The Mongol Derby: adventure or exploitation?

I’ve been following the Mongol Derby with interest.  It’s a 1,000-mile ride across Mongolia, using hundreds of half-wild Mongolian steppe ponies, and claims to recreate Genghis Khan’s horse-borne postal and courier service.  The organizers, The Adventurists (who also sponsor the Mongol Rally, which we’ve covered here before, plus several other adventure-oriented contests) put out this publicity video for the Derby.

Unfortunately, there are claims that the whole thing is nothing more than exploitation and mistreatment of Mongolia’s vulnerable horses.  Political shenanigans are also rumored.  I don’t know the truth of those allegations, and I can’t comment on them, except to say that it wouldn’t surprise me to find some sort of underhanded dealing going on.  From personal experience, I can assure you that in the Third World, money talks – but not much else does . . .

On the other hand, I’m sure the human participants in the Mongol Derby have been racing their hearts out.  Congratulations to Lara Prior-Palmer for winning the race in a nail-biting finish.  The Telegraph reports:

A 19 year-old from Hampshire became the first female rider to win the Mongol Derby – known as one of the world’s toughest horse races.

Lara Prior-Palmer also became the first British rider and the youngest person to win the race since it began in 2009.

She claimed victory in the 1000-kilometre race in dramatic circumstances, with the American woman Devan Horn actually crossing the finishing line first on Saturday.

However, race rules stipulate that each rider’s horse must pass a veterinary inspection at the end of each leg, and Miss Horn’s horse’s heart-rate did not recover in the required time. She was issued with a two-hour penalty, which handed victory to her British rival.

. . .

The course is a recreation of Genghis Khan’s ancient postal system of 25 horse stations across the Mongolian steppe.

Riders change their semi-wild Mongolian horses at each station, and stay with the local herding families that run the stations and provide the horses.

. . .

Half of the 30 riders who started the race have now withdrawn, with only 15 now expected to complete. Many have fallen off or been bucked off their semi-wild horses or sustained injuries.

There’s more at the link.

I suppose the race reminds me of nothing so much as that depicted in the film ‘Hidalgo‘, starring Viggo Mortensen, which I thoroughly enjoyed.

If you haven’t already seen the movie, I recommend it.



  1. When someone (like that "Long Rider's Guild" page) starts out by saying "I'm not getting anything out of this, in fact, it's costing me to tell you about it", I get skeptical up front.

    When they don't make any effort to tell you what they actually object to in any sort of concise fashion, but rather just complain that they object, I get even more skeptical.

    I looked at that page, and still have no idea what their actual problem is, unless it's just that some people were paid to participate. Mostly that just makes them look like pretentious jackasses. (To me.)

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