Saturday, July 08, 2017

The Mongol Derby: A Ride of a Lifetime - Full Story

July 6 2017

Written by Judy Heinrich

Photos submitted

Endurance competitors cover 50 to 100 miles in a single day on a single horse, within allotted times of 12 to 24 hours, depending on distance. There are several mandatory vet checks during rides, to ensure horses are fit to continue and give both rider and horse an hour or so to rest, re-hydrate and eat. Out on the trail, competitors encounter all kinds of terrain in whatever conditions the weather gods decree, from freezing cold to blistering heat, pouring rain and thunderstorms, or some combination. And if they’re lucky, cloudless skies to light the dead-of-night trails. For riders who can’t get enough, there are “Pioneer Rides,” with multiple days in a row of endurance riding for combined distances of at least 150 miles.

It’s no wonder endurance riding is considered an extreme sport. But for Marianne Williams of Tryon, your typical endurance rides just aren’t extreme enough. In August she’ll be competing in the Mongol Derby, deemed the world’s longest and toughest horse race by the Guinness Book of Records. It’s in Mongolia, of course, a landlocked sovereign state in East Asia that’s bordered by China to the south and Russia to the north. The Derby is 1,000 kilometers long – that’s 621 miles – and riders have 10 days to complete it, preceded by three days for navigation and survival training, and meeting the horses.

Unlike typical endurance races for which courses are well marked by friendly florescent ribbons, the Derby course isn’t marked at all. In fact each year’s course is kept secret until right before launch. But you can be sure the riders will experience every type of Mongolian terrain, from high passes, open valleys, wooded hills and river crossings to wetlands, floodplains, sandy semi-arid dunes and, of course, “open Steppe” – the expansive grasslands that cover most of the country.

And forget the trusting longtime bonds that endurance riders invariably have with their horses: Mongol Derby riders are on half-wild Mongolian horses that they switch out every 25 miles. Fresh horses are provided at 25 stations along the way, with choice of horse on a first come-first served basis. So if you’re in the back of the pack, you choose from the horses nobody else wanted...

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