Bob Lengthy was having fun with some wine and whiskey with buddies when the documentary “All of the Wild Horses” got here up in dialog, and, quickly sufficient, was taking part in on someone’s laptop. The movie is a take a look at the Mongol Derby, an exhausting 1,000-kilometer horse race via 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 may journey that race. This was final October. Lengthy was 69 years previous.
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 yr there have been 42 riders from 12 completely different international locations. An utility course of weeds out riders who aren’t certified. Individuals accredited to journey within the Mongol Derby need to reveal critical horsemanship. “I despatched my utility in, and it obtained a few pings again requesting extra info,” Lengthy mentioned. “I assume they have been considering, ‘are you critical, with how previous and fats you’re?’”
Lengthy in fact was critical, so he despatched in video of him driving in Excessive Mountain Path occasions, that are one thing like horseback impediment programs. The planners of the Mongol Derby have 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 expertise, 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 maintain driving.
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 have to ask for help or lodging, one thing Lengthy availed himself of, and which grew to become 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 items, 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 items. 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 grew to become referred to as “Cowboy Bob.”
“I might flip to the herdsmen and say that this was a fantastic horse and it was a privilege to journey him,” Lengthy mentioned. “I might try this as a lot as I may, via the interpreters. So, it grew to become 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 sure the riders weren’t overtaxing them, although that will be a tough 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 staff of Mongolian and Worldwide vets,” mentioned Erik Cooper, Occasion Supervisor of the Derby. “Riders are stored to strict guidelines concerning horse welfare and are usually not allowed a brand new mount until their earlier associate has cleared our vet verify.”
Bob’s mounts all the time handed their checks with flying colours.
Not each rider may say the identical. If a horse checked out as injured or overworked, racers have been charged with a penalty. The racers themselves, nonetheless, have been simply as prone to be injured or overworked. This yr, accidents to riders included punctured lungs, damaged collarbones, and damaged ribs. Driving 100 kilometers per day is grueling, particularly at pace, on an unfamiliar horse, via usually unforgiving climate. Like driving the “Tour de France on unknown bicycles,” mentioned Lara Prior-Palmer, who gained the race in 2013 (at 19 years previous, she’s the youngest individual to win). Over a 3rd of all riders, 39 p.c, didn’t end this yr’s occasion.
“You simply journey 650 miles on a loss of life march,” Lengthy mentioned.
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 initially of the race, he by no means faltered, making all the proper selections, staying heading in the right direction, and feeling refreshed after lodging with locals.
“Preparation trumps youth, Lengthy mentioned. “I’d accomplished all my analysis. I had all my vitamin organized. I had all my gear examined and prepared. I don’t know easy methods to do it any higher. I had ready nearly as good as I knew easy methods to put together for a mission akin to this. It was a fantastic expertise for me.”
All pictures through Mongol Derby’s Fb web page.