The Mongol Derby
More details about the Mongol Derby
The Mongol Derby is the longest and toughest horse race in the world. We don’t say that lightly. A decade after launching the race that title is still being backed up by riders year after year.
In 1224 man of the millennium Chinggis Khaan set up the world’s first long-distance postal transmission system. Using a massive network of horse stations – ‘morin urtuus’ in Mongolian – his hardy messengers could gallop from Kharkhorin to the Caspian sea in a number of days.
For ten days each August, the Mongol Derby recreates this legendary system, building a network of urtuus at 35km intervals along the entire thousand kilometre course.
1. Thoughts from a couple of previous riders
“It was absolutely incredible. I can’t believe it. I don’t even know where to start. The concept is great, the locals all get behind and enjoy it. They give us their horses to ride, these absolutely fantastic horses, so tough. The country just doesn’t even phase them. I absolutely love them.”
- Will Comiskey, 2016 winner
“My experience was so fulflling. I was so lucky. I’m so thankful to the crew, to all the Mongolian herders and of course the horses. I don’t know how anything else could compare to it.”
- Marcia Hefker-Miles, 2016 winner
“It’s a diffcult one to sum up in anything other than a short novel. It’s been been quite staggering, so much so that it’s quite hard to talk about. It’s been one of the most powerful and inspiring and equally the most draining experience of my life. The scenery is so breathtaking, one minute you’re galloping past the herder camels, past a yak and then a golden eagle flies up in front of you.”
- David Redvers, 2016
2. Where and when
ARRIVE IN ULAANBAATAR
All riders need to arrive by the evening, in time for the compulsory start of pre-race training the following morning.
PRE-RACE TRAINING DAY 1
Half day classroom session in Ulaanbaatar covering the technical kit, rider satellite tracking, race rules and management, communication protocols, support systems
In the afternoon we’ll travel to the start camp on the steppe followed by a hefty Mongolian banquet in the evening.
PRE-RACE TRAINING DAY 2
The first day on the steppe is all about meeting the horses. Specific training sessions will include veterinary briefings and comms protocol testing. The main event is an afternoon ride.
PRE-RACE TRAINING DAY 3
The final day of pre-race training includes the medical briefing and race backup systems and the main event is the navigation ride in full kit using your satellite trackers and GPS. Essentially a dress rehearsal.
The big day starts with your final weigh out to check your kit. You’ll warm up your horse for a racing start to the world’s longest and toughest horse race.
RACE FINISH, CEREMONY & PARTY
The final day of racing followed by the awards ceremony and legendary finish camp party.
RETURN TO ULAANBAATAR
After breakfast at the finish camp we’ll transfer you back to Ulaanbaatar.
3. Entry Criteria
HOW DOES THE APPLICATION PROCESS WORK?Hit ‘Apply to Race’ on the website at mongolderby.com and answer the preliminary questions. We assess all applications on a range of criteria. If you’re selected for interview you’ll be contacted by one of our crack team of Derby veterans who will arrange a time to call you. We may ask for more information or evidence such as photos of you riding or further references. This interview is also a great opportunity to ask a Derby veteran rider any questions you may have.
RIDING EXPERIENCEHorse welfare comes first on every agenda at Derby HQ so we’re looking for riders with a proven ability to manage themselves and their horse while racing. Where you don’t have specific experience to make sure you’re Derby-ready at the start line you’ll need to demonstrate the commitment and practical access to the training and time in the saddle you need before you head to Mongolia.
WEIGHT LIMITThe upper weight is 85kg dressed to ride and this rule is non-negotiable. You’re also allowed 5kg of kit in your saddle bag (see "Race Rules" below for more).
PHYSICAL FITNESSThe Derby is a genuinely tough race. You need to be confident in your ability to take on the world’s longest & toughest horse race for your own safety and for the wellbeing of the horses you’ll ride. We’ll need to know you have the means and determination to do the training and arrive Derby ready.
SURVIVAL AND CAMPING EXPERIENCEWe’ll want to know you can handle - and enjoy - life on the steppe. The race is created with a network of horse stations across the Mongolian countryside so we’ll be looking for experience of travelling to remote areas, camping and general previous adventuring to demonstrate an understanding of day to day living conditions during the race.
SPIRIT OF THE RACEThe Mongol Derby is adventure on a massive scale and demands a quiver of characteristics from the very top drawer encompassing sportsmanship, determination and the ability to laugh in the face of severe chafing.
4. The Horses
The controls can be rudimentary but they are the toughest and most fit-for-purpose partners imaginable for the Mongol Derby. Accustomed to heat, cold, hunger, thirst, flies, floods, deserts and really anything else that Mongolian mother nature can throw at them, they can cross terrain that would make a thoroughbred weep and maintain speeds that would put them in contention in many a tough endurance ride.
Horse racing is one of the three iconic sports in the traditional Mongolian Naadam and is taken very seriously, with horses running up to 30kms across country. Many families involved with the Derby graciously lend us their finest racehorses, though the vast majority of the horses you will ride will be the ordinary working horses of the steppe, used for herding, transport etc. Not every horse will be a celebrated athlete, but every horse will have been carefully selected by our vet team and trained in the run-up to the event. They will be fit, healthy, older than 5 and tough as a titanium spork.
5. Backup and Support
EQUINE VETSA highly experienced team of international and Mongolian equine veterinarians provide the inspections at every horse station and response capabilities on the course. They ensure that horse welfare is maintained throughout the race and have the power to impose penalties on riders who fail the vet inspections.
SPECIALIST MEDICSAn international team of highly experienced medics are dispersed along the racecourse, on call to respond to emergencies and rider injuries.
RACE MANAGEMENT CREWRace managers, referees, drivers, interpreters and more combine to oversee the course out on the steppe and manage the delivery of the overall event.
MONGOLIAN HERDERSA network of herders provide and deliver hundreds of horses for the race and keep them grazed and watered throughout.
URTUU FAMILIES'Urtuu' is the Mongolian name for the horse stations. The families who host the stations provide food, accommodation and local knowledge plus emotional support when the going gets tough.
OPERATIONS ROOM AND DERBY HQThe entire race operations is overseen by HQ in Ulaanbaatar, which is staffed with the race director, deputy race director, translator and PR operative. All crew and rider movements and communications, including requests for assistance, penalty adjudication, race holds etc. are handled in UB HQ. Most of the Derby’s PR including social media and web updates originate in UB HQ.
6. Race Rules
RIDING HOURSRacing hours are set to ensure everyone’s safety and the smooth running of the complex systems behind the race. In 2022 riding hours will be 07:00 to 18:00.
HORSE WELFAREAt each horse station the veterinary team will scrutinise every horse ridden in and have the power to impose time penalties for any infringements or if the horse has been mistreated. The horse should be a) sound, b) reasonably hydrated and c) return to a resting heart rate no higher than 56bpm within half an hour of coming in. Vets and race managers also have the power to impose penalties between horse stations.
WEIGHT LIMITSRiders must be no more than 85kg dressed to ride. Each rider is allowed to carry up to 5kg of luggage. The weight limits are in place to protect the wellbeing of the horses.
WHAT’S NOT INCLUDED IN THE 85KG OR 5KG?The horse’s saddle and bridle, hobbles and your stirrups or fenders are not included. Your water is not included. Riders must weigh out on Pre-Race Training Day 1, in Ulaanbaatar, and the 5kgs luggage weigh out occurs an hour before the launch.
WHAT’S INCLUDED IN YOUR 85KGS“All riding wear” - riders must elect how much to wear on the scales based on their weight and preferences. Helmets, jods and boots are non-negotiable.
WHAT IS INCLUDED IN YOUR 5KGSThe weight of your saddle bag and its contents, and any other containers you are carrying pockets, bumbags, camera bags etc. Your tech equipment and hydration pack if you didn’t elect to include it in your rider weight by having it on your person during rider weigh out.
SPORTSMANSHIPMore of an ethos than a rule. The spirit of the Mongol Derby is grounded in old fashioned adventure alongside pushing yourself to your physical and mental limits within the bounds of healthy sportsmanship and ensuring horse welfare. The Derby attracts incredible riders from all over the world and sportsmanship and camaraderie are in the very fabric of the race.
7. The Entry Fee - What's Included
ENTRY FEE FOR 2023:$15,500 (USD)
PAYMENT METHOD:Payment is by debit or credit with a monthly instalment plan available. The full balance is due 3 months before the race; the monthly amount due is calculated by the number of months left between registration and the end of May.
If you have chosen to pay by instalments then you would have been charged for the first bit immediately. The next payment will come out of your bank automatically around 28 days later. Following payments will come out on the same day each month until the full amount is paid.
What's included in the entry fee?
THE RACEThe world’s longest horse race and the toughest equestrian event on the planet.
THE HORSES25 race horses, three training horses and a number of spares in case of the unexpected.
HERDERSAround 250 Mongolian herders to prepare and deliver the above horses, herd them in to order and keep them grazed and watered during the race.
HORSE STATIONS29 Mongolian families to feed you, water you and protect you from the cold at night. They are also rather good at impromptu tack, equipment and bodily repairs.
MEDICSA specialist medical response team on call for emergencies.
EQUINE VETSInternational & local equine vets to ensure the welfare of the horses and administer the vet inspections at each horse station.
RACE CREWRace management crew to ensure the smooth running of the race for all riders including the Ulaanbaatar operations room and UK team at the Equestrianists HQ in the UK.
PRE-RACE TRAININGOne day of technical training and rule explanation in Ulaanbaatar and two days of horsemanship and navigation training on the steppe, with invaluable advice from our medics, vets and race crew.
DRIVERS & INTERPRETERSA team of drivers and their vehicles to transport you from Ulaanbaatar to the start line and from the finish line back to UB plus many more to facilitate the race logistics.
CUSTOM SADDLEThe use of a custom made saddle, specially commissioned and designed for the Derby to be short enough, lightweight enough, stable enough and tough enough to last 1000km. Its design is perfectly complemented by the saddle bag which each of you will get in the post in advance of the race.
START CAMPA purpose built private start line camp for pre-race training, the launch party and ceremony befitting of the hardy souls about to take on the world’s toughest horse race.
FINISH CAMPA finish line camp to accommodate early finishers and to act as a base for the closing stages of the race plus the awards ceremony and finish party.
PUBLICITY MACHINEOur press team back in the UK working to share your story with the world’s media, a daily race report and commentary sent from the field, together with images from the official race photographer dispatched daily from the racecourse.
LIVE RACE TRACKINGYour own web page to shout about your campaign, sponsors and training before the event as well as a tracking map linked to your satellite tracker so you can be tracked live throughout the race.
FOOD & DRINKOnce you leave the city your food and drinks are included until you arrive back in Ulaanbaatar.
8. Costs and Sponsorship
SPONSORSHIPMany riders over the years have successfully brought on sponsors to help with access to training, equipment and race costs. You can offer your potential sponsors personal sponsorship packages but major commercial projects and TV shows are restricted - give us a shout if you have plans for these we will always try and work with you to make it happen.
FLIGHTS:The price of flights does obviously depend somewhat on where you are starting from and if you insist on flying everywhere first class. We recommend booking early as fights to Mongolia can get pricey at short notice.
INSURANCE:We will recommend insurance providers who have given riders excellent service in the past.
VISA:You might be lucky enough to come from a country with a visa free agreement with Mongolia (like the USA for example), otherwise it will cost you about £100 depending on what nationality you are, how you buy it and when you apply for it. We have a UK based visa partner The Visa Machine who are a good place to get visa advice and apply for visas on your behalf.
ACCOMMODATION:You need to sort out your accommodation for the duration of your stay in Ulaanbaatar. This is usually 1-2 nights preceding the derby and 1-2 afterwards, and we can recommend accommodation according to taste or budget. Your accommodation for the duration of the race is covered as you will be staying with Urtuu families or sleeping under the stars.
FOOD AND DRINK:You will only need to buy yourself food in Ulaanbaatar. The city has a broad range of culinary delights which can meet the expectation of any budget or dietary requirements.
EQUIPMENT:You will probably want a torch, multi-tool, sleeping bag and a light waterproof coat. Some of this stuff you might already have, some you might want to borrow, some you can persuade sponsors to give you, or you could go out and spend some cash. We have more information on recommended kit once you sign up.
9. Preparation and Training
PHYSICAL TRAININGEven if you ride on a regular basis, you’ll likely need to work on your physical fitness. On the Derby you will be riding 11 hours a day, every day for 1000km. Do not assume that because you are being carried by the horse this won’t be extremely physically demanding. The less fit you are the sooner you will tire and the greater danger you pose to yourself and your horse.
MENTAL PREPARATION1000km across an unknown landscape upon unfamiliar horses will throw up more than a fair share of mental obstacles at you. While it’s not possible to prepare for many of the unknown elements of the Derby, riders more used to adventure holidays or riders with survival and outdoor skills usually fare much better on the steppe.
There is no luxury of any kind to be had on the adventure, and your entry fee is proportionate to the scale of the logistical operation and the ambition of the event, not the degree of nannying you will get from the Equestrianists.