Road To The Mongol Derby: Getting The Trip


Mongolian horses await their riders | The Adventurists


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.

Hello, followers of my awesome, crazy Mongol Derby adventure. Since I brought you my last blog about battling Lexington's arctic conditions to get in some riding time, I've been coming to grips with the fact that in August, I'll be riding 1000 kilometres across Mongolia (on half-broke horses with no showers, stables or course markers, albeit). One thousand, that's a reasonable number to come to grips with. Sure, until your creative mind gets going and you think, 'wouldn't it be fun to convert that to distances applicable to racing?

The Mongol Derby, recognized in 2011 by the Guinness Book of World Records as the world's longest multi-horse race, is 4,960 furlongs. Or 1,000,000 metres. That's 496 Kentucky Derbys. Four hundred thirteen Prix de l'Arc de Triomphes. Three hundred twelve Melbourne Cups. Eight hundred thirty three Golden Slippers!

So, as a rider in the Mongol Derby, what do you do to maximize your chances of getting the trip? Fitness, obviously, both in the saddle and out of it. But in extreme conditions like this the race could be won or lost based on what you decide to wear and include in your allotted 11 pounds (5 kgs) of kit, so some valuable clues to avoid the dreaded DNF could be found within one's packing list.

My riding plans were badly hindered earlier this month by the continued deep freeze and frozen tracks in Lexington, so I used the time to start strategizing on what to include in my saddle bag, and on me. Turns out those frozen tracks may have been a calling from the universe for me to get started early, because I could never have imagined researching and buying all this stuff would take so much time.

First, what you wear: past Derby experts insist on minimal seams. Seams=chafing, so absolutely no seams anywhere that will touch the saddle. As you can imagine, 11 pounds of kit doesn't allow for many wardrobe changes, and most Derbyists, from what I gather, change two, three times max over the 10 days allotted to finish the race. Three to four days in the same clothes while riding in the heat and potentially the rain with no access to showers means minimizing sweat and stink is a must! From what I gather merino wool is the best material for this, and I'm sure by August I'll be able to provide a definitive answer, as in various fits of panic I have ordered just about every merino wool product that is sold on the internet.

One former Derbyist was kind enough to send me her packing list, and what is immediately alarming is the length of the column titled 'medical.' One of the first items, quoted verbatim, is 'Tramadol (to balance pain with losing your mind).' This is immediately followed by 'Other pain killers x 3 types' and 'pain killer gel.' So, I guess the consensus is that riding 4,960 furlongs (1,000,000 metres) is going to be painful? Other packing suggestions include 'wet wipes (these will be your shower)'; 'heavy duty needle and thread, in case of tears to saddle bag or even you'; bedsore bandaids, and cigarettes. The latter is intended as gifts for the Mongolian nomads that help us out along the way, but I feel like there's a chance I may take up the habit myself between my wet wipes showers, doses of Tramadol and bedsore bandaid applications.

Once the aforementioned frozen track epidemic finally lifted in mid February, I made my debut as an exercise rider at the Thoroughbred Center in Lexington with trainer Jimmy Corrigan. Just over two weeks in, I can so far say it's been fabulous: an awesome workout, great fun and no mishaps. Well, no mishaps if you don't include a brief moment hanging from a wall after bailing from a filly known just as 'Redhead.' But I think that's just good old fashioned gymnastics practice, always useful in the name of functional fitness.

The most important part of this crazy adventure is that I am doing it to benefit the wonderful Second Chances Program at the Blackburn Correctional Complex in Lexington. I am thrilled with the fundraising effort thus far: just shy of $8,500 raised in three months. Every little bit really does count, and I can't thank the donors enough (Click here for my fundraising page).

Alright, five months to post time for the Mongol Derby! Topics still to explore in this space include 'how to get hopelessly lost when learning to use your GPS'; 'what happens when you don't shower for 10 days'; and 'Kelsey Riley: No Reservations, Mongolian Food Edition.' Stay tuned!

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