Road to the Mongol Derby: Why the Derby?

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A Mongol Derby horse and rider take a breather | The Adventurists

 

By Kelsey Riley

TDN International Editor Kelsey Riley will be riding in the Mongol Derby in August 2018, and will be regularly blogging about her preparations and ultimately, her 1000-kilometer, 10-day ride across Outer Mongolia. Every rider chooses a charity for which they raise money as part of the process. Kelsey has chosen the Thoroughbred Retirement Foundation’s Second Chances Program at the Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington, KY. To learn more about Blackburn, click here.

If, after wrestling with a wayward 2-year-old Thoroughbred that has bolted on you for a mile, you finally pull him up–with legs, arms and back screaming in pain–and the first thought to cross your mind is, ‘that was a great workout!’…you may be meant for the Mongol Derby.

I don’t know what exactly possesses around 40 riders from across the world each year to take up the challenge of riding half-broke horses across the outer Mongolian steppe for 1000 kilometres (4,960 furlongs), but I have a much better idea after learning recently about the 42 riders from 13 different countries that I’ll be saddling up (and likely, on a few occasions crashing down) with come August.

Reasons for taking on the world’s longest and toughest horse race?

One American is riding in memory of his late wife and her horse-loving and adventurous spirit (amazing!); three past competitors are returning looking to improve on their previous finishes (or not finishes!); and one Irishman is searching for a wife (has he forgotten there are no showers out there?).

The youngest rider is 19 and the eldest 70 (an Australian rancher, can’t wait to meet that dude!). The U.S. is the most represented country with 14 riders, and Australia is second with 12. New Zealand and South Africa each field three and also represented are Botswana, Canada (hey, that’s me!), Ireland, Italy, the Netherlands, Pakistan, Portugal, the UK and Uruguay. Professions range from professional riders to your more office-bound folk like myself. There are also a few nurses and paramedics (I will make fast friends with these!), two safari operators (maybe they’ll have some tips on how to handle those wild dogs?), a translator (sadly, not in Mongolian), an accountant, a real estate agent and a lawyer–not too sure how those skills will translate to the steppe! To be fair, as a journalist I’ll be totally useless in any kind of predicament, except for documenting it so we can laugh about it later.

Click below for Kelsey’s GoPro Gallop video:

All 42 riders possess a wicked sense of adventure and relish the chance to take on a challenge that a very small percentage of the world’s population could actually begin (let alone finish-only about half the riders who start each year reach the finish line). And, most importantly, many riders, like me, are riding for charity. I am taking this as an opportunity to raise awareness for Thoroughbred racehorse aftercare, and the many jobs racehorses are suitable for once their racing careers are over. Specifically, I’m raising money for the Second Chances Program at the Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington, where minimum security inmates care for off-track Thoroughbreds. Not only does the program provide a respite and a life after racing for the Thoroughbreds, but it gives back to the local community by providing inmates with a renewed sense of responsibility and skill set that they can take with them when they leave the prison. In fact, the program is so highly regarded that when 43 abandoned and emaciated horses were rescued from a Mercer County farm in the summer of 2016, some of the worst cases went to Blackburn for their rehabilitation.

The wonderful folks at The Adventurists, the organization that puts on the Derby, have been great at sending out plenty of guides and tips on preparing for the rigors of the Derby. The latest touched on the three key areas of training: physical, mental and health.

Physical is pretty self explanatory: riding and hitting the gym/running as much as possible.

Health-wise, it is about preparing for how your body may react to the Mongolian diet. I’m sure that Sue Finley, especially, will be very keen to join me after this latest update on what we’ll eat: “goat garnished with sheep or sheep garnished with goat, served on a base of white flour, either in noodle or pastry form, with a good dollop of dairy on the side.” As such, they suggest, don’t treat your body like a temple while training (won’t have a problem there–hello beer and pizza!): there are no vegan, vegetarian or gluten-free menus out there!

Finally, mental: They say your body can handle almost anything; it’s your mind you have to convince. I was told by one former Derby finisher that, barring serious injury, if you can be ok with being uncomfortable, you’ll finish the race. To prepare for that might mean adding extra mental challenges to training sessions, or making a rule of never skipping a session due to inclement weather. Seeing as how I’ve spent every morning of the last two months galloping racehorses in subzero temperatures, some days with ice pelting my face, I feel like I’ve started out decently in this realm. Stay tuned.

 

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