Riders prepare for Mongol Derby: toughest horserace in the world

  • This summer 26 riders will tackle the Mongol Derby — dubbed the longest and toughest horserace in the world.

    The race, which runs for the first time this year, is over 1,000km of wilderness in Mongolia and is billed as the “biggest, baddest equine affair on the planet”.

    “It’s dangerous, it’s unsupported and you could die,” warn Bristol-based organisers The Adventurists on the race’s website, www.mongolderby.theadventurists.com.

    Twelve of the 26 riders are British, while other competitors come from Australia, New Zealand, South Africa, Canada, Denmark, America and Spain.

    “We had about 100 applications and selected just 26,” said a spokesman for The Adventurists. “We have polo players, endurance riders, eventers, amateur point-to-point jockeys and more. They are all experienced riders.”

    Former champion jockey Richard Dunwoody will be hosting a pre-race training session for riders on 20-21 August before taking part himself. He will only have finished his previous challenge — walking 1,000 miles in 1,000 hours — a month earlier, as he is due to complete his walk on 10 July.

    Richard told H&H: “You ride 1,000km, stopping at 25 stations, ride 25 different horses, picked on a first-come, first-served basis. I’m more daunted about that than I was about walking 1,000 miles. It is another massive sleep deprivation exercise.

    “I have about two to three weeks between finishing the walk and going to Mongolia and will have to lie in a darkened room for a while!”

    Among the other riders taking part in the race is former international pony dressage rider, Katy Willings. Katy, 26, took part in the Adventurists “Rickshaw Run” in January and it was then that she decided to apply for the Derby.

    “I was attracted to the extreme physical challenge it represented,” said Katy. “And to have the chance to experience one of the last truly nomadic cultures — riding across a true wilderness with no permanent human traces — made the whole thing irresistible.”

    Horse & Hound will be following Katy’s progress as she trains for this extreme adventure, so log on to Horseandhound.co.uk/mongolderby for regular updates.

    The idea of the race was thought of about four years ago by The Adventurists, who also run the Mongol Rally.

    “We do a lot of work in Mongolia, and because the horse is sacred over there we decided to try a horse race,” said the spokesman. “It is based on Genghis Khaan’s ancient postal system — where riders crossed Mongolia to Eastern Europe in about 14 days changing horses at urtuus, horse stations, along the way. It’s a massive logistical challenge.”

    The race starts on 22 August at the ancient capital of the Mongol empire Kharkhorin. The riders will swap horses every 40km at urtuus and more than 700 Mongolian horses will be used during the race. The semi-wild Mongolian horses stand at 12-14hh.

    Each competitor is given a race-map with the locations of each urtuu, but are essentially on their own. Throughout the race riders will stay with nomadic families, sleeping in tents and eating mutton and drinking the traditional fermented mares milk.

    “This will be no ordinary horse race. The Mongol Derby is not a test of the horse’s speed, but the rider’s skill, endurance and the toughness of the skin between their legs,” say the Adventurists.

    The race costs $4,450 (£2,800) to enter and competitors must raise a further £1,000 for charity Mercy Corps, which supports rural communities in Mongolia.

    The closing ceremony is planned for 5 September, but because this is the inaugural race, organizers do not how long riders will take.

    “We’re allowing two weeks for the slowest riders, but are expecting the fastest ones to complete in about five days — it just depends how much the riders are in for the race or the adventure,” added the spokesman.

    Visit the Mongol Derby website

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