Wednesday, February 07, 2018

Mongolia: 2017 Gobi Gallop - Report From the Field

Horsetrekmongolia.com

A brief look at some of the extreme adventure this year  as we rode the wilds


The 5th Annual Gobi Gallop (the longest annual charity horseback ride on the planet!) has been successfully completed! Eight riders from five countries spent 10 days in the saddle to traverse 705.5 kilometers of Mongolian wilderness in support of Veloo Foundation’s Children of the Peak Sanctuary Project. A heartier and more determined group you would be hard pressed to find and surviving the many challenges of the ride, they arrived at the end of 705.5 kilometers a tight knit group of friends, thrilled to have experienced the beauty and challenge of this epic ride and ecstatic to have overcome all the difficulties that this year’s Gobi Gallop offered.
 
 While the ride itself always presents challenges just from the fact that it is the longest annual charity horseback ride on the planet, this year the riders and crew faced grass fires, drought, rider illness, swarms of insects and the occasional herd of stampeding camels!  We survived a very quick acting and nasty virus ran which its course through the riders leaving almost all of the riders for the count and in the bus hooked up to IV fluids and receiving anti vomit and anti diarrhea medication injections. Thanks to the quick acting and professional conduct of the Hero of the Gobi Gallop, Dr. Sukhbaataar, along on the ride as medical support, everyone made a speedy recovery and most people only missed a few hours in the saddle as the result of this illness. Fortunately, the riders are all extremely tough individuals devoted to the ride and so the illness had little effect on the ride schedule.
 
The challenges for the riders on The Gobi Gallop are oftenexceeded by the challenges faced by the horses and is one of the reasons why this particular ride was named “In Celebration of the Spirit Mongolian Horse” and celebrated the absolutely amazing endurance that these horses have. This year we had 6 horses who have don every Gobi Gallop since inception! Horse Trek Mongolia owners Baagii and Saraa are very particular about the health and welfare of their animals and bring along 2 horses for each rider on the gallop so as to allow a rest day for each horse every other day. In addition, in the middle there is a built in rest day for the horses in the programme. In the past this has been a proven method for ensuring the animals arrive at the end of the 700-kilometre journey tired but in sound condition.  Perhaps the most pressing and disturbing issue encountered on this ride was the devastation from drought out in the countryside.  The route for the Gobi Gallop this year was chosen specifically with the ongoing drought in mind and traversed miles and miles of what should have been lush green valley but was, in fact, dry, burnt, and wasted grass. This year, with the lack of food out on the steppe it was a real challenge for Horse Trek Mongolia to maintain the strength and safety of the animals and a number of animals were trucked home and new horses added to the herd. 
 
Separate from the difficulties the ride included, as always, a number of breathtaking highlights, stunning scenery and unbelievable events.  We had our first sheep try to join our free ranging spare horses and were treated to a wild Mongolian bucking bronc show when the herder responsible for the sheep came to collect him. We met dozens of locals coming out to chat and learn about our undertaking and one of our riders, and one of our guides, had the chance to wrestle a local country boy and share a bit of fun – the local country boy outclassed both our rider and our guide but all in the name of fun.  We rode past an “election ger” set up in the middle of the countryside for all the far-flung locals to come vote at in the upcoming Presidential Election.. We found lizards and impressive curling big horn sheep skulls in the desert as well as  having the eerie honor of riding past the site of an air burial – a still occasionally-practiced death rite of leaving a loved one on the mountain top rather than burying them after death. There was a spectacular moonlit ride looking for camp well after the sun had gone down ( don’t worry – we found it!) and a 4:30 in the morning start in horrendously smokey conditions to get the horses to some place where there was feed so they could have a long break mid day and build up some calories for the day.  We rode for miles and miles across fields full of holes and fluttering with near biblical quantities of locusts – well, grasshoppers really, but locusts does sound much more dramatic! There were songs ( lots and lots of songs!) and tired baby horses resting at each stop to begin with but then getting stronger each day as the ride went along and rousing choruses of “ Ole Ole Ole” upon spotting that most welcome of all sights – the yellow bus that marked the campsite in the evening .
 
All the riders spent time in the “Mongolian Comfort Saddle”, a traditional Mongolian wooden saddle made especially for the Gobi Gallop, to experience the feeling of really riding Mongolia. Some liked it so much that they posted 104 and 268 kilometers in the saddle respectively
 
Predictably, along with the holes there were  falls and horses sitting down because their girth was too tight. Guides and riders alike were off ( and then back on!) for the first 5 or 6 days as horses and riders  settled into the rhythm and pace of this longest of all rides.  As in previous years, we had no serious injuries from falls – mostly just bumps and bruises and sometimes not even that.
 
The arrival at our final camp, back at Saraa’s Ger Camp, home of Horse Trek Mongolia is always special as we are met by the some of the children and staff of the Children of the Peak Sanctuary Kindergarten and treated to a gorgeous lunch, cold beer and a wonderful concert by the children.  It is very poignant to, exhausted and filthy but deliriously happy at having finished, once again see the children you have just ridden the equivilant distance to riding across Germany for and know that on top of the amazing achievement you have just completed, you truly have made a difference  one child at a time.
 
 This year we were lucky enough to have the talented  Bree Von Bradsky along to film the goings-on with an eye to making a documentary.  Thanks to her (and her wonderful drone!)  we were able to see the huge herd of camels across the river and behind the trees across from campsite, followed  antelope along ridgelines and had the chance to truly see the immensity of the landscape we traversed. It is the only way to try and put the epic nature of the ride through this vast country in perspective.  The short film that Bree magically produced from her office in the steppe ( and in the back of the car) for the Gala is amazing and shown here above. With such talent and eye for the human aspect of the event, I  for one, can hardly wait for the finished documentary that should be available for screening  late in September.
 
The culminating event for the Gobi Gallop is the Gobi Gallop Gala – a star studded  high flying dinner, dance and charity auction to welcome home the riders and raise money for the Children of the Peak Sanctuary – thanks to a tremendous flotilla of sponsors was, once again this year, a huge success. This year, in addition to local supporters, business leaders and our corporate sponsors,  the gala was also attended by the family of three riders who made the trips from America, Canada and New Zealand to be part of the team welcoming home their loved ones.  What a wonderful welcome for the riders and a great celebration of a hard earned, 705.5 kilometer long victory!
 
 Already,  plans are in the works for Gobi Gallop 2018 which is looking to be (if it’s possible!) even more arduous as we return to Adventure Across the Gobi and re experience the roots of the Gobi Gallop as we  cross at least 700 kilometers of  the fifth largest desert on the planet. Only 10 spots are available – I wonder who will be the lucky ones who get to go?  I know I’ll be there.  Will you?

To sign up for the June 4-16 Gobi Gallop, see:
http://www.horsetrekmongolia.com/gobi-gallop-2018--application.html

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