The skills instilled by hunting experience came to the fore in the inaugural Gaucho Derby – a 10-day, 500km “race” across the wilds of Patagonia run by the founders of the Mongol Derby.
Not only is the winner, Marie Griffis, heavily involved with the Big Sky Hounds in Montana, USA, but all the three British riders who finished in the top 10 of the 23 starters have strong connections to hunting.
Clare King, who was second, hunts with the VWH and has twice won the Old Berks hunt race on the ex-racehorse Ravens Brook. And joint sixth – although actually first across the finishing line – were Ledbury joint-master Louise Daly and Laura Redvers, wife of Louise’s joint-master David.
“It was a serious adventure,” said Clare, who has so far raised £8,000 of her £10,000 target for the Children’s Cancer and Leukemia Group.
“Was it fun? Absolutely, in retrospect! Scrambling up steep mountains, getting stuck in bogs and being wet, cold and lost in the middle of nowhere wasn’t exactly fun at the time, but it all made for a real adventure. The horses, scenery and great bunch of riders were fantastic, and wouldn’t we all just love to be a real Gaucho!
“Patagonia is one of the most remote and uninhabited places on earth, but the mountains were both brutal and beautiful in equal measure. The navigation was tough and having a pack horse to contend with added an extra dimension. The Criollo cross horses were fantastic. While perhaps not flashy or particularly fast, they were foot-sure and knew the dangers at times when we didn’t. Deathly bogs were our main fear and there were several very hairy moments. The terrain we asked these horses to cross was challenging – up and down near vertical slopes and traversing scree slopes with huge drops below. Forests were seemingly impenetrable at times. We often put our safety in their hands and they didn’t let us down.”
Louise said: “We were probably 1,000/1 even to finish the race, but we were proud to prove to everybody, and to ourselves, that if you throw us anything, we’ll get through it.
“Hunting people did fantastically well out there; we’re used to being in the saddle for long periods in all weathers.”
Louise and Laura, who were fundraising for the Midlands Air Ambulance, got to the finish line about five hours ahead of the rest of the competitors, but the delay to the race caused by a dramatic and unexpected snowstorm early on meant that the contest was determined by accumulative times over the stages, rather than a straight race to the finish.
Local gauchos helped guide riders to safe passage and an emergency shelter was created in a forest, with some riders, most of whom rejoined the race later, airlifted out as a precaution. Another keen British hunting man, Rob Skinner, was taken to hospital after being kicked in the face when his horse got stuck in a bog, but he returned to the action and finished in the “adventure” category of the race.
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The pair, who have a combined age of 44, trailhunted together for years before retiring to enjoy their twilight years
“Mentally it was harder than anticipated, but physically we were ok – I think the Mongol Derby is more physical. We coped with the riding bit very well,” said Louise.
“We were only allowed to take 10kg of kit with us, and I suspect next year they will change that.
“We made fantastic friends – we’ll have to get them all to come to a Ledbury hunt ball at some point.”
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