Bob Lengthy was having fun with some wine and whiskey with associates when the documentary “All of the Wild Horses” got here up in dialog, and, quickly sufficient, was enjoying on anyone’s laptop. The movie is a take a look at the Mongol Derby, an exhausting 1,000-kilometer horse race by means of the Mongolian grasslands. Lengthy, a seasoned rider who virtually grew up on horseback on the plains of Wyoming, completed watching the movie, thought for about 20 minutes, then determined, yeah, he might journey that race. This was final October. Lengthy was 69 years outdated.
Earlier this month, Lengthy not solely rode the Mongol Derby; he gained it. At 70, he’s the oldest individual within the occasion’s 11-year historical past to win.
Not simply anyone can enter. This 12 months there have been 42 riders from 12 completely different nations. An utility course of weeds out riders who aren’t certified. Folks accredited to journey within the Mongol Derby should display severe horsemanship. “I despatched my utility in, and it obtained a few pings again requesting extra info,” Lengthy stated. “I assume they had been pondering, ‘are you severe, with how outdated and fats you might be?’”
Lengthy in fact was severe, so he despatched in video of him using in Excessive Mountain Path occasions, that are one thing like horseback impediment programs. The planners of the Mongol Derby had been happy by what they noticed and allowed Lengthy to enter.
The race itself is a take a look at not solely of how nicely and quick one can journey a horse, but additionally of navigation abilities, group, technique, and judgment. Modeled after Genghis Khan’s famed system of horseback messengers passing alongside info between stations set dozens of kilometers aside, the Mongol Derby consists of riders galloping between 28 stations. At each they dismount and select a horse for the following leg. Then hop again on and hold using.
To navigate they’ve a GPS unit. That’s it. And no matter native data the barely-broken horses have, in fact. Every rider can be given a sheet of Mongolian phrases ought to they encounter locals and must ask for help or lodging, one thing Lengthy availed himself of, and which turned the spotlight of the race for him.
Every station has sleeping quarters for the riders, however uncomfortable in such cramped circumstances, Lengthy sought out native households who’d let him bunk up with them for the night. He introduced alongside presents, together with pocketknives and cigarettes for adults, small toys for kids. Not solely was he profitable at negotiating locations to sleep for the night, his good graces meant he had native assist in caring for his horses.
Lengthy additionally festooned his mounts with presents. He introduced small blue ribbons from competitions gained within the US, and hooked up them to the horse he rode every leg. Upon relinquishing the horse to pick out one other, he was cautious to thank the proudly owning herdsman profusely for letting him journey their horse. A favourite amongst locals, Lengthy turned often known as “Cowboy Bob.”
“I might flip to the herdsmen and say that this was an excellent horse and it was a privilege to journey him,” Lengthy stated. “I might try this as a lot as I might, by means of the interpreters. So, it turned actually enjoyable to work together with the herdsmen.”
At every station a volunteer vet would examine the horses for put on and tear and to make certain the riders weren’t overtaxing them, although that might be a troublesome feat for such athletically gifted horses. “Some 500 nomadic horse herders and 1,500 horses’ associate with the Mongol Derby, making a system of veterinary stations manned by our group of Mongolian and Worldwide vets,” stated Erik Cooper, Occasion Supervisor of the Derby. “Riders are stored to strict guidelines relating to horse welfare and will not be allowed a brand new mount except their earlier associate has cleared our vet examine.”
Bob’s mounts at all times handed their checks with flying colours.
Not each rider might say the identical. If a horse checked out as injured or overworked, racers had been charged with a penalty. The racers themselves, nonetheless, had been simply as prone to be injured or overworked. This 12 months, accidents to riders included punctured lungs, damaged collarbones, and damaged ribs. Driving 100 kilometers per day is grueling, particularly at velocity, on an unfamiliar horse, by means of typically unforgiving climate. Like using the “Tour de France on unknown bicycles,” stated Lara Prior-Palmer, who gained the race in 2013 (at 19 years outdated, she’s the youngest individual to win). Over a 3rd of all riders, 39 p.c, didn’t end this 12 months’s occasion.
“You simply journey 650 miles on a dying march,” Lengthy stated.
Lengthy completed in seven and a half days, having ridden 28 completely different horses. He appeared to have a magic eye for selecting his subsequent journey at every station. As soon as he assumed the lead firstly of the race, he by no means faltered, making all the correct decisions, staying heading in the right direction, and feeling refreshed after lodging with locals.
“Preparation trumps youth, Lengthy stated. “I’d accomplished all my analysis. I had all my diet organized. I had all my gear examined and prepared. I don’t know the right way to do it any higher. I had ready nearly as good as I knew the right way to put together for a mission reminiscent of this. It was an excellent expertise for me.”
All photographs through Mongol Derby’s Fb web page.