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1000km Mongol Derby

Mongol Derby photo


A HUGE Congratulations to Chloe Phillips-Harris for completing the 1000km Mongol Derby on horseback, below is her amazing account of the race:

I never thought riding 1000km would be easy. But I never thought it was going to be as hard as it turned out to be. I guess when you sign up for the "longest and toughest horse race in the world" you shouldn't expect it to be anything else but extreme, nothing gains that title by being an easy feat.

The Mongol Derby is a 1000km horse across the Mongolian wilderness, no roads, no markers, no support team and no one to hold your hand when it all goes wrong. You get a new horse every 40km, 5kgs of gear (including sleeping bag, snacks and clothes) for the entire time, a bridle, a saddle and some GPS co-ordinances of where to swap horses. The rest is up to you, navigating, deciding where to sleep, battling the elements and feral horses, saddle sores and whatever else Mongolia throws at you is all part of the adventure. Of course it's is all for a good cause, part of the race requirement is to raise money for international charity Cool Earth and another organisation of your choice, I chose Kiwi Care Team.

What an adventure it was, I signed up for the Derby in October 2012, because I wanted to test myself, see if I really could ride 1000km. Did I have what it takes, was I tough enough to survive the infamous Mongol Derby, and make into the exclusive club of riders who have completed it.

But first I had to get insurance. This was far harder than i ever thought it would be,I emailed, phoned and in some form contacted almost every insurance company in New Zealand and was declined by every single one. With only a few weeks to go, I was stuck, no insurance meant there would be no racing. Luckily a friend put me in touch with Sandra Grant from Health and Travel Insurance ltd, and just in the knick of time, I had the coverage and policy I needed to go race semi-wild horses in one of the most remote places on earth.

The racing started on August 4th, after three pre-race training days. Thirty-two riders from around the world including myself all the way from New Zealand, on small Mongolian horses galloped in a chaotic mess through the start flags and set out across the wide open steppes.

It was a challenge from the very beginning, sweating it out in temperatures of around thirty-five degrees for hours, just as the day started to cool having made it out of the first horse station on my second horse I watch a massive thunderstorm roll in. Within minutes the temperature drops and the rain comes down, lightening flashed, and I couldn't see more than a few feet in front of me. Unable to get to my raincoat, my little chestnut horse more adept at surviving this weather than me, turned its back the wind just as hail started pelting down burning every bit of my exposed skin with icy bullets. Less than twelve hours in and I was soaked and frozen. That night when I finally got to a horse station I slept on the wet floor of a ger (yurt) crushed together with other riders for warmth.

Day two I gallop through sand dunes and desert ironically in pouring rain. In fact it rains all day, I cover almost 140km completely cold and wet. By evening I ride up to a ger and a surprised looking herding family takes me in for the night. I can barely swing my leg to get off my horse, my joints cold and stiff for so long have seized up and feel like someone is driving nails into them. In the morning walking is the ultimate agony, luckily the herder helps me catch my fairly wild horse that's been hobbled grazing all night.

Finally the sun comes out again and I get another turn of extreme Mongolia weather, a scorching hot day. I grab some mutton stew for breakfast at the first horse station before riding on. It turns out to be the last meal ill have for a very long time. I ride all day, one horse after another, riding style going out the window as I alternate between two-point, sitting, resting one leg at a time, anything to ease aching joints. I spend the last few hours of the day fighting a mule looking brown horse that constantly battles me to do anything but go where I want. More tired than ever before I coax my stubborn steed through the last few minutes of daylight and find a camp to stay at, they give me a bed, but there's no food to be had and no drinking water. I hobble and un-saddle the horse and even hungry fall fast asleep exhausted. Ive ridden well over 140km since waking up and almost 400km total.

Day four I should have been getting better, my body used to the routine. I change horses have some breakfast and keep going. By mid morning I throw up all my breakfast off the side of my galloping horse, and then every mouthful of water I try to swallow after that. Im sick really sick, and battle my way to the next horse station. I make the stupid decision to keep riding. By mid afternoon I climb off my horse, with nothing left to throw up I sit on the ground alone retching.

Eventually I climb back onto my horse delirious, barely able to see, holding the saddle to stay on I somehow make my way to the next horse station, knowing my chances of getting there were better than there chances of finding me alone in the wide open Mongolian steppe.

I climb off, get the compulsory vet check, and stumble into the ger. I curl up in a ball of misery and the herding family cover me in blankets. The next thing I know it's completely dark, 11pm and the derby medics having been alerted and found their way out, are huddled over me with a torch. I get two bags of IV fluids, a bottle of electrolytes to drink. I fall back to sleep feeling better, blessing the Prometheus Medical team for saving me.

Waking I feel exhausted and tender but no longer sick. I climb on the first horse at 7am a tiny dun, which bolts across lumpy swamp in the wrong direction still weak I have no chance of stopping it, the situation goes from bad to worse as it flies at break neck speed the saddle goes forward over its wither, my tie down strap comes off and rain jacket, hobbles and my tracking device go flying , never to be seen again. A pack of dogs, massive Mongolian mastiff type things see me and start chasing, two go behind the horse while the other run forward to head me off.

Mongolian dogs are not pets, dangerous at the best of times and with no herders to call them off I'm in real trouble. Swampy terrain, bolting horse, saddle about to fall off and being chased by wild dogs and there's nothing I can do. I feel like there's no escape when suddenly my tiny horse literally leaps over the jaws of death as the two front dogs heading us off close in, we sail over top of them and the pony hits the grounds with speed I never knew any horse possessed we fly forwards leaving disappointed dogs in our wake.

I make it through another day, crossing beautiful mountains patrolled by soaring giant eagles, passing ancient deer stones monuments and valleys filled with yaks. Feeling lucky to be alive I push on making almost 150km. I stay with a yak herding family for the night, where the children having no idea about the race and obviously not having seen a white girl turn up on a pony before play and giggle looking at me all night.

Over next few days I follow river valleys, cross more mountains, gallop through dry sand basins and spend a few hours lost in a swamp. Even though it takes another day before I can eat anything again, after being sick things start to feel better. My body is now used to riding all day, I'm confident in my navigating, and I love the thrill of being completely alone in one of the last wild places on earth. There is nothing like galloping through wide open country, with huge herds of horses grazing, vultures as big as a small horse soar the thermals and not another rider, another person, a road, a fence or a house in sight.

I cross the finish line seven and a half days after starting, finishing in fifth place, faster than last years professional jockeys won it in. On average I rode 133km a day. Almost 600km I rode completely alone. I had extreme highs and extreme lows, I was tried, tested and survived more than I ever thought I could. But I conquered the Mongol Derby, I was tough enough, and so was my gear.

I rode the whole race, through sickness, exhaustion, highs and lows, and in all conditions. I was lucky, I didn't fall victim to the saddle sores and the secondary infections resulting that claimed many of the riders. More importantly I raised money for Kiwi Care Team thanks to all the amazing donations from so many people.

Back in New Zealand planning the next adventure.

Cheers to everyone for all the great support and fantastic messages throughout the race.


Chloe Phillips-Harris


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