There are crazy things to do – and then there’s the Mongol Derby. Featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s longest and toughest horse race, this is the 11th year that 45 men and women from the four corners of the earth will race 1,000km across Mongolia on semi-wild horses, next month.
They range from a 56-year-old Texan cowboy to a helicopter pilot from Alice Springs, a paleo-botanist from The Netherlands and a management consultant from South Africa, via a host of saddle-hardened (they’ll need to be) girls and boys from the racing world. All think they are fearless and ready for the most extreme adventure of their lives – we’ll see… Some will crash and burn.
2019 Mongol Derby Details
August 4-6: Pre-race training
August 7: Start gun of the 2019 Mongol Derby
August 16: Final riders expected to finish
2019 Mongol Derby Competitiors
Sam Chisholm, 31, Alice Springs
Sam is a helicopter pilot who grew up riding horses on a cattle station in the Northern Territory. Sam has ridden a motorcycle from Argentina to Alaska and did the Mongol Rally in 2015 with two mates. He’s “on a mission to finish the race and locate the car they blew up on the Steppe in 2015.”
Justine Hales, 43, Melbourne
A Kiwi in Oz who has ridden her whole life, Justine has worked in horse racing for 23 years and been associated with some brilliant horses during that time. She works for Ciaron Maher Racing currently. “I am looking forward to the challenge of the Derby, but I have big boots to fill after Annabel Neasham and Adrian Corboy’s win last year.” She is raising funds for the Peter Mac Foundation for cancer research.
Sally Conway, 22, Taroom, Queensland
Sally grew up riding horses and working on her family cattle farm. She has always had a passion for riding and adventure, but over the past five years, Sally has been exposed to the consequences of unrecognised mental illness and has developed a burning desire to do something to improve the mental health and mental awareness of Australians, particularly those living in rural and remote areas. She therefore saw the Mongolian Derby as her chance to take a stance. She has never competed in an endurance race and knows she won’t be the best rider on the steppe. But, “I know why I am riding, and who I am riding for; I think this will give me the strength I need.”
Jesse Byrne, 36, Bunbury, Western Australia
Jesse’s father was a racehorse trainer and he has been working in the racing industry, riding work and breaking-in lots of young racehorses since he left high school. He isn’t here for the beer – he says he is “hoping to be one of the first competitors to cross the line.”
Lucinda Kyle, 29, Queensland
When she was 15, Lucinda bought an ex-racehorse and a saddle. “I ate dirt a lot,” she admits. After school she spent four years travelling in North America and Australia, working with racehorses at the track and on studs. She has spent the past five years on cattle stations in Western and Central Queensland as a ringer, and breaking-in and training her own/station horses to compete in campdrafting. “Riding in the Derby would be the adventure of a lifetime, a true proving ground doing what I love amongst a rich culture that would be a privilege to explore.” She is riding to raise awareness of ovarian cancer, “a silent disease that a close friend is battling.”
Sarah Brown, 34, Western Australia
Sarah has had a strong passion for horses from a young age, she spent her teenage years competing and working in many equestrian disciplines. She has looked after and ridden thoroughbred racehorses the world over. Now farm manager at Amelia Park farm in WA, she has taken on the task of the Mongol Derby as a challenge to herself. When Sarah is not working at the farm or training for the Derby she loves nothing more than spending time with her dog Bronson and sinking bush chooks (We have no idea what this means…).
Pip Chisholm, 43 (originally from Australia)
Pip loves horses, travel, nature, adventure and challenging herself. The Derby feeds all her passions and she is excited to go to Mongolia. She is Australian but lives in Dubai, learning the ropes of endurance riding.
Rendel Rieckmann, 31, Munich
Rendel is interested in “exploring different cultures and testing the limits of the physical exploration combined with great horses.” After three years of flirting with participating in the Mongol Derby, the first move was done late 2018 and wedding will be in August 2020. “Let’s see if the 20 years of horse riding experiences on all sorts of continents and mainly dressage and showjumping are enough for a happy ending,” he says.
Jacqueline Knöpfel, 33
Jacqueline has been riding since she was five years old, and has trained in many aspects of horse care and equitation. For almost a year she worked in Iceland and led riding tours, and also trained horses there. “I love travelling with my horses, and have already spent more than 1,000km in the saddle at a time. The last occasion was in 2016, when I rode from Switzerland to East Germany.”
Zsófi Homor, 22
Zsófi has been riding since she was four. She left the mother country a couple years ago and started riding all over Europe, trying different disciplines and experiencing different cultures. After being an exercise rider in Ireland and a guide in Iceland, she decided to combine her two passions and ride fast but small horses. The Derby seemed like a good opportunity to do so.
Naomi Crombeen, 27, Castiglion Fiorentino (originally from Belgium)
Originally from Belgium, Naomi is currently living in Italy where she runs a farm and breeds Haflinger horses. She says: “I’ve always been super-fascinated by the Mongolian culture and their horses”, and is also hoping that passing some time in the middle of some other crazy fellow Derby riders will make her feel less out of place than usual.
Margreet Voermans, 43
Margreet started riding when she was four years old and competed in dressage and jumping until she went to university. Eight years ago she moved to Colombia and started to play polo over there. This year she is back in The Netherlands and is training on endurance horses for the Derby.
Aly van der Meulen, 27, Blija
For the past few years Aly has travelled the world working with horses, mostly as a trail guide in South Africa, the USA and Iceland. She has her own horse travel agency offering rides all over the world, which she loves trying out. “The Derby seemed like the ultimate challenge for someone who loves trail-riding and exploring new cultures on horseback. And a good reason to get in shape!”
Linda van Gorkum, 29
Linda describes herself as “just an ordinary girl living an extraordinary life, always looking for new adventures, doing the unexpected and stretching comfort zones.” She has loved horses all her life and her recent interest in endurance riding and other sports makes competing in the Mongol Derby a perfect fit.
Esther Leenen, 38, Someren
Solo backpacker who has travelled all of the world’s continents. Esther had her first riding lesson when she was nine years old, did dressage and showjumping during her teenage years and switched to endurance in 1998. Besides endurance riding she organises several multi-day endurance events. She also worked in tourism for many years and graduated as a Geography teacher. Is riding the Derby as a personal challenge and is “looking forward to meeting communities where WIFI and modern technology is not first priority”.
Anne Binnendijk, 27, ‘s-Hertogenbosch
Anne is riding in the Derby “to seek limits, go on an adventure, see what the world will bring and most importantly, do this on horseback!” Anne is also riding for Assistance Dogs worldwide, as they have their own Assistance Dog (who sadly has to stay at home, after research).
Michael Field, 55 (originally from the UK)
Mike has done competitive sports all his life. In his youth he competed at county and national level in cross-country running, and later on he played rugby in England, France and Germany. On retiring from rugby he went back to riding horses. He has hunted a lot in the UK and Ireland. Mike now lives in The Netherlands where he competes at low-level dressage, show jumping and eventing competitions with his horse. Mike works for the Faculty of Archeology in Leiden specialising in (paleo) Botany. In Mongolia Mike hopes to ride lots of nice horses and also to see some of the local flora. Mike is raising money for the Greyhound Trust. He is riding in the race for the challenge and is doing it this year before he gets too old.
Elise Searancke-Stables, 19, Waikato
Appropriately for someone with her surname, Elise has worked with horses all her life, finding her passion in showjumping and racing. For Elise, the Derby is the ultimate adventure combining her love of horses with exploring new, wild places.
Julia Conway, 27, Robertson (originally from Australia)
Julia grew up in central Victoria, Australia and like most here, is lucky enough to have ridden her whole life. After school she joined the Royal Australian Navy for a gap year and then went on to study Podiatry. She now lives in South Africa with her partner and lives her dream of riding “from dawn til dusk”. Julia is riding to satisfy the adventurist within her, to see the country and meet the incredible Mongolian people and horses.
Wiesman Nel, 40
Born and raised on a family farm in Moolmanshoek, Wiesman grew up with horses, exploring wherever he could. As a student he spent his time doing ultra-marathons, adventure races and mountain runs but always longed to be back on a horse. He now competes in endurance riding at national level. He wants to “challenge his passion for extremes and horsemanship” and his mission is “to do this with some passion, some compassion, some humour and some style.”
Sampie Mokoakoe, 42
Sampie has worked at the Moolmanshoek Private Game Reserve for the past six years as a horse trainer, which includes conditioning of young horses. He assists in guiding the extreme horse trails that they host in Lesotho and the Wildcoast. He is passionate about running and does mountain runs and ultra-marathons as well as endurance riding.
Vasin Govender, 51
The idea of doing the Mongol Derby started a year ago while Vasin was having a tequila (or two) on an extreme trail ride in the Mountain Kingdom of Lesotho. Exploring the rugged and wild mountains of Lesotho on horseback over five days, climbing almost 9,000m was the ultimate rush. Relatively new to riding, five years ago he traded in his MTB’ng and dirt-biking hobbies for horses. He retired at 50 as a management consultant and just started a new financial venture, www.hardpear.com.
Miguel Escalada Lopez-Ibor, 26, Madrid, Spain
Miguel has been riding most of his life in different disciplines. Living in the concrete city, he always craved travelling long distances on horseback. He’s a firm believer that since the Adventurists are organising the Derby, “it will surely be lively, and definitely tough. What else would one need?” He fell for Mongolia while doing the Mongol Rally in 2015 and always wished to return to the steppe.
Annette Kriller, 54 (originally from Germany)
Annette has always wanted to travel on horseback and saw a perfect opportunity with the Mongol Derby. She participated in 2017 but didn’t finish, because she got bucked off and required radiographs after 850km, which gave her the perfect excuse to come back and try again. Loves to sit on a fast horse all day long and is really looking forward to going back to Mongolia with its splendid horses and friendly people.
Francis Delaey, 51, London, England (originally from Belgium)
An equestrian at heart, Belgian-born Francis has been riding since childhood. For the past 15 years he has moved with his spirited Hanoverian mare from Moldova to Azerbaijan, Belarus and now the UK. Having recently retired his four-legged friend, he was in desperate need of a new equestrian adventure and “could not resist the calling of the Mongolian steppes”.
Holly Rivett, 30, Ayr, Scotland
A sports and remedial massage therapist who has been passionate about horses from an early age, Holly has enjoyed training her own horses to compete in dressage and eventing, winning many rosettes and trophies along the way. She also trains in Taekwondo, currently working towards 2nd degree black belt, and feels that the strength and fitness elements of both taekwondo and horse riding are a great compliment for each other. She is eager to test her horsemanship and endurance skills on the Mongolian Steppe during her adventure this August.
Alanna Watt, 24, Berkshire, England
Alanna breaks-in and exercises young racehorses at Ben de Haan Racing for high-profile trainers and the Hong Kong Jockey Club. “The Derby has been a dream of mine for many years; it a serious challenge of so many elements that I want to conquer. What attracts me most of all is the pure wilderness and freedom of people and horses. Magnificent,” she says.
Katie Angus, 32, Oxfordshire, England
Katie currently works at a small trekking centre in the Cotswolds, so there couldn’t have been a better time to attempt the Derby as she has a stable yard for full of horses and ponies to train on! When Katie is not working she is out training and competing in triathlons and open-water swimming events, which is what inspired her passion for pushing herself to her limits. The Derby is “the ideal way to test my endurance limits and stubbornness, to never not finish a race, in the sport I love the most.”
Ava Drake, 21, Essex, England
Ava describes herself as “a determined, enthusiastic and outgoing young lady who watched a documentary of the Derby on Horse and Country TV as a little girl and made a promise to herself to give it a go one day.” She has been riding for as long as she can remember, and owns a beautiful thoroughbred mare who has certainly been put through her paces while training for the Derby. She will be riding with her friend Aly from Holland, and thinks together they will make a great team.
Molly Pearson, 32, Oakland, California
Molly used to do handstands on horses in sparkly full body spandex. She’s never done endurance riding before, so she thought she’d take it up by tackling 630 Mongolian miles. She’s addicted to Burning Man, dark chocolate, and the great stories that come from failed Tinder dates.
Katie Hasse, 29, Upperville, Virginia
Katie has evented to CCI3*-L competitor, and is a USDF silver medallist with an occasional foray in to the show hunter and foxhunting world. She recently took up endurance riding on her thoroughbred because no one told her that was a bad idea. She also typically has 10 rescue dogs living in her house.
Linda Vegher, 40, Boston, MA
Creative director who was fortunately reminded last March on a picture perfect foxhunting day — four hours galloping like mad across all kinds of the most beautiful Virginia countryside — that this in fact is what feeds her soul. From then on, she made a personal pact to keep it up as long as she physically could, “the constant adrenaline rush on the back of a horse.” She grew up eventing, but really is a jack of all trades from steeplechase / flat track exercise-riding, foxhunting, jumpers, hunters, cutting, mounted archery, polo, etc. but has always loved travel and other sports especially if it involves embracing nature. The nomadic Mongolian culture, between the horses and the falconry, strikes a double personal cord being raised with a master falconer father, which usually involved some bird of prey sitting on the coffee table in the living room during her childhood.
Benjamin Materna, 34, California
Ben is an “established professional in the renewable energy field – currently managing Microgrid Deployment for Tesla.” He’s riding in the Derby “to explore the massive growth opportunity of the challenges it presents.” He adds, “I am also riding for all those who can’t.”
Sam Franklin, 22, Mobile, Alabama
Having grown up riding at summer camp, Sam developed a love for horses and adventure. The beginning of August 2019 marks two years since he was involved in an accident which resulted in a broken back. Sam decided what better way to celebrate a new chance at life than to ride 1000km across Mongolia!
Frank Winters, 56, Gruver, Texas
A modern-day cowboy by trade, long days in the saddle are routine, but that Mongolian saddle is not! He competed in the rodeo circuits long after he became a grandfather and sees the Mongol Derby as just another challenge to overcome. “What do you mean with why I’m running the Mongol Derby? It looks like fun!” For someone who was riding bucking horses in a rodeo at 53, it very well may be. He has never held a job that didn’t involve horses. His kids, grandkids, friends and neighbors will be cheering him on and preparing for his inevitable hospital stay.
Erin Nagle, 26, California
Graphic Designer by day, extreme athlete by night, Erin has been riding every horse she can get her hands on for as long as she can remember. She has given most disciplines a shot but has found her current sweet spot in polo. Each year she takes on a new physical challenge — last year was body-building, this year, the Derby. It will be an excellent test of her horsemanship and character, the ultimate adventure. If nothing else, her ruthless determination will get her across the finish line.
Kelsey Eliot, 26, Dryden, NY
Kelsey has been trail-riding since she was eight, has guided riding tours in Iceland, took up arena polo three years ago, and recently began endurance. She is a firm believer that “life begins at the edge of your comfort zone.”
Patti Long, 44, Dade City, Florida
Patti grew up on a cattle ranch in Florida and is an accomplished multi-discipline rider. She has been foxhunting for the majority of her life and she has served as a whipper-in for the Two Rivers Hounds and is currently whipping-in for the South Creek Foxhounds. She is an equine reproductive technologist. Patti will be riding for Moffitt Cancer Center Foundation.
Abbi Bell, 29
Abbi is another who has been riding horses since she was a small child. “As is often the case, I was assumed to be going through a ‘phase’ that ultimately developed into a lifetime passion.” She comes from a background of mixed-discipline training, has experience in breeding sport horses and is always committed to furthering her riding and education of the equine industry.
Taggert VinZant, 24
“I’ve spent the majority of my life following the directions that I was pulled in by other people,” admits Taggert. “This past year I’ve reclaimed my own direction in life and started chasing new adventures.” He has been riding as long as he has been walking, and hasn’t been far from a horse’s back since he was three years old. From barrel-racing as a child to eventing as a teenager and then exercising racehorses as an adult, Taggert’s life has been filled with time in the saddle. As a young adult, he moved to Aiken, South Carolina, to train with a 4* event rider. From there he started his own sport horse training operation and also started riding at the track. At his peak, he was sitting on 14 horses each day, starting before the sun rose and finishing after it set. Now, while he rides primarily for pleasure, his day job continues to put him on farms as an equestrian-focused filmmaker. Last August he spent two weeks in the deserts of Nevada helping build the city that is Burning Man. “I even battled other burners in the gladiator-style Thunderdome of Black Rock City. I want to continue choosing adventure for my life; this feels like my next chapter.”
Ella Mildon, 23
After spending 10 years in the eventing world and sitting on countless types of horses – from rescues, to ponies, to imported warmbloods – Ella is looking for an opportunity to travel and further expand her equine experiences! For the past few years she has been self-employed, specialising in rescues and focusing on her own personal goals.
Robert Long, 70
The oldest competitor in this year’s Mongol Derby, Robert says that horses have driven his entire life. He started on ponies, and then broncs his dad bought him to train and sell. These revenues helped him fund university tuitions and expenses. He matriculated to riding and training mules for packing and hunting, and worked with young Appaloosas for sporting show. He currently helps young Quarter Horses to be versatile ranch and competitive cow horses. “I have gained an innate ability to select and partner with a horse, thus forming a team worthy of the challenge,” he says. He is riding “to accept the challenge of selecting and managing a good horse across a historical, storied and difficult landscape. To interact with the legendary and best horsemen of all time. To test my skill, my nerve and my mental fortitude. To experience and compete in the ultimate horse event that will exceed all my past experiences. And I’d hate to think I can’t….”
Catherine Kennedy, 30
Catherine is a dual citizen of the United States and the United Kingdom and has been riding horses since she was five. While she currently competes in eventing, Catherine also has experience in reining, cutting, western pleasure and hunter/jumpers. Catherine has been dreaming of the Derby for years and can’t wait to explore Mongolia.
Rachel Roman, 27
Rachel is an “adventure-seeking, nature-loving athlete-in-training” based in the Pacific Northwest. She grew up on the Eastern Shore of Maryland and has spent her whole life on or around horses. What started with a pony in the backyard turned into a lifelong passion for equestrian work – no matter the place, she has always found a way to connect with the broader equine community.
When not in riding boots, Rachel spends the majority of her time outdoors. She got her first taste of true wilderness during a National Outdoor Leadership (NOLS) course, spending three months in the Southwestern US climbing mountains, rafting rivers and going 22 days without a shower. But these days she is just trying to find ways to fit in adventures amidst an average 9-5 “adult” life. This race is an opportunity to combine two of her biggest passions in life and find out if she still has that adventurist spirit that can keep her smiling through the longest and toughest horse race in the world.
This article originally appeared on Horse-Canada.com and is published here with permission.