hours on a horse trek in Ire­land. But I’ve been a life­long horse­woman and have rid­den my fair share of head­strong horses. I grew up rid­ing at a small train­ing and breed­ing farm in Mas­sachusetts, where I helped to sad­dle-break ba­bies and re­train prob­lem horses—among them my own Ara­bian mare, who was wildly inap­pro­pri­ate as a child’s horse. She put me in a wheel­chair with a bro­ken leg and arm three days be­fore the start of sev­enth grade. More im­por­tantly, she taught me how to sit a buck and what it means to have de­ter­mi­na­tion and pa­tience.

I hope those traits will serve me well dur­ing the Mon­gol Derby as I ride 25 dif­fer­ent semi-wild horses— on loan from lo­cal herders—for roughly 25 miles apiece as I cover each day’s route of be­tween 75 and 100 miles. Along with 39 other in­ter­na­tional com­peti­tors, I’ll be rac­ing for seven to 10 days. I know I will be

tested in many ways. Even so, I can’t think of a bet­ter way to pur­sue my three pas­sions: horses, travel and ex­plor­ing the out­doors. At age 30, I’ve al­ready hiked the Alps while study­ing in Europe and made a solo seven-week jour­ney across the United States to ex­pe­ri­ence all that the coun­try’s Na­tional Parks have to of­fer. Now I’m ea­ger to im­merse my­self in one of the last sur­viv­ing no­madic cul­tures on the planet—one with a pro­found con­nec­tion to and de­pen­dence on the horse.

As they did in the 13th cen­tury, mod­ern-day Mon­go­lians rely on horses for their liveli­hood, us­ing them for travel, herd­ing, hunt­ing and rac­ing. Small in stature but sturdy and re­silient, Mon­gol horses are said to have re­mained largely un­changed since Genghis Khan’s time. They live off the land in huge feral herds in harsh con­di­tions year-round. Rid­den in­fre­quently, they be­come nearly wild and must be caught and bro­ken each time they are to wear a sad­dle.

What­ever chal­lenges the horses present to their rid­ers in the Mon­gol Derby, their wel­fare is paramount. Each one must pass a vet check be­fore a rider can move on, and time penal­ties will be im­posed when a horse has an el­e­vated heart rate, shows signs of lame­ness, is over­rid­den or on course be­yond the pre­scribed time for each phase of the race. A rider who in­curs suf­fi­cient penal­ties will be pulled from the derby. In ad­di­tion, all rid­ers must com­ply with a weight limit and may carry only 11 pounds of gear so the horses aren’t over­taxed.

I’m in­cred­i­bly grate­ful that Prac­ti­cal Horse­man’s par­ent com­pany and my em­ployer, Ac­tive In­ter­est Me­dia, has gen­er­ously paid the $12,995 en­try fee, which helps sup­port both the Mon­go­lian fam­i­lies who help make the race pos­si­ble and the of­fi­cial race char­ity, Cool Earth, which works in part­ner­ship with in­dige­nous com­mu­ni­ties to end rain-for­est destruc­tion.

Tra­di­tion­ally, only half of those who start the Mon­gol Derby fin­ish. So there are lots of things for me to con­sider as I get ready—my phys­i­cal fitness, the cloth­ing I’ll wear and the equip­ment I’ll pack to name just a few. In the com­ing months, I’ll be shar­ing my ex­pe­ri­ences as I pre­pare for and par­tic­i­pate in this once-in-a-life­time ad­ven­ture. Fol­low my progress here in Tips & Talk as well as at www.Prac­ti­calHorse­ and www.JPMon­ — Jo­ce­lyn Pierce, Prac­ti­cal Horse­man As­so­ciate Editor

Prac As­so­ciate Editor Jo­ce­lyn Pierce, who com­petes her home­bred mare in lower-level event­ing, will be try­ing her hand at en­durance at the Mon­gol Derby in Au­gust.

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