top of page
  • Writer's pictureEmmelia Potts

The Mongol Derby Day 7: A Fairly Drama-Free Day

Updated: Jun 4

All Photographs by Kathy Gabrielle, Shari Thompson and Bayarsaihan Ochiroo

The last related blog post from day 6 of the Mongol Derby can be found here.


Horses on a Mongolian Horse line
Horses on the horse line
HS 17 – 18

Day seven started with a newfound hope and enjoyment for the Derby. Peeling back my sleeping bag I saw a plethora of riders stirring ready for the day ahead. The murmurs around the Ger would start tentatively as the early risers made their way out into the fresh morning fog but these soft whispers would eventually turn into laughing and loud chatting around the entire camp. The local herders would shout over the billowing dirt bikes to each other in a bid to collect the horses from the steppe, the ladies of the camp would be clanging their cooking pots around to ensure everyone was well fed for the day and the riders would be rustling away their kit and enthusiastically talking about the day that laid before them. Horses would blissfully nicker to each other, dogs heroically barked and the crew jeeps would start up with a deep roar ready to tear off across the vast wilderness in search of casualties. The camp was an electric place to be in the mornings.


Once 6:30 rolled around, and everyone was watered, fed and packed up, the queue for the horse selection began a tad prematurely. Aware that we had to wait for twenty-five minutes due to riding in late the night before Erin and I did not rush and sauntered around the camp eating some breakfast rice pudding and wandering around taking in the scenery through the morning mist. Everyone else was pensively waiting to pick out their horse numbers. I stood and watched them patiently wait for 7 am, Jessie, Dom and Arthur were also queuing, was there something we were missing? We had 45 minutes until we could ride out.


“Erin? Should we be queuing up for a horse do you think?” I called across the camp nodding at the other riders.

“Maybe” She shrugged with a half smile.

We seemed to have become relaxed overnight now we were with the other riders, and our demeanours had changed from a strange angry, frantic focus to practically joyful, holiday goers. Erin also seemed in much better spirits after having been to the medic for some drugs before breakfast, I had my friend back, and life was good! I too had been in search of painkillers but from fellow riders for some paracetamol, to avoid pestering the medics for what I thought seemed normal pain for riding for over 600km. I felt like a fraud if I went and asked a medic for drugs, I had managed to get through this ride so far without any major falls or injuries where others had not, they deserved the drugs more than me surely. I swallowed a few tables from another rider and decided that the pain would eventually numb itself when it became unbearable, as it had the day before.


7 am arrived and riders started to pick out numbers. I realised early on that this horse station was in utter chaos. As the first couple of horses were presented to their riders it was clear that the horses at this station were feral and seemed to have never been ridden. It then became apparent that the herders at this station were unlike any of the Mongolians we had come across so far. Whereas the previous herders seemed to be cautious about some of the horses and who was riding them, these men did not care, they were here to give you your horse, to observe you and to laugh at your expense. If you managed to get on their spirited equines you would receive a nod of approval. A fall would result in a group of men lying by the horse line laughing and jeering. They understood the rules of not helping any of us tack up or mount and seemed to be relishing the show on offer.


Rider after rider was handed a truly spirited equine, these were the horses we had been warned about. Horses charged around the station on the end of the lead ropes as riders tried to tack up. Horses became loose and flew out into the steppe with herders laughing and jumping on their dirt bikes to catch them. Riders were being buried in every direction by their horses as they tried to mount. It was carnage. All the while the herders were rolling around on the floor laughing. I lost count of how many re-draws there were and how many horses were sent back to the horse line, only for another one to be pulled out as its replacement and to be even more feral than the last.


After the first ten minutes of anarchy, the translator and medic decided that this was going to end up with someone being killed and requested that everyone take turns to mount. Erin and I watched flabbergasted at the whole scenario. For the first time in a while, I became nervous again. Being with other riders was ace, however, watching other people fall off whilst you stand and wait your turn was a far cry from the crack on and don’t think about it approach Erin and I had adopted the past few days. 


The commotion did not calm down, as riders continued to hit the floor repeatedly whilst trying to tame their wild beasts. Reid was thrown from his horse four times and kicked on the way down from the last attempt before managing to get on. I stood watching him in total awe, that man was incredible. He was so focused and driven, that nothing seemed to phase him. After he was on, he did not hang around. He gave us all a swift wave and charged off into the mist.

One by one the riders eventually began to leave the station. The herders continued to laugh and point at horses spinning around, saddles being flung into the air and riders being bolted off in the wrong direction. They were having the time of their lives.


“This is going to be fun,” I said to Erin.

“I’m praying for another couple of goodens” She replied optimistically. Whatever drugs had been administrated they were clearly good!

“I am not sure there are goodens at this camp!” I laughed “They look totally nuts!”


Arthur, Jessie and Dom pulled their numbers, Erin and I followed. The five of us stood and waited for our turn to navigate the insanity that was about to ensue. A smallish dun/ chestnut brindle horse was pulled for me, he had wild eyes and a restless stance but compared to the others I had witnessed this morning he appeared safe(ish). Jessie and Dom’s horses behaved and they walked off to the edge of the camp once on, waiting for the rest of us. Arthur hit the deck a few times with his fiery horse but persevered and took off in the direction of Jessie and Dom.


“Can the herder get on it before I do?” Erin asked.

I turned around on hearing this to see a herder flying a horse-shaped kite beside Erin. As soon as this horse's feet touched the floor he would cat leap back up in the air, over and over again. We all stood and watched this exploding horse with our mouths open. Eventually, he simmered down to small rears instead, with the herder trying to walk him on, the bucking then continued.


“Can the herder get on before I do?” She requested again. The translator chatted to the herder and he laughed. “This horse none of them will get on, he is too wild, and they are scared of him,” The translator said to Erin. “Urmmm I think I will have a redraw then!” She exclaimed. “Great decision! I’m going to start walking, catch us up” I shouted to her as I mounted Thara (Named so because of a TV show I watched as a child with a horse called Thara, this little horse reminded me of one of the horses on this show)


Once I was mounted Thara took off towards his friends on the route ahead. Dom, Jessie and Arthur were slowly wandering off, waiting for Erin and I, looking at their GPS’.

“Which course do you think is best?” Dom asked me. “That way” I pointed gleefully into the distance, trotting past today's team of riders. “Over there for a flat 10km and there is a water hole for a drink, followed by a larger dirt track we can take up into the hills to the horse station. Erin’s just getting another horse she will catch us up in a second”


Sure enough, we turned around and there were three herders on horses with Erin in the middle on a new equine who did not look to be moving forward. The herders had a rope through his bit and were trying to coerce him into leaving the horse station. I turned around and trotted towards Erin as the herders slipped the rope they were holding onto. Once her horse had twigged Thara was nearby he locked on and was keen to stay with us, off we galloped to catch up with the others.


“All okay?” I checked.

“Yes great thanks! Like hell was I going to get on a horse that the herders were too scared to ride!” She laughed “I don’t want to die!”


Once we caught up with the other three riders the horses were all unstoppable, thundering through the light mist and over the damp, earthy ground. The conditions were ideal for covering some serious ground this morning. It was cool with a light breeze and ithe terrain was flat with a water stop not far ahead. We could ride this next 10km quickly in these conditions, and boy did we make good time! As the five of us galloped at full speed across the grasslands, three riders began to come into sight on the horizon. “Riders ahead! We must be on the right course!” I called across the line of galloping horses.



Everyone looked at me and grinned, we were now hunting people down and it was great fun, Arthur's horse especially thought so. He had been chomping at the bit since we left the horse station and was the keenest animal I had seen out on the steppe. No matter how hard Arthur tried to hold this horse to stay with us, it was impossible. Once we could see riders ahead Arthur said his goodbyes, dropped his reins and vanished into the distance on his out-of-control horse. Nothing was stopping him and the remaining four of us laughed as he threw up kickback into our faces. “See you later!” We yelled.  


This leg was fairly uneventful as we navigated the undulating sea of emerald grasses that rippled in the wind like waves upon the ocean. All the horses were well-behaved, and Erin and I were enjoying having Dom to chat to for a change of conversation. “How on Earth are you doing this with such short stirrups” I quizzed Dom. At well over 6 foot tall he was one of the men that had to ride relatively short through the Derby or his legs would have been trailing along the ground.

“Good question, I am used to riding short at home” He replied (he was a point-to-point jockey)“But I must admit this is too short for this distance and my knees are taking a battering.”

After some further digging on the knee pain situation, it materialised that riders had been receiving pain relief injections for their knees at the horse stations.

“Hold up!” I cried to him “People have started having injections for pain already!?”

“Yes of course, we are allowed to have pain medication ” He replied, startled.


I nodded and made a mental note to break my steppe injection virginity ASAP. As we reached the hills the horses began to calm down, the temperature rose rapidly and our conversations turned to who was in the race still. Dom had all the gossip and caught Erin and me up. It turned out there were many people who had ended up in the blood wagon or hospital who were back on the steppe now and riding when they liked rather than having to do the entire distance. I counted my lucky stars that I was not one of them yet. He also told us about the spread of the field. The horse lottery system pilot had levelled out the playing field as expected and was providing a real race at the front. There were only a couple of stations between us and the front runners rather than the five or six stations there had been in previous years. The year was a real race.


As we approached Horse Station 18 the South Africans and Arthur were just leaving, Arthur looked to be on another speedy horse and shouted “hello” over his shoulder as he vanished in a plume of dirt dust.


Little Thara cleared his vet checks with no issues and was a real drama-free horse who allowed me to chat, navigate and enjoy the last leg immensely from a very chilled perspective. It may have been this lovely relaxing ride that made the next horse appear like a total lunatic.


Vet check on the Mongol Derby
Thara at the vet check
HS 18-19

This station was a very quick turnaround. I had a quick hunt for a medic, in search of the holy pain meds injection. However, it was in vain, and I was assured that there were medics at the next couple of stations as they were camped where we would likely be staying for the night.

“It will be fine, lets kick on,” I thought “You have been in pain for days now and are not dead, keep going”.

I scoured the station for the other riders, Jessie was in the distance with Reid who we had caught up and Erin and Dom were already picking out their next horses.

“I would like something fast and wild!” I smiled at the number pot protector as I approached.

She chuckled. “I am afraid I cannot promise that but let's see what we can find!”


Whilst waiting for my next horse, I watched Erin and Dom tack their horses up and pointed out where we needed to aim for once we were riding. This station was in a basin of cumbersome hills that stretched up into the high heavens. Looking at the maps it was like this for a few kilometres and then we had a large expanse of flat land following a river to the next station, a nice easy leg.


“Here is your horse,” The translator said from behind me. I turned to see a beautiful palomino horse with striking electric blue eyes and no tips to his ears. He was stocky, he had no mane, he looked like he would chew the world up and spit it out.

“Wow! He is fabulous!” I exclaimed, “What happened to his ears though?”

“Frostbite” The translator replied, “Some of the horses lose the tips or all of their ears in the winter due to the cold”.

At that point, I knew I had a hardy creature that would easily devour the waves of hills up ahead.

“I hope you’ve got a quick horse!” I called to Erin “I think this one's going to be a pocket rocket!”


I peered back to Erin and Dom, Erin was mounted and relaxing, her horse chewing on the ground beneath them, they were not going to keep up with Frosty and me.


It turned out that Frosty was not a happy, jolly soul. Unless you were touching him to tack up he would snort, samp and move away from you. Nothing crazy, nothing scared, just one step away from you, complete with an unimpressed side-eye.


Once I was tacked up (with a few side eyes administered), I hauled myself up and onto my new adventure partner. As soon as my bottom touched the saddle he stuck his head between his legs and all I could do was point him to where I wanted to go and hope for the best.  

“Come on Guys!” I shouted to Erin and Dom with a huge grin as Frosty bolted out of the horse station, they quickly followed suit but it was in vain.


No one could keep up with this little horse he was similar to Tiger and Ping, I had uncovered another racehorse. I turned to peer over my shoulder but Erin and Dom were already small dots. I hauled back to try and stop Frosty. He stuck his head down and rodeoed up the hill with me.

“Right okay so asking you to stop does not work that way” I laughed.

I pointed him up to a steep shale part of the hillside, thinking that would slow him down slightly so the others could catch up. He became quicker and unrelentingly took on the slippery terrain underfoot.

“Urm okay, so we just don't slow down I guess,” I thought.

Therefore, I embraced the frantic, fast Frosty dropping the reins and letting him take me as fast as he desired.


As we navigated the undulating terrain, Frosty's power and agility were a testament to the untamed beauty of the Mongolian wilderness. In that fleeting moment, amidst the boundless freedom and wild energy, I felt truly alive, a part of something greater than myself. I could not stop smiling at this marvellous creature. Yet again the Derby had surprised me with a memory I would never forget.


Once at the top of the first large hill, we U turned at a full gallop so I could try to ascertain where Dom and Erin were. Despite Erin being in better spirits I was still concerned that we might have a repeat of yesterday and we had vowed to get to the finish together. Two little dots were coming up the hill at a decent gallop. I continued to canter Frosty in a circle until Dom was no longer a dot and then Frosty ground to a halt, statue still.

“Can you not hold that?” He asked.

“No chance, and I do not want to give him bit rubs” I replied. (If you gave your horse those then rightly so it was vet penalties.)

“Are we on the right bearing?”

“Yes" I began to respond as Frosty began to work himself up for the next bolting session. "Keep going that way over the next few hills as the crow flies and then just flat until the horse station, it will be behind a small hill on your right”



“Where is Erin?” I asked Dom as I charged past him with no control yet again.

“Not far behind but her horse is quite slow, she will……”

I could no longer hear him against the wind crashing past my ears as Frosty stormed away like a bat out of hell. I accepted my fate, no more waiting for people on this horse. I would have to wait at the next station.


Ten kilometres left, the GPS read, as two riders came into view up ahead. Jessie and Reid. Frosty’s hooves pounded against the earth, matching every heartbeat in my chest. This was the life. This was everything! We were already at uncontrollable speeds, but I figured this was the moment to really go for it, I would never have this space and freedom again.

“Come on feller, lets see what you can do,” I said as I took hold of my reins and wrapped my legs around Frosty.

He needed no encouragement, with the smallest movement taking him up a gear. His head came up, his nose went out, he grabbed the bit out of my hands, and we flew.


At this moment in time, I felt like anything was possible. The Mongolian steppe stretched endlessly in front of me as we emerged from the labyrinth of hills, a vast expanse of rolling countryside in the distance to my right, a bubbling river to my left and an open, endless sky all around. Here, amidst the boundless horizons and sweeping vistas, I felt a sense of freedom that has been unmatched anywhere else. The landscape rushed past in a blur of colours and shapes, accompanying a sense of exhilaration unlike any other. Frosty was born to run, surging forward with a grace and power that was both awe-inspiring and humbling. With every hoofbeat I felt as though I was living in the Mongol Empire of the 13th century, charging towards conquering far-off lands. It was at this moment of the race that the link to history took hold and I unlocked my inner child's imagination that had been vaulted up for over twenty years.


“Lets deliver that letter!” I shouted to Frosty as he hurtled across the sweeping planes.

I was suddenly ten years old playing ponies all over again. Frosty and I were the last messengers on the postal trail for Genghis Khan and there was an intercepting rider chasing us. We had received an Eagle with a message telling us he was ten miles East and if our postal message was not delivered to our general the entire Mongol Empire would collapse and all that was gained would be lost.


Because I am really cool this story was adopted for the remainder of this leg. Frosty would gallop on as he did best and I would keep a lookout in the sky for Eagles that might carry further messages and scoured the hillsides for enemy riders. Jessie and Reid I treated as enemy spies who were on the lookout for me. We stalked them along the sides of the river banks, a peeled off from them when we became too close to continue Frosty and my charge to victory. Together, we navigated the twists and turns of the terrain and roared across the steppe as we stealthily wound past the enemy riders and prevented infiltration of the message.


After what seemed like no time at all a white dot appeared. Checking the GPS my suspicions were confirmed.

“We’ve made it you little legend!” I said to Frosty. “We have delivered the message, we will win the conquest!”


Frosty continued to tank towards the Ger, blissfully unaware that we had helped to conquer half of Asia, which snapped me out of child-play mode. We did have a vet check to pass after all!

Despite still having many miles left in the tank, Frosty reluctantly succumbed to the request of a walk, complete with a Dragon-like snort to let me know he was not impressed. As we meandered into the station the vet gave us a wave and I suddenly felt a sadness sweep over me. I had loved Frosty and I had enjoyed the freedom that had come with charging around on my own playing stupid imaginary games.


I hopped off Frosty and went to see the vet. I was suddenly a little concerned about his heart rate as we had not walked long before the station and had been flat out for 33 km.

“All good” the translator cheerily announced “He can go back to the herders”

“Oh! Really!?” I replied shocked. “He has galloped the entire way flat out”

“Yes he is 54, he is perfect. He looks like a racehorse to me, they are more than used to galloping 40 – 50km at a time so he will recover quickly”


Palomino horse in Mongolia during the Mongol Derby
Frosty the not so jolly soul

Before I knew it a stocky Mongolian man in a Burgundy robe had taken Frosty off me. Frosty stood rooted to the ground and refused to move. I laughed, grateful that I was not the only person this little horse seemed unimpressed with. After some shouting from the man my little frostbitten horse grunted, snorted and was deposited in a pen of sand and dirt for a well-deserved roll and scratch.


“Now what do I do?” I contemplated.

Given it was the first time I had been alone for a few days I missed having people around me and was worried about Erin. I opted to sit in the food Ger, eat, replenish, plan out the next few routes and wait for Erin. We still had five hours of the day left plenty of time to get to the next station, especially given it was flat. As I strode towards the Ger, Dom pulled in.


“Dom!” I yelled across the camp “Where is Erin?”

“She is not too far behind me” he replied “But I could not stay with her as my chap was getting wound up going slow, she will easily make it to the next station by the end of the day though”


With this new information Dom and I deliberated whether to wait and cease up or to wait at the next station and camp there for the night, Erin would then be at the same stop as us for tomorrow. We opted for selection number two given it meant we could end the day early and relax, it would also mean his brother Rolo could catch up at the same station, Erin and I and Dom and Rolo would then be reunited. Looking at the map the next horse station was also on the river… we considered that an early end to the day meant we could wash ourselves and our kit ready for the final few stints of the race.

“Only if it's clean water though!” I laughed, explaining to Dom what had happened the last time I bathed in a river.

“Ah yes, only if it is clean then!” He replied looking mildly stunned.


HS 19-20

Dom was tacked up and mounted before I had picked out a horse. He wandered around the camp getting used to his compact steed whilst I waited for mine to be brought over. A slender in build, fine-headed bay horse that resembled a polo pony was handed to me to tack up.

“Urm, is this a Mongolian horse?” I said to the translator “He looks very fine”.

“That is this man's best horse” The translator replied. “It is not a racehorse it is a herding horse and it is the head herders ride”

“Oh! Okay!” I replied stunned. “No pressure then”


By this point, I was in a lot of pain and everything from the hips down, that I had forgotten about during the distraction of joyriding Frosty, was now screaming at me. I was becoming unsure as to how I was supposed to get on these animals alone without falling flat on my back. I still had all my effort and bounce, but halfway up there was no force left in my depleted hip flexor to push my body weight up and my knee would cry out in pain at having to straighten under pressure. It felt like my joints had been replaced with a rusty door hinge that had to be pried open.


Fortunately, this small and fragile-looking horse stood still whilst I clambered aboard. The herder approached me, smiled and patted his horse on the neck whilst saying something to the translator.

“Enjoy him!” She said to me.

I nodded at the man, smiled at him and patted his horse.

“That way?!” Dom shouted back to me, pointing in the distance.

He was correct. “Yes keep following this track for thirty kilometres and then we cross the river to the horse station.


This was a very relaxed leg where I was suddenly content and optimistic about the whole race. I felt as though I was going to finish, the light at the end of the tunnel was glowing and within reach. I named this horse Prince because his owner looked slightly like a Mongolian version of Prince the Musician. It turned out that the rumours were true, Prince was wonderful. He was not fast by any means, but he floated, you could barely feel his hooves connect with the ground whilst cantering. He had a high-head carriage and did not pull, he also stopped when you requested and had fabulous steering. It was as if riding a very well-schooled horse back home. Immediately I knew I could relax on this horse. I could ride on the buckle end of my reins and move my hands one way for him to neck rein, with this in mind my feet came out of the stirrups and I sat in my newfound rocking chair for the duration of this leg. This horse was sublime and totally unexpected on the Derby.


Dom and I cantered steadily along our route exchanging stories about our lives back home and swapping boiled sweets with each other. Occasionally, checking we were on the right course, however, this was required once in a blue moon given we just had to follow a dirt track.



After a blissful two hours, we arrived at the point where we could see the horse station, we slowed to a walk to take in our options. After all, the land in front of you would sometimes present new choices you had not considered outside of the maps.


“We either continue up the dirt track and around to the other side of the station to cross the river as originally planned” I said “Or we cross over the river here and cut across the grassland to enter the station from the closest side”.

“I do not mind” Dom replied, “We have plenty of time, we could ride out after this station and camp out!”

“Okay, shall we try cutting across then and we can see what the time is when we arrive?” I said, aware that I was not going to be camping again and relished the thought of a horse station evening again and letting Erin catch up. We took the horses over to the crystal clear river, a great omen for washing later on!  As the horses gulped, riders chewed on the lemon sweets Dom had been harbouring for a pick-me-up. We sat in silence taking in the late afternoon silence and the stillness of everything around us.

“This is wonderful” I whispered “What a day”

“You begin to take it for granted don’t you?” Dom said in hushed tones as if we were going to wake a sleeping lion.

I nodded sadly. I was all too aware that during the testing times of the Derby, I had forgotten where I was and how utterly awe-inspiring these lands, people and horses were. It was all too easy to get wrapped up in the drama and trials and tribulations of the race when in fact just riding in these landscapes was life-changing in itself.


Once the horses were watered and grazed we kicked on to the flat expanse between us and the horse station.

“Five kilometres,” I told Dom “We can probably walk from now and just enjoy it all”

He nodded and we strolled towards the station. After a few steps past the river the ground was not becoming any drier.

“Odd, there is no mention of a marshland on the maps, I wonder if there has been a river bank burst recently?” I enquired to Dom. He brushed it off and we continued, after all the water was not deep and we were only walking.


4 km and the water became deeper. 3 km and we were practically up to the horse's stomachs. We had wandered into marshland and the dirt track road that would take us into the horse station was now a long way off to our right-hand side and well out of our path. Once again, a shortcut had not been the best decision ever made in the history of the Derby. However, we had committed to this and persistence prevailed. The horses trudged through the deep murky waters that enclosed the station as mosquitoes circled our heads ready to pounce for dinner. Despite this Dom and I were on a high and weighing up the options of riding out again, we still had over an hour and could easily make up some ground with the front runners should we choose to camp. I explained to Dom about the dilemmas I had encountered so far with camping and that I would like to ride with Erin again. He agreed that camping sounded like a nightmare and he would like to ride out with his brother. We, therefore, agreed to a well-deserved wash and early night.


1km out and we arrived at another river bank, the station was surrounded by water, which explained the dirt track on the other side of the station. Everyone is clever in hindsight! One of the vets had clocked us walking into the station from the wrong side and wandered over to greet us at the water's edge.

“You didn’t fancy just following the road then!?” He beamed.

“Shortcuts are not short it turns out” I replied with a half smile.

“Are you riding out again? You have time” The vet quizzed

“Nope, we are going to have a leisurely evening!” I beamed, thrilled at the thought of a wash and chilled evening rather than panicking about finding a home for the night.

 

Given we were in no rush and it was not quite 6 pm I untacked Prince and took him over to the river for a drink and a graze before his vet check. It was nice to spend non-riding related time with one of the Mongolian horses and not whilst worrying about a vet check. Anyone who had “little girl horse syndrome” as a very young child may recall that we like horse riding yes, but we originally craved just being around horses.


As we get older the pressure of life takes hold and we rush around our horses back home. They are either a profession for financial exchange or they are shoehorned into our busy lives, often we forget to find prolonged periods for just being with horses, it is something that I am guilty of anyway. When I worked with horses, I enjoyed it but found the related stress of the work would often taint my original love for these creatures. Now I have an office job and fit horses around this, it is usually a mad rush to ride and I do not take the time to sit with Dillon my pony as often as I should or would like. Most of the time we do not need to ride to reap the benefits of horses, often it is merely being in their presence that is enough and it was always that which I craved as a child. The time with Prince reminded me of this.


After twenty minutes Prince was up for his vet check. He easily passed and his owner had come to pick him up specially. I handed Prince over and thanked the man. He nodded at me with a big grin, patted Prince and jumped on him bareback, disappearing off towards a Ger on top of a hill ahead.

As I watched Prince go I saw a medic out of the corner of my eye. Taking advantage of the quiet station I enquired about the pain relief injections.

“Ah yes, we can give you one at the start of the day before you get on, it should see you through twelve hours or so!” He announced.

“Could I have one tomorrow please?” I asked

“Sure! Come and find me, there is usually a line”


Filled with anticipation for a day of pain-free riding, I practically skipped over to my saddle and bags, gathering them up with eager hands. Dom and I arrived at the station first, granting us the luxury of choosing our sleeping areas. I selected a spot with a slightly padded floor near the edge of the Ger, strategically positioned to allow for ventilation by folding up a section of the external fabric at the bottom. In the warm evening air, with the prospect of a crowded Ger filled with riders a bit of private ventilation seemed like a great idea. Once my sleeping area was arranged, I turned my attention to other tasks at hand. It was time to address any lingering ailments, ensuring nothing had turned septic or gone awry during the day's ride. Additionally, my gear was in dire need of a thorough wash. With the evening's warmth providing ideal conditions, I took a gamble and decided to give everything a good scrub.


I wandered over to the river as the sun began its descent behind the distant peaks of the Mongolian horizon, casting hues of pink and gold across the sky. After a day of riding a hundred kilometres across the vast Mongolian steppe, the cool waters beckoned like a siren's call, promising relief from the heat and exhaustion. I stripped down, everything bared to the local wildlife and stepped into the clear waters below. I lay with my back against the river banks absorbing my surroundings as the water soothed away the cares of the day.


The river reflected the colours of the sunset, showcasing Mongolia's timeless beauty. As I bathed in its embrace, I felt a profound sense of peace wash over me. It had been a truly wonderful day and it was moments like this which reminded me of why I partake in silly adventures, for these core memories and feelings.


As I  dragged myself out of the spa-like river other riders arrived at the horse station. Erin was one of them. I put on some clothes and hung my now clean kit out to dry before going over to help her with finding a sleeping spot.

“Hiya trouble” I greeted her whilst she waited for her horse to pulse down.

“Heya, I thought you might have been camping out?” She replied.

“No chance, I waited for you and also do not want to camp ever again! Sorry I did not wait for you earlier, but I could not stop that horse with no ears”

horses drinking on the steppe in the Mongol Derby
Horses having a drink at the vet check on a horse station

Erin laughed and expressed that it was all fine and to be expected. She handed her horse back to the herders and we went to find her a sleeping spot next to me and some food. I told her about the injections in the morning whilst we chowed down on noodles and boiled sweets and pointed her in the direction of a good river wash. As 7 pm drew closer more riders reached the station, and we were all once again, together as a large group for the evening. However, rather than riding high on the excitement of the day as we did the day previous, there was a calmer and more soothing feeling around the camp that evening. Everyone was peaceful and chilled, wandering around in pairs or solo, taking in the grandeur of this location and eventually retiring to bed.


I lay in the sleeping bag with my nose poking out of the small gap in the bottom of the Ger wall drinking in the fresh air of the steppe, the lullaby of the wildlife drifting me off to sleep. With the enjoyment of the day and the promise of drugs the next morning this Derby experience was shaping up get better and better. So I thought…


Day 7 Derby Lessons:
  • Do not be afraid to re draw if you are concerned you could be seriously hurt by a horse. If the herders will not get on because they are scared of the horse that’s usually a good sign to also not mount. The herders are never scared so if they are claiming defeat do not be a hero.

  • There is also no need to be a hero with pain relief medication. I should have started injections a lot sooner than I did!

  • If you can ride in a larger group for some of the race, do so. It is a totally different feeling and so much fun to all charge around together overtaking and darting around the wilderness.

  • A lot of people have knee issues during this race, talk to each other and see if you have solutions for each other to cope. You are not alone! They are the first thing to go

  • If your knees do begin to give out they will start to go around the halfway mark. Remember to keep changing your stirrup lengths at each horse station (you should be doing this from day 1) to help a bit. If you know how to strap up knees with sports tape it is worth taking some with you for the halfway point too. I would highly recommend having a physio or PT show you how to strap up a knee for sports to take the edge off.

  • If you do the above take spare tape in your kit bag. It won't last for 10 days

  • Also pack your sense of humour, you are going to need it especially if you end up in a station like station 17 and the horses are just burying people constantly. You need to be able to get up and laugh at yourself.

  • Always be pleasant to the crew, translators, medics, vets, herders, families etc they are there for you, remember that. Manners and being pleasant at a minimum cost nothing.

  • Horses with frost-bitten ears are the deities of the Mongolian horses. Do you think Mongolian horses are tough? Well say hello to the ones that nature tried to claim and they said “No thank you not today” Frosty had seen things, Frosty was focused, Frosty was not a jolly happy soul but my God could he run and was he a determined, Heavenly creature.

  • If you can not stop your horse, then it is likely a lost cause and you are best to keep going straight and fast. However, If you really need to stop try turning them in a circle and getting smaller. A bit like you would normally but on a larger scale as you have all the room in the world!

  • The Derby will constantly surprise you with out of this world moments. I thought Tiger and Ping had provided the rides of lifetimes but Frosty was also incredible and a totally different experience. Always expect the unexpected during the Derby it will not only make you cry when you least expect it, it will also make you beam from ear to ear and laugh to the heavens when you least expect it.

  • Be imaginative to make time pass. Pretending you are being pursued by enemy riders worked for me

  • If you are riding a herders horse you are in for either the fastest or the most comfortable and well mannered ride of your life.

  • Do not forget to take it all in and appreciate Mongolia. It is all too easy to forget where you are and take it all for granted. 10 days will go quickly so appreciate it whilst you can

  • If you get first dibs on a sleeping area, chose somewhere that is near the edge of the Ger so you can fold the bottom edges up for some ventilation. The Gers can get quite stuffy, smelly and hot so having the option of some fresh air is great.

  • Some of the rivers you may wash yourself in but not your kit. If you are at a station for the night were this is the case, ask the herders for a spare water trough (they are round metal bowls) and take this down to the river with you. Fill it with water and wash your kit in there, empty it far away from the river though when you are done.


The next related blog post "The Mongol Derby Day 8: Gingers and Heat" can be found here.

Comments


bottom of page