(photos by Charles Van Wyck, The Adventurists. Blue text in quotes from National Geographic , August 6, 2014, by Ashleigh N. DeLuca)
BE STILL MY HEART………….Hello Genghis Khan, Mongolia’s Wild Horses, Centuries Old Postal Run, and a test to the body and spirit of 21st Century Riders. On a wing and a hoof and a prayer, $14,000 entry fee, you too (if you pass muster) can sign on……………
In 2009, a UK group called The Adventurists brought back, to life and contest, the pony express run of 600 miles that Genghis Khan began in the 1200’s. “At the postal route’s zenith, a letter could cross from Kharkhorin in the east to the Caspian Sea on the far western edge of the empire, a distance of some 4,225 miles (6,800 kilometers), in two weeks (an average of about 300 miles, or 480 kilometers, a day.”
The Soviets, in efforts to erace Genghis Khan from history and memory, stopped the mail carriers in 1949. “Further complicating the challenge, the widely varied Mongolian landscape is difficult to prepare for: high passes, wooded hills, river crossings, wetlands and floodplains, sandy semiarid dunes, rolling hills, and dry riverbeds, as well as the famous wide-open grasslands. Of course, all of this terrain is navigated while adjusting to the erratic temperaments of a new semiwild horse every 25 miles.”
“But more riders are signing up every year. Last year, (photo, Richard Dunwoody, the Adventurists)
Prior-Palmer (pictured above), a 19-year-old British rider, won the race in seven days, making her the first female rider to win the Mongol Derby. This year’s field includes riders from 16 countries, including Germany, Switzerland, Australia, the U.S., the U.K., Iceland, China, and Ireland.
Rose Sandler, a 32-year-old biochemical engineer from Pipersville, Virginia, has been preparing for the past four months. She was a last-minute addition to the competition when a place opened up unexpectedly. “I’ve been told that it breaks you down to the basics of human existence,” she says.”
30 horses are used along the trail by each one of the 40 plus riders who sign up. This year over a thousand horses were made ready. They are stationed along the trails with Mongol herders, to whom horses are a profound cultural presence. They are well-paid for their skills during the races.
“High Asia is where horses were first saddled and tamed and ridden, so it’s one of the oldest equestrian cultures, and they really admire and respect the horse in a kind of spiritual way,” Willings explains. “Every ger, the herders’ portable yurt-like homes, has ropes made from the tail hairs of its owner’s favorite horses, and the countryside is littered with rock cairns called ovoos where herders have placed tails or skulls of particularly beloved horses.”
“Herders write songs for their horses and serenade them as they watch over them or when they are milking their mares. The national drink of Mongolia is fermented mare’s milk, also known as airag. Besides riding for the title of the 2014 winner of the Mongol Derby, the winner also gets the honor of drinking the first bowl of airag.”
(photo credit, Quentin Moreau, in National Geographic)
“….the riders are weighed wearing their riding clothes, an empty pack, and an empty water container, while holding their Mongolian saddle and bridle; in total they cannot weigh more than 187 pounds (85 kilograms). They are allowed an additional 11 pounds (5 kilograms) in their packs after being weighed.”
The horses remain part wild, newly caught, tamed barely enough to be ridden if you’re strong of limb and heart. Riders are thrown often, riders break bone and rip flesh, some sustain punctured lungs, broken pelvises, torn ligaments.
This year’s winner, Sam (Samantha) Jones, Australian who’s been riding since her teens.
SAM JONES MAKES THE FINISH.
“I got lost several times, I was quite good at that but I always found my way back. I never got really sick, there were times I thought i might vomit, & there were times I thought i might poop my pants, but that’s what you get when you do something as extreme as this, but I never got really sick. I had my share of aches and pains but my body got better and better as i went along & I adapted and yeah, I could happily keep riding. Give me another horse and I’ll go.
“The 40 year old mining operator chose to ride alone for most of the race. She took the gamble of camping out past HS26 yesterday evening, with only 45 minutes riding time left in the day; despite the knowledge that bad weather was forecast and a lost horse would certainly cost her the race. It was bold decisions that earned her victory as much as speedy riding and good navigation skills.” (From The Adventurists)