Adventures on the Mongolian steppe
Sleeping under the stars on the Mongolian steppe alone is one of many unforgettable experiences from the Mongol Derby, said Levin equestrian Trudi ThomasMorton.
The 1015km horse-race on semi-wild horses travelling at speed is unique in the world, but as an endurance rider Trudi was more than a match for the gruelling circumstances.
The race needs to be completed in 10 days and due to a break-down of the GPS system race officials used this year the race started a day late and was therefore a day shorter.
“That did put the pressure on,” she said. However, Trudi beat that easily, completing the race in eight days.
An eight-hour bus ride to the starting point, a monument to the Naadam horse, the essence of Mongolia kicked off the trip.
“Everyone has a horse in Mongolia. It is a way of life for them.” Two days of training followed, which included how to use the GPS, a talk about medical issues for both horse and rider.
“The support was incredible. There was a huge international team of veterinarians and medics. There were 28 stations on the route and they were everywhere to check up on us and the horses. At each station the horse gets a check up and its heart rate is taken. It needed to be below 56 beats per minute before they allow you to continue.
“There was food and water at each station too. If the horse’s heart rate isn’t at the required rate in 30 minutes you got a twohour penalty. After three or four such penalties you are out of the race.
“You are supposed to stop riding by 8pm each evening. You can stay at the last station you visit or if there is time to go on, you can find your own place to stay. I managed to find a friendly family on night two who welcomed me into their fold.
“They appeared to be very poor. They had only one horse but several goats and sheep and a 10-year-old child. The Mongolian people were amazing. They couldn’t do enough for us.
“As long as you had food and water for the horse you were allowed to stop and overnight anywhere. But the GPS told the
organisers where you were, so they showed up soon after you stopped to check up on both of us.”
Twice Trudi spend the night out on the open, once on her own, once with another rider.
“The night I had on my own was the best. Also the best night’s sleep. I found an old winter shelter, so the horse could be kept safe and secure. The other night we slept by a river and had to hold onto our horses while we were sleeping.
“The countryside in Mongolia was very varied, from huge open areas to mountain ranges, grasslands, rocky areas. We had to go through mountain passes and had to cross rivers. We had no bolting horses but there were other dangers.
“Some local wildlife like marmots make huge burrows below the surface and a horse can step into one of those, go through and fall. I came off twice. Once because of one of those holes and once, on day two, while going down a hill. At home we do that all the time but these horses put their head down when you do that and over you go.”
The race was full-on, not much opportunity to admire the scenery.
“You had to keep a close eye on your GPS and hold the reins of your horse that is going at speed. We travelled past herders and they all have big dogs to protect their animals from wolves. At once such place the dogs chased us and my horse took off in response. The dogs kept up with us for quite a while. I could hear the panting right behind me for some time.”
At the end of the race, officially 1015kms, but according to her GPS she’d done close to 1070kms, she had a bit of reserve left. One station had been moved on the day and no-one told the riders. But some locals on motorbikes came by and steered them in the right direction.
“I wouldn’t mind doing it again and there are also plans to do a derby in Patagonia. That would be great, but I would need sponsorship for that.”
She said this year the Mongol Derby, which attracts horse riders from all walks of life and from around the world, had 34 riders (out of 44) finish.
“The highest number ever. The Mongol Derby is not a horse race. It is an adventure race. You need to be confident, selfsufficient, have survival skills
‘Everyone has a horse in Mongolia. ’
It is a way of life for them.
and cope with wild horses. The Derby pushed me, but not as far as I can go,” she said.
Afterwards she spend a few days in the mountains with the reindeer herders.
“It took two days of driving in a car and two days of horse riding to get there. I helped a local family move their herd to the autumn pasture.”
Now that she’s home again, she’s at a bit of a loss what to do next.
“I’m back working out at the gym, looking for my next adventure.”
Levin equestrian Trudi Thomas-Morton spends some time with Mongolian reindeer herders.
Trudi Thomas-Morton nears the finish line of this year's Mongol Derby.