Steppe-by-Steppe: Mongol Derby Riders Cross the Finish Line in World’s Longest Horse Race

by Fran Jurga | 8 September 2009 | The Jurga Report at

A traditional Mongol saddle, as seen in the popular horse trekking/hippotherapy manifesto book and film set largely in Mongolia, The Horse Boy.

It’s official: the last horse has crossed the finish line in the world’s longest horse race, the Mongol Derby. Set up as a fundraiser for 23 riders representing charities from all over the world, the race drew awe and ire from as many corners of the globe as it drew riders.

The premise was simple: ride across 1000 km of one of the world’s last great open spaces–and certainly the largest open space on the globe. Urtuus, or horse camps, were set up at 40 km intervals so that riders had to switch their gear to fresh horses.

The ultimate win was actually a tie between a South African and a native Mongolian. Winning was not just about crossing the finish line first; riders were also scored for their care and welfare concerns of their mounts.

Although the race ended almost a week ago, the first reports and photos are just hitting the Internet now and the riders and international veterinary panel have not been interviewed for their opinions.

I just thought everyone should know that all the riders survived and, as far as I know, there were no catastrophic injuries to humans or horses. There were a few withdrawals, including celebrity British jockey Richard Dunwoody, and some falls that caused withdrawals.

Here’s a link you’ve never followed before! Click here to read a report on the race in the UB Post, national newspaper of Mongolia.

Click here to read a report based on quotes from one of the New Zealand riders who must have phoned home over the weekend.

I became interested in Mongolia a long time ago, and whetted my curiosity as an advocate for the 2009 hit book and film, The Horse Boy by Rupert Isaacson. The documentary film made of the book’s characters real-life, real-time horse trek across Mongolia premieres nationally this month.

Between the publicity for the book, film and now this controversial horse race, this has been the year of Mongolian horses in the press. My guess is that Mongolia will become the next go-to place on the horse world map. It is, after all, where horse culture was born and has never waned. Where eco-tourism is an oxymoron. And where you can still get very, very lost.

And I hope it stays that way. So let’s not all go at once. And read Rupert’s book, whether you plan to trek across Mongolia on horseback…or from your armchair. It’s an adventure you won’t forget.




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