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  • Writer's pictureEmmelia Potts

Tips For Popping Your Mongol Derby Cherry

Here are some nuggets of information that may prove useful for people giving the Mongol Derby a crack for the first time. All personal experiences are different; these are just tips I found to help or things I wish I had known going into the Derby. Enjoy!

All Photographs by Kathy Gabrielle, Shari Thompson and Bayarsaihan Ochiroo

Finishers of the Mongol Derby 2023
Teamwork and support is a vital part of completing the Derby
The Application Process:
  • You will first need to register your interest. This will include a questionnaire about you as a person and a rider. You will need to supply images and videos of your riding to demonstrate that you are capable and experienced. A lot of people do not make it past this stage so ensure you pick good images and have interesting answers to the questions!

  • After a period of time, you will receive an email saying if you have made it through to the next round based on your application.

  • One of the event organisers will be in touch to arrange an interview.

  • Your first interview will be held with one of the team over a phone call.

  • You will then either be let down or taken through to a second and final interview. This is a sense check interview and an opportunity for you to ask questions.

  • You will then receive an email saying yes you are accepted or sorry you are not. If you have been accepted there will be a link to pay a deposit. You are not signed up to the race until you have paid the deposit, there will be a deadline noted on the email.

  • You pay the deposit and choose an option for paying the rest of the entrance fee. This can be paid in instalments or in one lump sum. You are not confirmed to race until the full payment is made.

  • Once payment is made in full, you are officially entered and will start to receive emails on training, kit and general information as well as your swag bag full of Derby goodies!

Mongol Derby back pack stickers
Remember, even with plans and training, you are still never in control during the Derby!
At Home Training:
  • Riding riding riding! No other gym work or walking will prepare you as well as riding horses.

  • Ride all sorts of horses of all disciplines and all ages. Racehorses were particularly helpful in getting used to just jumping on explosive or unpredictable horses.

  • Work on hip strength and flexibility.

  • Your lower back is going to take a battering. Strengthen your core, but not just the usual suspects such as your abs and obliques. Work on strengthening all your smaller supporting muscles that brace your spine. Pilates, yoga or just general mobility work will work wonders for this.

  • If you can not spend hours on horses then the next best thing is building up your stamina with walking and cycling

  • Get comfortable being uncomfortable during training so you are used to this when the race comes around.

  • Look after your body during training, do not rush to cram hours and hours of riding in straight away. Build up the endurance training and ensure you have adequate rest days, strengthening days and mobility days to help prevent injury.

  • Talk to previous competitors. They have been there and can advise on what to expect.

  • Test all your kit! Waterproofs especially. Dose yourself in water and then ride for a few hours, try to see where all the small rubs and niggles might appear. You do not want to be spending 10 days riding in the rain to find a rub on day 1.

  • Try to get on longer rides to get your bum used to the distance. A lot of riders used sheepskin saddle savers for comfort. I did not my bottom was used to sitting on a saddle for hours on end after training. The saddles are also not uncomfortable.

  • Practice galloping at full speed, preferably out of control or being bolted with on a youngster or similar. The horses in Mongolia are generally amazing but you will be terrified if you are not used to galloping flat out. Get used to being out of control on a horse, chances are you are going to meet a few in the steppe that will bolt off with you!

  • If you can get your hands on a derby saddle or similar then do so to get your bottom used to what you will be sitting on and also for kit and bags being set up.

  • Buy an "oh-shit" strap. I had an all-weather flash nose back attached to the front of my pommel. I only needed it a couple of times with horses rodeoing but it helped having a safety blanket when needed rather than ripping out the horses' manes or ending up on the floor!

  • Push yourself beyond your limits a few times to check yourself mentally and build resilience. I do not mean go for a four-hour hike and get a bit tired, I mean enter a marathon or a challenge that pushes you way out of your comfort zone. The Derby if going to test you and there are going to be moments when you are exhausted and want to give up. Having the know-how to push yourself through a rough patch mentally is invaluable. Do not underestimate how mental finishing this race is, you need to train your mind too.

  • Navigation practice is required. If you can not get your hands on a GPS or training day for navigation then try geocaching with OS maps. There are plenty of apps and it gets you used to scale, terrain marks and generally reading the land around you from a screen. It's a nice cheaper alternative to a training day or spending money on a GPS. In terms of learning how to use a GPS the training days on the steppe run through this.

  • Text whilst on your phone whilst riding, In a safe location ie a field, on a confined race track or in the school at different paces. You are going to be galloping on out-of-control horses and having to read your GPS, get practising riding without looking ahead constantly. I maintain being an avid texter whilst riding around the fields helped with this.

  • Get used to mounting from the ground you will have to do this on the steppe every day multiple times. Steps ups in the gym as good for recreating this functional movement and for building strength without damaging your horse's back getting on and off too.

  • Get used to getting on horses that won't stand still from the ground. 90% of the horses do not stand still on the Derby.

  • Fall off a bit so you aren’t worried about it happening during the race. This is where youngsters and racehorses came in handy

  • Help out at an endurance race to see how the vet checks work and to see what sort of things the vets are looking for when horses return to a station. I spent a weekend crewing for an Irish team at the Golden Horseshoe and it was a valuable experience in terms of learning various tricks for getting horses to eat and drink as well as cooling down quickly and efficiently.

  • Get used to sleeping on the floor. Go camping with your kit and check it's as comfortable as it can be. The floor is bad enough as it is for ten days let alone if your kit is not up to par.

  • Ride whilst tired. I can not explain how exhausted you are going to be from day six onwards. You will still be riding whilst exhausted. I started going to the gym in the mornings before riding and doing this on back-to-back days to try and mimic the Derby so my body would not be as shocked by the race.

  • Start riding with a weighted vest of 5kg before you start buying your kit and have a rucksack. Kit prep and selection can take a while but wearing a 5kg vest can be introduced quite early into your training whilst you figure out your kit. I also wore the vest around on a day to day basis just to build up strength generally on my core and upper body.

  • Get into the habit of drinking at regular intervals whilst riding. If you can get into this habit during training it will decrease the chances of dehydration during the race as it will be second nature.

  • Practice packing and repacking at speed.

  • Write out thank you cards for locals in case you camp out with a nomadic family. Put these in a waterproof bag.

  • Test your nutrition and any medication so you don’t fall foul of a bad stomach during the race.

  • Practice walking in the shoes you are riding in. You need to be comfortable walking in your boots in case you loose your horse and have to walk back or forward to a horse stop. Ideally, you want hybrid hiking and riding boots that are waterproof.

  • Set up group chats with other competitors and pick their brains. You are all in this together and it will help to talk about it and settle your nerves slightly. We had monthly Zoom calls with half the field for the six months leading up to the 2023 race and it was great to all meet and bounce off each other before going out to the steppe. It also made meeting everyone a bit less overwhelming.

  • Learn how to tie a bowline knot. I did not know how to do this prior to leaving for Mongolia but is something I learnt from a fellow rider just before we left for the steppe. She was an avid sailwomen and the knot was exceedingly useful for securing horses and loose kit.

  • You don’t need to deny yourself alcohol, sweets and enjoying life in the lead-up, be mindful of the weight allowance if you are close to it though! If you are naturally slim you may wish to try and put some weight on as you will lose a lot of weight on the race itself.

  • Enjoy the process! It is so much fun training for this event. You will try new things, meet new people and probably pick up a few new skills if like me you have never done anything quite like it.

Riding racehorses to train for the mongol Derby
Racehorses, the key to Derby success
  • Arrive in Mongolia a few days before you are driven out to the steppe if possible to get over jet lag, meet the other competitors and chill a bit. It was a really nice experience sightseeing with fellow competitors, relaxing and doing final kit preparations.

  • Ensure your important kit like hat and boots are in your hand luggage. There are plenty of shops in Mongolia for general clothing and survival items. There are a huge number of outdoor shops in the malls of the capital but western riding clothing is not bountiful. You probably don’t need to wear your riding gear in the airport like I did though!

  • If you are transferring between flights try to book the same company for each leg of the journey so if there are delays they will wait for you.

Rider off to Mongolia for the Derby in 2023
Leaving for Mongolia. You do not need to wear your riding gear, but make sure it is with you on the plane not in the hold
Training in Mongolia (on the steppe):
  • Consider your pack weight and what you wear off the start line. Opting for waterproofs off the line gives you a lot more weight allowance for snacks and other items in your 5kg pack. However, you will have to wear these off the start line as it is checked so if the weather is hot you could well be rather uncomfortable for a few hours.

  • The water bladder needs to be 2 litres minimum, I opted for 3 litres so I would never run out. I would highly advise you to take 3 litres and keep sipping throughout each leg. I was re-filling a full 3 litres at every station and still managed to overheat and nearly pass out. Having a larger bladder is also useful if you are out camping and have to make your water last overnight.

  • Get acquainted with your GPS ASAP, you are going to need it. Try it out on the bus on the way to start camp.

  • Spend some time watching the local herders riding if possible. Try to emulate their riding and approach to the horses.

  • Hone the art of putting on hobbles at start camp you will need them at some point

  • Don’t be worried about the other riders watching you when hobbling and tacking up or mounting, everyone is in the same boat. If you are anything like me and get imposter syndrome easily chances are you will feel like a beginner and like you do not belong at the Derby. A lot of people will feel like this so try not to worry about being watched. It's a massive learning curve for everyone!

  • Do not try to slow the horses down, they won't listen. You are better off letting them get on with it and getting used to the pace during training where you have people around should anything go wrong.

  • If you see a storm up ahead and do not have waterproofs on, try and gauge the direction and wait it out or beat it to the camp. They do not have light rain storms in Mongolia, they have downpours that get in every crevice and under the thickest of waterproofs. You are better to avoid than to meet a rain storm.

  • There will be a lot of people offering advice. Some of it will be useful, some will be egos talking. It is up to you to filter through what is helpful.

  • Enjoy the beds they are so comfortable and your last nugget of luxury before the race.

  • Take advantage of the buffets and bar you are not going to see this type of spread for ten days.

  • Even if you are tired, go and party at the opening ceremony. You will bond with other riders and crew who are going to be your friendly faces out on the steppe. The opening party was one of the best days of the Derby, it was great fun.

five riders during the Mongol Derby training camp
Start camp training is wonderful. Use it well though to become accustomed with the horses and conditions you will be riding in.
Kit and Packing:
  • Split your 5kg between a backpack and the saddle bag the race organisers provide. I tried to get everything in a backpack. This resulted in a very sore back and me being incredibly unbalanced. Not a winning combination for flighty horses. Fortunately, I tested carrying all my kit in a backpack at home and realised it was not a winner when I got decked by a pony as he was terrified of the large lumbering, unbalanced creature on his back.

  • Put your non-important items in the saddle bag and items you can not live without in the backpack. You do not want to fall off and the horse vanishes with the important kit.

  • Long-sleeved, lightweight tops are a must if you are sensitive to the sun. You will sweat sun cream off and having a long-sleeved top prevented me from getting sunburnt. Make sure you get a Merino wool or vented top though as it may be exceedingly hot and you do not want to overheat! 

  • Ensure your water is easily accessible by a tube from your bladder in your backpack for constant hydration.

  • Vet cards are your life during this race, without yours, you are not allowed to continue racing. Put it somewhere safe, easy to access and in a waterproof bag.

  • Put all your kit in waterproof camping bags. if your bladder leaks you do not want to have everything drenched.

  • Duct tape and reusable cable ties are a must they got me out of a few issues when my kit started to wear and tear.

  • I can not stress the importance of ensuring your saddle bag is tied down with NO movement and that there are no straps dangling on your horse's hindquarters. There were many people as the 2023 race progressed who were tired and no longer tied their kit up as securely as they had at the start. This resulted in the horses bronking. The one thing you could bet was if a horse was rodeoing around a horse station after being tacked up, chances are something was moving. The saddle bag needs to have no movement and be like cement on your saddle. Buy spare straps to really tie it down. Make sure it is tied down at the sides to the sides of your saddle to brace any lateral movement too. Straps tuck them in tightly.

  • Take some bits and pieces to add to your bag at the weigh-in in case you are underweight. It saves running back and forth to the Gers where you have left your finish line bag.

  • Pack some tasty snacks for when things get rough or for something to look forward to on the last few days.

  • A lightweight, vented, endurance riding hat is perfect for the Derby, they are usually adjustable too for when your head swells in the heat so you can loosen it all off a bit.

  • Take a buff with you to protect the back of your neck in the sun and to douse in cold water to cool you down for the start of riding out each leg.

  • Waterproofs will have to be pretty special to keep out the Mongolian Downpours. I opted for cheap items from Decathlon which did the job until I was caught out in the midst of a storm. Listening to other riders who spent a fortune on waterproofs, theirs did not fare any better when the heavens opened.

  • Padded underwear was a lifesaver for comfort but also when I unexpectedly started my period out of cycle. Take two pairs of underwear so you can wash and dry one pair whilst you wear the other.

  • A bar of soap was my luxury item. This was great for washing myself and my clothes when the opportunity presented itself.

  • A battery pack was a valuable weight allowance. I hardly used my phone apart from a few pictures. If you are planning on using the tracker app messaging system on your phone instead of the tracker kit old-school messaging system the crew provide then you will need a battery pack to keep your phone juiced. However, everyone has to take a tracker with them so even if your phone dies you have an old-school way of messaging HQ during emergencies. I managed fine with the old-school 00s texting on the tracker kit.

  • Check the knots on your bridle and lead rope. Not just on receiving them but every time you get off a horse. Mine came loose a few times and caused a few issues.

  • Gloves, take them.

  • Socks take two pairs one for riding and one for wearing when you are at the camps.

  • Make sure you take enough warm clothing. It gets cold on the steppe at night.

Women helps man on the Mongol Derby with his kit.
Test out kit and help others with theirs when needed.
During the race:
  • Get on the horses quickly and get them moving. The less faffing the better. The more you try and settle them down or keep them standing once you are on the worse they are. Forward means less rearing. Make sure headers aren’t holding onto your lead rein, trying to keep the horses from running off, this won't help you stay on. it is much safer to mount with no help and to just hold on as the horse takes off.

  • Be quiet around the horses, they are not really any different to horses in the UK apart from being a bit more skittish. Treat them as you would a young horse that has not long been started.

  • You will not be able to alter your stirrup length on the horses, do it before you get on.

  • Make sure your saddle bag is tight to the saddle. You want no movement at all. Movement = bronking.

  • Always set your GPS to the next stop before you get on and figure out the general direction you want. Point the horse in that direction before mounting!

  • Do not expect to ride with the same people all through the race, you are going to get split up immediately and will ride with lots of different people, this is a good thing!

  • Just because a horse bolts off and charges the entire leg does not mean it is fit.

  • Just because a horse is not galloping off all the time does not mean he is unfit.

  • Horse station 1 will always be utter carnage as 43 riders descend. The horse stops become quieter the further into the race you go.   

  • The start line is crazy, if you are worried stay at the back to the side where it is relatively quiet.

Mongol Derby start line
The stat line is insane and so much fun. However, try to stay safe and survive it!
  • The horses levitate over holes in the ground, just let them sort their legs out and try not to interfere. 80% chance you won't end up eating dirt. Maybe.

  • Don’t get off to wee between stops if you can help it. You are asking for trouble.

  • Do not try and take off jackets when mounted. More trouble.

  • Around hills and mountains is usually better than over them, unless you have a powerhouse of a horse. These do exist and you need to gauge your horse once you are on them. I found there to be three types:

    • A racehorse that will gallop forever on the flat.

    • The powerhouse was a bit slower in their canter but fit and was good at going over hills and mountains.

    • Pets and the general riding horses were safe but slow. Just enjoy the fact you are not being thrown off.

  • Nothing about the next few days will be graceful! Accept this and learn to laugh at yourself.

  • Learn Mongolian for thank you, goodbye, hello and good horse at the very least. It helps and the herders appreciate it.

  • The start gun is literally a bang. Hold on tight! Even on a quiet horse, it is going to run with the group.

  • If your start line is near the horse line, be ready for your horse to hang and nap, Barbie was quite determined to go back to the horse line.

  • Mandatory checkpoints are there for a reason, sheer cliff faces and river rapids are not the dream. Unless you are a goat or in a rubber boat.

  • Dogs are dangerous, if you see or hear one get your horse moving asap away from its Ger.

  • Trust your horse. Don’t ask questions just do it.

  • Camping requires water. Plan your camping around water on the maps. Do not forget and then panic like I did.

Horse drinking water on the mongol derby
Camping requires water
  • Write down on a piece of laminated paper who you are and what you are doing, in Mongolian. This can be used to hand out when you are looking for places to camp. Or use Google Translate. Much easier than charades!

  • Pay attention to the Ger etiquette lessons at start camp training. Especially if you are camping out. The herders that are involved in the race at horse stations might be a bit more forgiving if you walk into the Ger incorrectly and do something unintentionally offensive but the nomads who are not involved in the race will just see you as being rude and ignorant.

  • If your horse starts to scratch away its face with its hind feet through itching tell the vets on the tracker so they can give you advice. If you do not tell them and the horse turns up to the vet check with sores over its face you will receive a penalty for tack rubbing. My third horse Mungo had an itchy face and was scratching an awful lot to the point he started to take off his fur. I told the vet and they advised me on what to do. I cleaned it and held a cold cloth for soothing which seemed to help overnight. If I had turned up to the next horse station with a rubbed face though I would have received penalties.  

  • Take advice from crew and stewards, and absorb it all. They have been doing this a long time and have seen most eventualities.

  • Advice from fellow racers... listen to it and use it as you see fit. If it's going to put you on edge then feel free to ignore it and stay in your lane. Someone telling you about some kit you could have benefitted from the day before the race is more likely to worry you than help you after all.

  • Take pause at the horse stations, let your horse drink and graze and relax if it is busy the vets aren’t going anywhere you will be seen eventually.

  • If in doubt at a horse stop, ask! There are plenty of crew at the stations.

  • Always refill your water at a horse stop, and try to eat also.

  • If possible take 10 minutes whilst eating at a horse stop to look at your route and check it.

  • Set an alarm for drinking water on your watch or phone if you can every 20 minutes.

  • Do not assume that you will find places to camp with locals easily. Give yourself plenty of time to find a camp!

  • You are going to start ceasing up early on, at the horse stops take a few minutes to stretch, limber and move around.

  • Have a life-changing scenic wee.

  • Some of the horses are tiny but some are at least 15hh, make sure you are okay getting on horses from the ground who are 15hh.

The Mongol Derby scenery
The scenery in Mongolia is amazing and varied. Drink it all in.
  • Hobble the horses! Even if they are tied up it is not worth the heartache of them not being where you left them the next morning.  

  • Chances are you may end up riding alone, brush up on all the skills required in case you are. I really did rely on other people for translation which was a nightmare when alone.

  • Dogs are just as scary and quick when chasing motorbikes. They run mighty quick!

  • If your horse does not feel right, chances are they are not. Get off and check them over. If you need to walk back or forward to a horse station do so. The horses' health is your priority.

  • If your horse feels tired, get off and walk them into the horse stop earlier than you usually would.

  • Head hanging low, not eating or drinking means your horse is not a happy chap and you need to get him to take on board fluids quickly.

  • If the terrain is sketchy you are best to stay on your horse. Nothing worse than trying to navigate bogs and scree on two unexperienced legs. The horses are more than used to the terrain and are very safe in this regard.

  • If you get a vet penalty have a wallow or cry and then put a plan together. You have 2-6 hours, depending on what number penalty it is use the time wisely. Also, use this time to refuel properly and cram as many calories into your body as possible.  

  • Plan your route and look at your options. Until the vet penalty, I was very much winging the navigation but on this day I saw the benefit of having a couple of route options and picking the best to match your horses' capabilities.

  • Never get disheartened, even when you think you are at the back you can catch up. The derby is a marathon, not a sprint, anything can happen. 

  • If three men are pinning your horse down so you can get on, chances are you are in for the ride of your life.

  • Trust the horses.

Women washes down a horse on the Mongol Derby
Looking after the horses is the number one rule. Even when you are not feeling great, they come first!
  • You might need to get clever with timings and where to stay. Weigh up the pros and cons of camping v making it to a horse stop. Vet penalty risks v time penalty certainties. Etc the goat shelter situation made me realise that this race was more than just riding and navigation. It was weighing up your options with penalties too.

  • Always follow your gut. If other riders opt for a different route and you do not agree, do not be worried about going a different way. Unless you have a tricky horse that needs to stay in a herd.

  • Preempt the weather if it looks as though it is going to rain at any point, put on waterproofs for that leg.

  • Do not get so worried about being left out at the back of the race that you make bad decisions with navigation and camping.

  • If a horse stop has sushi instead of noodles take advantage they are few and far between!

  • Change your stirrup leather lengths at each stop by a hole to stop the strain on your knees in one position, it will help a little bit if you are prone to sore knees.

  • Do not ride too short! There is a reason endurance riders and western riders ride long, it is more comfortable on the joints.

  • If your friends' horse decks them and they start to run off, do not wait go after them straight away, you might just catch them.

  • Do not ride through bogs, turn around and go back.

  • Trench foot is a very real thing, it hurts and is gross, try to keep your feet dry. If you get trench foot then find the medics.

  • If the crew are advising you not to camp out at a ger listen to them! Your safety is paramount to them. They are not saying these things to be boring.

  • Do not wax any part of your body before the derby!

  • Always set an alarm to wake up, especially if you are camping alone!

  • Go for a wee before you get into bed, navigating a Ger in the middle of the night with no light, and trying not to wake a family up is nearly impossible. There is also no light pollution whatsoever outside so unless the moon is shining bright you will be near enough blind.

  • Do not bother with a digital watch unless you are taking a battery pack. Wear an old-school watch with hands.

  • DRINK! Remind yourself and others every 20 minutes to drink, no matter how hot or cold it is. Your body will be breathing and sweating out incredible amounts of water.

  • Always plan your routes via the water points for the horses, even if it is not hot. They are usually not far off a decent route, and you do not want a dehydrated horse!

A group of riders on the Mongol Derby riding across the steppe
Riding as a group is great fun, though there is more that can go wrong!
  • If riding in a group rotate the horses around from front to back to keep them fresh

  • If riding in a group take advantage of asking about navigation and work as a team if you are unsure. You do not want to be leading everyone off to the wrong place.

  • Tack up quickly, move confidently and quietly, and don’t let a nervous horse make you nervous.

  • Don’t hang around at horse stations for too long, especially at the beginning of the race as they will get busy.

  • Utilize the horse station to look at the paper maps and plan.

  • You can take a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. This is true. But you can spit any water in your bladder over him to cool him down.

  • Stay away from Gers unless you are looking to stay and then approach head-on and in a slow walk to avoid dog chases. For some reason, they don't immediately chase you if you are slowly walking towards the Ger.

  • Do not go near Gers with dogs, I am not joking when I say they will bite you.

  • Do not get complacent and cocky. Chances are you will fall off by the smallest spook just from being caught unaware. Always stay on guard.

  • If you fall off on your own, try and mount whilst the horse is eating if they will. Much easier to re-mount when they are distracted with food.

  • Avoid sand terrain if possible. It will drain your horse.

  • Shortcuts are rarely short.

  • Do not set yourself up to fail. If you cannot speak Mongolian and your gut is saying do not camp alone, wait for another rider, or stay at a horse stop.

  • Buckle guards, preferably thick leather flap ones you have on UK saddles. It doesn't need to be masses of sheepskin everywhere but a thick guard over your girth buckles(as you would usually have) is vital. I forgot and had metal cutting through my clothes. No amount of anti-chaffe cream will help you with metal-on-skin friction.

  • Likewise, some riders had sheepskin seat savers, I found padded riding underwear was great and saved a lot of faffing and money.

  • Long-sleeved lightweight tops are a must. If you have a hot day you sun cream will not be enough on its own. Decathlon has cheap long-sleeved, vented running tops which were perfect.

  • You will really rely on the people around you at some point and in turn, you will be relied upon. Be ready for both.

Team work during the Derby
Team work is important during the Derby.
  • Do not panic about your position in the race, if you are covering 2-3 stations a day you are doing just fine.

  • Just because a horse is quick out of the station does not mean they won't slam the breaks mid-way. If they do this and there are a couple of you, focus on getting one of the horses moving and the other should follow, then take it in turns to lead.

  • Bug spray will be needed! I soaked my clothes in repellent leading up to the race and air-dried them to try and help deter bugs. It seemed to work in conjunction with a small spray for my exposed skin. The one problem I did not have was insect bites.

  • Having a meltdown does nothing for anyone. If you are going to have a meltdown, do it quickly and then carry on.

  • You will be exhausted and hungry for most of this race. This will cause a short fuse. Be aware of it. Never take it out on the horses, they won’t respond well.

  • Painkillers are king.

  • Medics are Gods.

  • If you have medical problems that need sorting out do not be proud, get them seen to asap no matter how embarrassed you might be, the medics have seen it all and worse before.

  • The short, flat route may not be what it appears, be wary of bogs and marshlands that will slow you down. 

  • Do not be scared to admit defeat in a situation and be willing to adopt plan B.

  • Never lose hope, ever. There is always something you least expect around the corner on the Derby. The lows just make the highs even more amazing.

  • When you are in a good mood crack on and harness that energy to make up time!

Women galloping across Mongolia during the Mongol Derby
Harness the good moods when they strike!
  • If your horses just want to canter the entire way, let them. Especially if it's going to be more hassle trying to slow them down. A lot of these horses find cantering 30km easy, especially if they are racehorses. Listen to your horse, they will tell you when they have had enough.

  • A short, shorn mane is usually a sign of a racehorse. Long mane is a stallion, anything in between is a lucky dip!

  • Not all the horses are feral, some are family pets and are so loved. You should look after all the horses but if you see a young person or family worried about you leaving on their horse reassure them with the translator's help.

  • Take in what is around you, absorb the silence, the wildlife and the scenery. Yes it is technically a race but some of the best moments I had were not when I was tearing around the steppe on a bolter but experiencing something I never thought I would, like a massive eagle skimming the top of my head

  • If there is a storm coming in across you, stay put and wait it out for ten minutes or so if the horse will allow. It is worth it just to not get wet.

  • Two shots of vodka on a nearly empty stomach and after exercising all day will hit you hard.

  • If you get camping out wrong too many times HQ will give you a not so subtle warning that you are not to do it again.

  • Head torches will be required!

  • Just because your horse is tied up and in a horse pen does not mean they will still be there in the morning. They are real-life magicians.

  • Fog on the steppe is like thick custard. You may have mornings where you can not see past a few meters in front of you. Get used to relying on your GPS and instinct.

  • Marmot holes may look small on top but beware the ground around them may give way.

Women check their GPS during the Mongol Derby
Navigation is key during the Derby. Utilize the horse stations to check your strategy
  • If you are unsure if you can get off your horse in one piece you can ride them into the station.

  • When things go wrong ask yourself “What is the worst thing that can happen” Then come to terms with that. More often than not the worst case wont happen but just in case it does at least you are prepared!

  • If you fall off try and keep hold of the lead rein, you do not really want to say goodbye to your kit. Though this is easier said than done and sometimes fingers can be casualties of this!

  • Acceptable washing can be found at some of the horse stations in the metal bowls, this will be clean and you should not get infections. Always pick the metal bowls over the farm rivers full of dirt.

  • Crying is okay. Crying Is allowed

  • Practice small celebratory dances for when the pain medication wears off.

  • 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

  • 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.

  • 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.

Women grazes her horse during the Mongol Derby
Herders horses are usually well mannered on the ground and to ride.
  • 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.

  • Get pain relief injections when you need them. Do not put it off. They honestly make everything better

  • Do not follow others just because they have more experience.

  • Look at the landscape in front of you to make calls on your navigation. Sometimes you might think another route looks easier or better suited based on what is in front of you.

  • Make sure you take suncream and reapply it.

  • If you are struggling with the heat, stay on your horse and ride into the station, do not walk in and definitely do not carry the saddle and saddle bag!

  • Learn the signs of heat stroke and hyperthermia. Chances are you may come into contact with these and need to know what to do and when to notice the early signs. You will cover the basis of this in the training days so pay attention.

  • The videographer and photographers tend to be up the front of the race, if you want lots of photos and social media coverage that’s where you need to be.

  • Dust off your saddle pad and wash it when possible to prevent rubbing your horses.

  • If you are hot, pour the water from the drinking points for the horses over you to bring your temperature down ASAP.

  • The more people you ride with the more chances there are of things going wrong. It's certainly more fun though!

  • Listen on the training days during the workshops, you are being taught and told things for a reason. Especially the medical presentation, pay attention it could save your or another rider's life. The medics are not just around the corner on the steppe they can be many miles away.

  • You are going to have to make decisions through the race. However, they are not all as superficial as which way to go and where to camp. You will have to make decisions as to your welfare Vs the horses and risks with penalties Vs your health. You may need to make decisions in regards to other riders well being and how to help them. Time penalties Vs camping out. There are so many decisions you will need to make, and quickly. Get used to making decisions and being accountable for them.

  • If two herders lead you and another rider out away from the horse line and station to let you go, get ready, you are about to be bolted off with pretty decent racehorses. Hold on tight and hope for the best

Women has scratches with a horse on the Mongol Derby
The horses are incredible. Words can not describe just amazing they are. Be prepared to have your heart stolen a few times!
  • Never give up hope whilst camping. You need to stay strong.

  • Remember even if you are camping out you will have a vet or crew member come and check your horse's heart rate. Look after the horses.

  • If your stomach is churning and you feel sick, you likely have gut problems, act accordingly. Do not take Imodium or other constipation tablets or you will be keeping the infections in your body. Get to the long drop and get it all out ASAP.

  • Alone you will go fast, together you will go far. There is a lot to be said for having people around to help when you are struggling.  Unless you are going to try and win I would recommend riding with other people, especially in the closing days of the race when things are unbearably tough.

  • Keep drinking even when it's cold

  • Aftercare is of huge importance on this adventure there is a separate post on this which can be found here.

  • Most of all ENJOY IT! It is the most incredible experience and it is easy to forget just how lucky you are to be partaking in this amazing race when you are out there and not having the best day. Look around, smile and have fun!

Women riding during the Mongol Derby


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