The longest horse race in the world – BBC World Service

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The landscape here is something else really. There is just an incredible sense of openness. These massive rolling hills,
huge open plains – there’s not many places where you feel this sense of space. The Mongol Darby is the world’s longest and toughest horse race. It’s the 1,000
kilometres based on Genghis Khan’s ancient postal system, where he could get
messages to all corners of the Empire. The riders are the only things that do a
thousand kilometres, so they change horses every 40 or less kilometres. So the horses are always fresh and the riders are always exhausted. The idea for the Mongol Derby came about, because I was in Mongolia organising a car rally and then just got to know the culture and
got to be out in the countryside with the herders and meet the horses and
gradually came to understand a bit more about it. We were looking at launching a horse
race. Setting up the first run was quite a challenge, partly because we were wading
into a whole world of unknown so it took a long time traveling around the
countryside, speaking to the herders, to historians, speaking to equestrians,
working out how we constructed the rules to ensure the animal safety in this kind
of changing and different environment. The Derby has over 500 people helping to
run the event and the vast majority of those are local herders. So we travel down the course many times before the race actually takes place, first of all to find the kind of general course structure that will enable us to
get the support network working. and then after that, we then revisit at the right time of year when we know the herders will be in their summer locations and
then we meet the families that will host the horse stations and talk to them
about the race. We’re staying in their homes and we’re borrowing their horses
from them. So they are the very backbone of the race. The horse holds a very spiritually important place in Mongolian culture. They are a ridiculously tough animal. They’re fast, very different to other animals and I think that combination of both that massive
landscape, these unusual horses and the rich culture that’s so tied into the animals themselves, makes the race quite different to anything else. Then they come into each horse station, the riders choose their own horses. We try and stand back and let them make that choice. Partly it’s a very personal thing I
think, that interaction they have with the horse and the bond they form over
the ride that they’re about to do. The people who look after their horses
better generally do much better than those who are too competitive in the kind of traditional, “I’m going to skim and go faster and get to the end”. There are some that are more
wild than others and I think that the person’s temperament and the horse’s
temperament need to kind of match. I think what makes it hard for the riders
is a few things. It’s partly the exposure, that they’re outside for ten days, but
it’s more that it’s sheer exhaustion over time: riding from 6 am to 8 o’clock at night every day, day in day out. It takes its toll. The first Mongol Derby, there was a joint
win by a Mongolian and a South African guy who rode together across the finish
line which was really nice to see. The most memorable moment was watching the last rider come in more or less unscathed. Yeah I won’t forget that for a while

 

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