Derby Diary #4


Derby Diary #4

The Equestrianists

Mongol Derby

The Adventure Continues…


Rosie Bathurst: “Coming into HS2 at the end of Day 1, I was riding in a big group and most people decided to stay there rather than risk going on, but Alice, Marie and I got on our steeds and off we went. Along we trotted, hopping back and forth across a river. We saw some camels, got excited by camels…then realised we had a long-ass way to go until HS3 and not much time. We debated whether we should go left or right of a big rock. We went left. Shoulda gone right! Got chased by some big scary wolf dogs because we got a bit close to a ger!

After riding away we saw some wooden buildings in the distance. We realised that we were going to get penalised to hell if we kept riding past curfew, so we investigated and decided we were here for adventure. Camping it was! Turns out it was a goat shed with a little corral. Marie and Alice hobbled their horses and put them on one side of the shed. I had lost my hobbles along the way – great job on Day 1!

Once the horses were happily settled, selfies were taken, and we went to find where we could sleep. We stepped into a hut filled with goat poo, picked our way over the decaying goat carcasses, and settled down for the night! We tucked into dinner…chocco protein bar for the win. It was nice and dark when we saw car headlights through the shed walls and we SHIT ourselves! We definitely thought we were in trouble! Thankfully, it was just the Derby crew checking on riders. The crew was followed by another car with the family whose scary doggos had chased us earlier. They had taken in rider Chips Broughton earlier in the evening and saw us ride over the hill, so came over to check on us as it was forecast to rain like crazy. What legends!

We packed up our stuff and jumped in the back of the pickup truck and went back to their ger. Once there, this awesome family cooked us up yummy lamb and noodles (it was Day 1 and I still was enjoying lamb and noodles.) Oh, and we had toasts of vodka and airag, all whilst they played Charlie Chaplin sketches on the TV. As the TV program was silent, we could all understand it. After the wonderful hospitality, we went to sleep (or maybe we passed out from tiredness or vodka, who knows?).

In the morning we were driven back to our nearby horses who’d been out grazing throughout the night, and the lovely family had already tacked them up for us. We got packed and were off on our way! It was so foggy we could barely see the horse in front of us, so we had to go slowly, hoping not to ride past HS3. We luckily navigated right in for breakfast with one awesome story to tell.”


Kelsey Riley: “I had been warned about it. I had started to suspect it. Now, as a pair of snarling dogs came lurching at me as I hung onto the side of my bolting horse, I knew the stories about the ger dogs had to be true. We had been galloping for 10kms down a desolate dirt road through what appeared to be an equine cemetery, with horse skulls and bits of bone scattered across the green knolls. Rounding a bend we found ourselves face-to-face with a fully intact horse skeleton. As my horse spooked and launched me half out of the saddle, two dogs blasted out of a ger, biting at my horse’s ankles as I struggled to hang on. “Really?” I thought. “This is how I’m going to die? A year of preparation to ride 620 miles across the Mongolian steppe and I’m going to be ripped to pieces just four days in by two angry dogs? ‘Not today, boys!'” I shouted as I hauled my ass back up onto the saddle and got my horse into escape mode. As we reached the edge of their territory, the dogs backed off and slowly disappeared into the distance.”


Jocelyn Pierce: “By the evening of Day 6, I was pretty worn out. Our group of Michael Turner, the “Archibells” (brothers Rob, Ed and Jack Archibald and their cousin Henry Bell) and I had raced our record number of miles in a day and I felt it. As we came into our final horse station of the day, I must’ve looked like a pathetic, desperate wreck, because when I motioned to the herder that I needed a very calm but fast horse for my next mount, he immediately walked over to a cream coloured gelding with a little fluffy forelock. As soon as we were galloping out of the horse station, I knew I had an absolute gem. His gaits were by far the smoothest I encountered during the whole race. He just followed right behind the horse in front of him, not seeming to care that one of my hands was pushed forcefully into the side of his neck holding a mess of jumbled reins, and the other clutched a fistful of mane while I mustered up my best impression of a two-point, while actually just flopping along like a rag doll.

We were aiming for a water well that was marked on the map, thinking we could water our horses there and hopefully there would be a family nearby to take us in. There was a collection of gers on top of a hill close to the well, and Mike headed up with his note (a request for hospitality translated into Mongolian) to see if our large group could stay. The young woman began jumping up and down with excitement about the prospect of guests and sent her husband into town to get supplies for dinner. We grazed and watered our horses and then put them in the small, convenient corral behind the ger. My good citizen of a horse even let me hobble him with zero fuss or kicks aimed at my head.

“Spaghetti?” our charming hostess asked. And with an enthusiastic and simultaneous response from our group, she smiled, nodded, and went to work. She prepared a spread like no other. We had a smattering of appetisers to hold us over until the main course was ready: fresh jam, something similar to clotted cream, bread and what looked to be yesterday’s dinner of rice and meat accompanied with nori sheets that she motioned to roll up like sushi. Meanwhile, our hostess worked on dinner, chopping vegetables on her cutting board on the floor. She was slicing and dicing everything with such precision and expertise that we might as well have been watching an episode of Top Chef. “She’s really going to town, isn’t she?” asked Rob. We sat around in the ger for close to two hours, while a constant stream of friends and family stopped in to meet us and have a cup of milk tea. It was well after 10:30 pm when she finally presented us with her masterpiece —Spaghetti Bolognese à la Goat, beautifully garnished with a cherry tomato cut in quarters on each plate.

When it was time to go to bed, she motioned to us that she, her husband and their 1 year old daughter would sleep in their van and we could sleep in the ger, an offer which we adamantly refused. We happily rolled out our sleeping bags outside, doing our best to avoid piles of goat poop. It was easily my favourite night of the whole Derby. I had a good horse, a full belly and fell asleep to countless shooting stars in the clear night sky.

The next morning, we were up at 5 am to graze and water our horses, but our hostess had clearly already been up for quite some time. She made us delightful cups of coffee with little chocolate sprinkles on top. Then, still in her chic nightdress, she strolled into the corral to help Rob, whose horse was so wild he needed to be hobbled to be saddled. We all looked wide-eyed at each other as our seemingly dainty hostess held Rob’s horse by the ears, reprimanding him in a no-nonsense tone as Rob tightened the girth.

One of the things that struck me the most about Mongolia was how, time and time again, the Mongolian people came to our rescue with a true willingness to help total strangers. Where else in the world could you walk up to someone’s house, not speak the language, look totally different and know that without a doubt, they would gladly take you in, feed you, feed your horses, and let you sleep under the same roof? It’s truly magical.”


Julia Conway: “Waking up on the morning of Day 2, I was feeling pretty fabulous. When I arrived at HS4 after a slow slog on a sweet bay horse, I asked for a fast horse. Ask and thee shall receive! Two giggling teenagers pulled a wide eyed chestnut beauty off the line. The horse wiggled his way around like a kite, but quick as a flash the teens threw on the saddle and tightened the girth while the horse zipped around between them. My instructions were made very clear: stick to the road and do not get off the horse! Gotcha! As soon as my bum hit the soggy saddle he was away like a shot. Ducking beneath the horse line and trying to gain some control, I made a wide arc through the mud to the intended direction, found the path and was away.

We rattled down the road for a few kilometres and then settled into a nice rhythm. A few kilometres from Burd Soum (a village) we were in a lovely canter and I was of course singing my own praises for picking a champ. As I eased him around a nasty looking puddle, we left the road for a tiny moment but it was enough for my chestnut dude to step into a hole, and down we went. We slid on our sides through the mud for what seemed an eternity before we both scrambled to our feet. My horse took one look at me and thought “no thank you, sir” and was away. I held onto my rawhide lead for dear life, but the rain had turned it back to slippery skin. It pulled through my hands and he was away, eating grass as he went like a naughty pony.

Before my shock had even registered, a kind herder appeared over the horizon on a motorbike. He pulled up beside me, and after a flurry of hand gestures, I climbed on behind him for what turned out to be the chase of a lifetime! My naughty horse had made an attempt to join a small herd of horses on the edge of town. Holding onto my guardian angel’s waist for dear life, I watched in disbelief as the stallion of the herd chased and kicked my horse all about town. We followed the herd around a mountain, back through town and around the mountain again. By now we had the attention of the entire soum and seven more guys on bikes had joined the chase.

Through town once more and down the main street we went, small families poking their heads through doors to see what the heck was happening in their sleepy town. By now my shock had turned to vague hysteria, and I was laughing so much I could barely see or hold onto my herder’s waist.

With some crafty manoeuvring, the horse herd was corralled into someone’s small backyard, turning the yard to mud. The stallion gave my chestnut boy a few more kicks for good measure and then made his way out. My dude was finally caught, and a cheer went up across town. There were high fives all around and many laughs (and I’m sure sighs of relief). After it was established through some more hand gestures (thumbs up!) that my horse and I were fine, I was literally thrown back on to my wide-eyed champ with one very clear instruction: “NO OFF”. With another 20 kilometres over a mountain left to ride, I was sure my horse had already run his race. But alas, he trotted into HS5 with a heart rate of 56 and eagerly joined his friends on the line without a backward glance.”

The Equestrianists

Mongol Derby