Mongolia hosts world's longest horse race (1000km) PDF Print E-mail
Travel - Tips
Friday, 03 July 2009 00:01
Dave Murray from New Zealand participating in the raceMongol Derby - the world's longest horse race - opening ceremony on 22 August 2009.

The 1,000km race begins in Karakorum, Kharkhorin in Mongolian, the ancient capital of the Mongol empire established by Genghis Khan. Chinggis Khaan in Mongolian.

Twenty-six experienced riders, from 8 countries were selected to participate in the race. (pictures of 3 participants on this page).

The race will promote tourism to Mongolia, highlighting it as a leading country for adventure tourism. Adventurous travelers perceive the Mongolian steppe as an exceptional horseback riding destination.


Marco Polo bookInspired by Genghis' Messenger System
The Mongol Derby follows in the footsteps of Genghis Khan's messaging system. To establish an efficient ruling system, Genghis developed a superior messenger system. A messengers would gallop from one station to the next one, change horses and continue to the next station.

Genghis's orders would travel to the far corners of his empire in Europe, within 14 days, faster than it sometimes takes a postcard to reach Europe nowadays. Marco Polo in his 13th century travel book marveled at the splendor and efficiency of the Genghis messenger system: "At every twenty-five miles, as I said, or anyhow at every thirty miles, you find one of these stations" (page 1248, click on book image to read the full page).

The Mongol derby follows Marco Polo's description. Accordingly, horse stations will be set up at 30 to 40 km intervals along the 1,000 km course. Each horse will be ridden only one leg of about 40km to the next horse station called in Mongolian Morin Urtuus (Mori=Horse, Urtuus=station). The riders will change horses and continue to the next station. Twenty-five horse stations will be set up for the race by Mongolian nomadic horse herders.

Marco Polo continued: "For it is a fact that on all these posts taken together there are more than 300,000 horses kept up, especially for the use of the messengers". The Mongol Derby will have only a fraction of this number, approximately 800 horses for the race. Horses in Mongolia outnumber people by a 7 to 1 ratio, so that should not present a problem.

Mongol Derby Saskia Van Heeren  South Africa Veterinarian Care
Genghis is remembered in the western world for his cruelty to man. That is not the case with respect to horses. In the Mongolian nomadic tradition, Genghis is valued for establishing the "Mongolian law" which includes specific laws on caring for horses.

In the Genghis Secrete History known in Mongolia as the Nuuts Tovchoo it says: “Take care of the horses before they lose condition. For once they have lost it, you may spare them as much as you will, they will never recover it on the march. Don’t overload the riding horses".

Genghis continued to set the punishment for disobeying this law: "If these orders are disobeyed commanders are authorized to behead offenders on the spot, so as to protect the welfare of the horses”

The organizers of the race "The Adventurists" tour company, managed by Tom Morgan wish to abide by Genghis's rules.
Tom Morgan says: "The Mongol Derby is being staged in collaboration with some of Mongolia's most renowned and respected horsemen and equine veterinarians. Their expert knowledge combined with the logistics put in place by the Adventurists will ensure that the horses are properly looked after throughout the adventure"

The Adventurist along with an American veterinary NGO based in Mongolia have established a program of care for the horses before, during and after the race.
Mongolia's head equine vet and a Scottish vet with 32 years of experience will supervise.

water Water Resources
Water for the horse and rider is a critical issue on a 1,000 km horse race. To ensure that the riders find water for the horses during the race, the course has been designed with access to water in mind. Each rider will receive accurate GPS locations of all the water sources along the course of the race route.

Satellite Beacons
Each rider will be equipped with an emergency satellite-tracking device. In the case of emergency or injury to the rider or horse, the rider will activate a satellite beacon and thereby notify the emergency rescue team of his exact location.

The Mongol Derby is the longest race in the world. The route stretches along the Mongolian steppe, crossing rivers, and climbing mountains. The exact route of the race has not been disclosed. A GPS navigation system with the route details will be given to the riders on the starting line.

Richard Dunwoody a world champion in horse jumping, involved in preparing the participants says of the Derby: 'The Mongol Derby is going to be the sort of experience that many people can only dream of, although the jockeys had better not underestimate how incredibly tough it's going to be. Riding 1,000 km is not for the faint of heart or weak of limb'.

Mongol Derby Tara Reddy USA Benefits for Rural Mongolia
To be eligible for the race each rider has had to raise funds for charity organizations working in Mongolia. The funds raised by the Mongol Derby riders will be donated to Mercy Corps' projects that support herding families and communities in remote rural areas. Over the past five years, Mercy Corps has established a strong reputation across the vast Gobi region, and has worked with business associations and local organizations to ensure a robust economy that preserves ancient traditions. Mercy Corps supports rural communities in Mongolia in an effort to meet their economic and social needs, helping individuals, families and communities to become more self-sufficient, diversified in their production, and better linked to local, regional and national markets.

Khentii Mountains - End Of Race
The Mongol Derby will finish in the Khentii mountains on the banks of the Onon river, on 5 September 2009; paying tribute to the birthplace of Chinggis Khaan.

Race Opposition
In spite of the professional expertise and careful planning, some opposition to the race has been voiced. The opposition has been led by the Long Rider Guild - the international association of equestrian explorers.
The guild has warned the organizers: The Adventurists is preparing to embark on an ill-advised equestrian misadventure, one in which your company does not appreciate the many equestrian hardships and dangers being presented to the horses and riders.

The Guild claims their mounted explorers recently encountered in Mongolia wolf attacks, the bubonic plague, rabies, flash floods, foul water, poisoned food, horse theft and personal assault, during trips in Mongolia.

Australian Neale Irons - who is planning his own cross-Mongolia horse ride adventure in 2010 - says: "People that have a true appreciation of horses have great respect for them and are always concerned about their welfare. On this basis alone, the organizers have a responsibility to look after their customers".

The Adventurists Response to the Opposition
In a reaction The Adventurists stated that these comments are wholly unfounded and none of the facts were checked with the organisers before publication. They went on to assert that horse welfare has been of paramount importance at every stage of the Derby and will remain top of the agenda at all times. And that the extensive veterinary program, route planning, the emergency back up system and expert team involved will result in a successful first edition of the World's Longest Horse Race. Mongolia will be the prime benefactor they say - according to the ethos of the organisers the host country will be publicised around the world as a top adventure tourism destination, and more than £25,000 will be donated to charity projects by the riders to help some of the most vulnerable rural communities.

Source: To Mongolia: Mongol Derby



Related Links

Mongolia horses roaming the steppeThe official Mongol Derby Website

Long Riders Guild Website

Mongolia Tourism - Mongol Derby

Race Map (not official) To see details: change to satellite mode and zoom-in

reply written by kent, July 06, 2009
OH, and I forgot about boredom. I forgot that it's such a modern scourge. Why all this fuss about poverty and illiteracy and disease and human rights and economic collapse when true human suffering stares out at us from the mirror each morning. We need to focus our efforts on the alleviation of boredom?????
reply written by kent, July 06, 2009
Dear Cityperson,
I hardly hardly think it's just tourism when it is promoted the way it is. A race so great "it makes a roman emperor weak at the knees?". By it's own description it's a world class, record breaking endurance event, hardly just tourism.
And if it's staged specifically for the benefit of charity, it's also in a different league than tourism.
And in tourism, there is generally an intent on the part of the tourist to interact with the local people and culture, to come to the country for that purpose. In this case, it's all about the racers; their blogs, their efforts to raise funds, whether they will be able to finish. It's not even historically accurate as a recreation of the communication system. Nor is it representative of horse racing as Mongolians know and love the sport. It's a stunt, a gimmick, but it's all ok because they are writing a check to Mercy Corps. Simply giving money to charity does not buy respectability or sensitivity. And, I am convinced that had they thought this through a bit more, they could have achieved all their financial goals without marketing the whole thing like a fraternity prank.
reply written by khotiin khun, July 03, 2009
@kent i have no idea what the issue is. this is tourism right? It is never asked why Mongolians don't join tourists on a trip. And these guys even leave a donation.
I think doing this horse race is a better way to fight boredom, than telling other people what they can't do
reply written by Kent, July 03, 2009
Why are their no Mongolians participating in this "race" which celebrates Mongolian history and crosses Mongolian soil. This is a "race" that is intended to "fight boredom"(as the organizers loudly proclaim).

It would be interesting to listen as one of these riders explains to a hard working herding family that they are doing all this because they are "bored" at home.

So all these riders are so bored with their comfortable lives in the WEst that they need to spend $5000 usd each AND raise at least 1000 british pounds for charity? Why don't these racers give some of their time, as well as some money and help dig toilets or wells in rural communities?

I don't think this event reflects well on Mongolia at all.

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Last Updated on Friday, 03 July 2009 17:04
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