Ad­ven­tures on the Mon­go­lian steppe

Horowhenua Chronicle - - NEWS - By JANINE BAALBERGEN

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.

TRUDI THOMAS-MOR­TON

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.

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