Organisers of the Mongol Derby — dubbed the “longest, toughest horserace in the world” — have hit back at claims the event will be an equine welfare disaster.
An international row has erupted after “equestrian explorers” the Long Riders’ Guild publicly criticised the event which starts next month.
On 22 August, 25 experienced riders from around the world will race 700 12-14hh horses over 1,000km of wilderness in Mongolia. They will swap horses every 40km in a race that will take two weeks.
The Long Riders’ Guild — led by US-based CuChullaine and Basha O’Reilly — is leading an international boycott of what it claims is “the most potentially damaging equestrian event ever attempted”.
Discussion of the race is rife on internet forums and journalists across the Atlantic are keenly following the story.
Mr O’Reilly told H&H concerns centred on “mounting heavy foreigners on undersized horses”, a lack of back-up and veterinary care and that the joint organisers, The Adventurists, are collecting money from “rich, bored tourists looking for adventure”.
His fellow Guild member Ian Robinson said Mongolian herdsmen were likely to offer riders “their worst, oldest and skinniest horses” who are at risk of “dropping down dead”.
The Guild also claims veterinary organisation Vet Net is not involved — contrary to organisers’ statements.
Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent of The Adventurists said horse welfare is paramount.
“The horses are being put forward by owners and breeders, will be checked by horse trainers and then vets before they can compete,” she said.
“We have 16 vets for the race and a network of horse trainers and breeders at each station. There will be a back-up team of vehicles and a helicopter.
“Riders are all fit and weigh less than 85kg, all are equipped with a GPS and will be using top-quality treeless saddles from the UK.”
She added that The Adventurists have been in communication with Vet Net in Mongolia since November.
Co-organiser in Mongolia Baigal Gongor said the derby is supported by horse breeders and horse racing organisations in his country.
“Oyubaatar, a nationally known horse breeder, is in charge of the route and liaising with local governments and herders — along with his two assistants, the heads of two of Mongolia’s horseracing associations,” she said.
The head of the veterinary department of the agriculture ministry will appoint local vets, and will be joined by a Scottish vet, she added.
Mongolians take great pride in their horses, she said, and “would never let an unsuitable horse” join the race.
The Long Riders’ Guild has posted open letters to organisations and individuals including Richard Dunwoody, who was due to take part in the race, Roly Owers, chief executive of World Horse Welfare and International Equestrian Federation (FEI) president Princess Haya.
It has also mounted a petition, which now has more than 1,400 signatures from 26 countries, to the president of Mongolia, Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, and Princess Haya asking them to stop the race.
Roly Owers said enquiries the charity has made to date show no grounds for concern.
Richard Dunwoody, who is running pre-race training and assessment with the riders, said he was delighted to be involved in an “amazing adventure”.
An FEI spokesman said the Mongol Derby is not run under its rules, so has not been investigated.
At the time of going to press, H&H could not reach Vet Net for comment.
This article was first published in Horse & Hound (23 July, ’09)