Last August, Kelsey Eliot from Upstate New York embarked on the challenge of a lifetime; The Mongol Derby. Over the next few weeks we will be sharing her blogs as she confronted the daily challenges presented by this gruelling event.
My name is Kelsey Eliot. I like to think of myself as the “everyday equestrian.” My equine resume is modest, but my experience is scrappy and practical. I’ve been trail riding in the hills of Upstate New York since I was about 8, and from there my passion has grown. I’ve guided riding tours in Iceland, I’ve played arena polo for the past three winters, and recently I started competing in Limited Distance endurance rides all over the eastern United States, which left me wanting more. Way more.
So I entered the Mongol Derby, a 1000km (621 mile) horse race across Mongolia on the backs of semi-feral horses. There is no marked trail, no comfy camp, and no support. It’s just you, your horse, and the endless steppes of Mongolia. If that sounds crazy to you, that’s because it is! The race has only about a 50% completion rate, and riders often suffer from illness, heat exhaustion, and broken bones.
It was clear to me from the get go that I wouldn’t be able to prepare for this behemoth alone. I enlisted the help of past riders, dear friends, and one cranky craigslist pony. I learned a lot and grew as a horsewoman with their help, and I was able to face the Mongol Derby head on.
Start camp: August 3-5
I don’t know why but I expected to be roughing it the minute we hit the steppe. Thankfully, that wasn’t the case. There were wonderful clean and cozy gers (yurts) for all the riders, a bus with hot showers, and a dining tent with a kick ass bar that Erik Cooper hooked us up with, which we thoroughly utilised.
We got to know the horses and each other. We learned about Mongolian culture, how to hobble the horses (I was terrible at it), and we had a couple test rides.
The test rides taught me so much and definitely helped the outcome of my race; for example, the fastest way between two points is not always a straight line. And finding water for your horse out on the steppe will help his heart rate come down faster. These lessons were essential and I was grateful to have them before the race began.