7/25/2009 11:40 PM
By BEN BAUGH
The inaugural Mongol Derby is being called the toughest and most physically demanding race in the world.
The derby, arranged by a tour company known as The Adventurists, will feature 26 participants, who will ride semi-wild Mongolian horses 1,000 kilometers across the varied terrain of the Mongolian steppe.
The sojourn should take about two weeks, and participants had to pay an entry fee of $4,450, in addition to the $1,800 that will go toward Mercy Corps, the charity organization who will benefit from the challenge.
Aiken resident Tara Reddy is one of the intrepid horsemen who will be participating in the event. Attempts to reach Reddy via e-mail and phone were not returned. Attempts were also made to contact Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent of The Adventurists, who was with the Mongol Rally hordes in the Czech Republic; and she also did not return e-mails.
The event has drawn concern from several organizations who question the health and safety of the horses who will be participating in the Mongol Derby.
The test of fitness, stamina and endurance will not only push the riders to their limits, but also the horses, who must be in condition for the contest. The start date for the race is Aug. 22. The length between horse stations is 40 kilometers or about 25 miles.
The route will be split into two 500-kilometer legs. Each participant will ride 25 horses during the Mongol Derby. A section on horse care and horse welfare of the horses participating in the event have been posted on the Mongol Derby website, at mongol-derby.theadventurists.com.
Horse welfare is an issue that was raised by the Long Riders Guild, who, according to its website, is the world's first international association of equestrian explorers. The invitation-only organization was founded in 1994. The group has raised questions about whether the organizers of the event are going to be able to provide adequate veterinary care, has suggested that there is absolute disregard for the welfare of the horses involved in the race and has called for an immediate halt to the event.
During an interview conducted by the Long Riders Guild on July 11, Dr. Thomas Juergens, a DVM who is an adviser to VET Net, the Mongolian nongovernmental organization linked to the Mongol Derby, told the guild that he was surprised that VET Net had been linked to the event; a copy of the interview was forwarded to the Aiken Standard by the Long Riders Guild. Juergens also called for the event to be stopped on moral and ethical grounds.
Questions remain as to how adequate the veterinary care will be and how many veterinarians per horse will be available.
Mercy Corps relationship with The Adventurists dates back several years, according to Caitlin Carlson, Mercy Corps communications officer.
"Mercy Corps has been a beneficiary charity for Adventurist events since 2005, initially as the principal charity for the Mongol Rally," said Carlson, in an e-mail dated July 22. "Over the past four years, we have been a beneficiary charity for other Adventurists events such as the Rickshaw Run and the Ruta Del Sol. In 2009 Mercy Corps is one of the three charities for the Mongol Rally and one of two charities for the Winter Rickshaw Run. This year we are also the sole charity for the first ever Mongol Derby. Mercy Corps is not involved in the organization of these events."
The money being raised by the prospective participants for Mercy Corps, which is hoping to raise approximately $41,000 from the Mongol Derby, will go to help a variety of small Mongolian businesses and help stimulate and create job opportunities for poverty-stricken families, who are often nomadic. None of the fundraising money from The Adventurists has been accepted by Mercy Corps at this time, said Carlson.
"Mercy Corps continues to be in regular contact with The Adventurists to ensure that the highest standards of animal welfare are upheld during the Mongol Derby," said Carlson. "We have been assured by the race's organizers that appropriate measures are being taken to safeguard the welfare of horses and participants. We are committed to animal welfare and would not involve ourselves in a fundraiser that compromises this commitment. As far as we can tell, the debate between the Long Riders Guild and The Adventurists amounts to a difference of opinion among long-distance horse riding enthusiasts about animal safety."
The Adventurists say they will provide extensive veterinary care prior to, during and after the race.
"If the horses come to task properly conditioned, are at the proper body weight, are sound of limb and are checked prior to, during and after the races, and they (The Adventurists) institute what they say they are going to do and insure the horses will be properly looked after, the horses' welfare must come first," said Dr. Jeannette Mero, American Endurance Ride Conference veterinary committee chair, who said the AERC would never endorse or sanction an event like the Mongol Derby.
THE AERC has strict rules and regulations riders must follow, and the rides are tightly monitored by veterinarians, said Dr. Keelin Redmond with Avoca Equine LLC.
"Every 10 to 15 miles there are stringent vet checks, and there are repeated vet checks throughout the ride," she said.
It's up to the endurance ride veterinarian to decide if a horse is fit to go on based on its metabolic and mechanical recovery. Pulse rates, hydration, respiration and metabolism level should be checked. After the ride, the horse must still pass final inspection.
Contact Ben Baugh at email@example.com.