Katy Willings’ Mongal Derby blog: new challenge needed

  • Favourite horses and scary moments

    “Can you sit down yet?”

    Yes. As previously mentioned one thigh took a battering. Muscularly I was in good shape before the race and did not find it physically taxing, except that I was tired from dehydration or lack of sleep at times. I’ll have a few scars on that thigh, but I think I will covet them.

    “Would you do it again?”

    In a heartbeat, yes. If only! And now that it has been ridden and survived by the pioneers, myself among them, I think it will be more of a race next year. I know exactly what I would have done differently, what was useful, what was dead weight. Unless the bonus fairy is particularly kind to me I won’t be going next year, so, for the benefit on any would-be Derbyists, here are my top tips for next year’s big adventure…

    You don’t need a tent, or food. Mongolians are the most generous, hospitable people on earth. As long as you are open minded about things like privacy and refrigeration of dairy produce, you can spend a comfortable night in the company of total strangers, trying to explain with the limited vocabulary of your phrasebook what on earth you are doing. And rebuff the inevitable offers of marriage.

    You will be cold. I realised this almost as soon as we arrived at the start line. I ended up taking my leather jacket, packed as an afterthought, across Mongolia, strapped to my saddle, and as soon as it was dark, I wore it. It still has a curd ‘biscuit’ which I never could stomach after one bite, perfectly preserved in the top pocket. Take something warm.

    Even if you wake up cold, don’t stand too close to the fire. Sleeping bags are flammable. And expensive. Mine is now held together with duct tape, and missing a fair amount of its precious down, after a misguided attempt to warm myself without getting out of the bag.

    Don’t be shy! The Mongolians love a sing-song and a party. Annelie, Dave and I spent a lovely evening in the company of two Mongolians who were involved in the race, who camped with us. We bonded over a good singalong, them singing about horses, me singing about people. The next morning, we unzipped our tents to discover the horses had got away overnight, despite having three of their legs tied together. Our new Mongolian friends could not have been more obliging though — Ganbold had been a jockey, and took one of our saddle pads and disappeared over the horizon, reappearing 20min later, mounted on one horse and leading the other two, balanced perfectly on the saddle pad.

    I used to think I was a horsewoman, but now I’m not so sure… We saw them again at the next ger after a couple of hours’ riding in a persistent drizzle, at which point Unen Buren, the other member of my audience, gave me his coat. Work on a few numbers — it pays dividends.

    “Now what are you going to do?!”

    This is the question I dread most of all, as I don’t have an answer yet. I am in the doldrums, feeling very anti-climactic. This has been my Year of Living Dangerously, and I am exceedingly grateful to have had the chance to Live it.

    I might be allowed out to a few horse shows on Tucker if I play my cards right with the Mothership, and there is talk of a few days’ hunting with the team Polo chaps and chappesses. If you have any other off-piste challenges you would like me to guinea-pig, I am all ears.


    Katy xx

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