December 1, 2020

Category: Mongol Derby

I get by with a little help


Derby riders often push themselves to the very brink, and sometimes help comes when they least expect it. In Hinke’s case, a serendipitous encounter with the Mongolian version of her grandparent made all the difference; and for Chris, a friend’s encouragement and a life-restoring bowl of noodles got him back in the game:

Hinke Van Der Werf ~ “It was the third day, around 7:45pm, and I still had 10 km to ride before reaching HS12. I decided to stop and find a place for the night for me and my horse “Johnny Walker”.  I couldn’t find any gers and I decided to stay outside and camp, but while I was making a plan, Johnny was making a bunch of noise like he wanted to go further. Finally I saw a small ger and decided to go there. No one was at the ger, so I thought I would maybe tie up my horse somewhere nearby and camp outside myself so my horse wouldn’t run away. Then I heard horses galloping and I saw an old herder with his two horses coming closer.

The only thing I could think when I saw him was that he looked like my grandfather, who was an absolute horseman and who passed away when I was six years old. The old man and I couldn’t understand each other, but he saw that I was in bad condition. I was dehydrated and puking. He took my horse, gave me a blanket, and made tea and soup. After that, we took care of the animals for the night (horses, sheep, goats etc.) until the Mongol Derby crew came to check on Johnny and me. Johnny cleared the vet check, and then the vets asked if I was comfortable staying there for the night. I told them that I was more than comfortable, because the herder reminded me of my grandfather. The translator spoke with the herder, looked at me, and then told me that he also spoke about me as his granddaughter. It was a really special moment when you don’t speak each other’s language, but still know exactly what the other means.

Grandfather showed me the stars, was interested in my picture book, and we shared our food. The next day, I helped him with the sheep, and before catching the horses we did a prayer to wish me a happy ride at 6am. He even rode with me for a bit. The story still gives me goosebumps: his manners, the way he looked, the way he took care of the animals – so similar to the way my grandfather used to do. I hope to meet him again to thank him for being there when I was in need of help. I would also like him to know that he is famous in the Netherlands, where this story reached the national news.”


Chris Maude ~ “I hadn’t eaten really since the start camp and I was dehydrated. I had spent the last three days wrestling with some seriously feisty Mongolian horses.  At this point, I was crashing: it felt like my body was trying to give up.  My teammate Rob Skinner forced me to rest, and told me if I didn’t eat and get rehydrated, I wouldn’t finish.

Here Chris demonstrates the  infamous Derby “Thousand Yard Stare”, which commonly sets in around Day 5 or 6. Can’t you just feel his pain?

Photo by Richard Dunwoody

At that moment all I could think of was “I wish I hadn’t gotten drunk and signed up for this race!” Luckily, the food and tea did the trick and I started to bounce back.  Over the course of the last few days of the race, things went really well. We had fast horses, great teammates, and we ended up finishing second!  The whole experience was unbelievable!”