All about the Mongol Derby

Thanks to the Adventurists for the content below.

The Mongol Derby is the longest, toughest horse race in the world. The 1000km course recreates Chinggis Khaan's legendary empire-busting postal system, with riders changing horse every 40km and living with herders or camping under the stars.

Each year around 30 professional, semi-professional and enthusiastic amateur riders compete against each other for the derby crown.  To stand a chance of finishing riders must balance survival skills and horsemanship and to stand a chance of winning a extra level of determination  and no small amount of luck is required.

Enduring the elements, semi-wild horses as well as unfamiliar food and terrain, completing the derby is an achievement few can boast.

The Un-Route

This is no guided tour, or pony trek.  There is no marked course, no packed lunches, no shower block, no stabling.  That’s the whole point.  It's just you, your team of horses and a thousand kilometres of Mongolian wilderness.  And possibly a GPS.  The course consists of 25 Urtuus, or horse-stations where I will swap horse and refuel.  I will have to change horses at every station and deliver my mounts to their destination in mint condition.  But how I navigate between them is where the adventure begins.

The Adventurists spend many months designing and testing the Mongol Derby un-route, making sure there is enough water available for the horses, enough goosebumps for the riders and that it will deliver the greatest equine adventure in the world.


While the exact course changes each year, it is likely to encompass the following variety of terrain: high passes, green open valleys, wooded hills, river crossings, wetland and floodplains, sandy semi-arid dunes, rolling hills, dry riverbeds and of course open steppe.

The Horse Stations

In 1224, Chinggis Khaan set up the world's first long-distance postal transmission system.  Using a massive network of horse stations - morin urtuus - his messengers could gallop from Kharkhorin to the Caspian sea in a number of days.

For ten days each August, the Mongol Derby recreates this system, building a network of urtuus at 40km intervals along the entire 1000km course.

Each urtuu will consist of a small collection of gers (canvas and felt tents which the nomads live in), a supply of fresh horses, a vet team and the owners.  While I won't by any means have to stay at the urtuus each night, this is a chance, should I want to take it, to get some rest, hang out with the nomadic owners, imbibe some airag (mare's milk) and eat an awful lot of mutton.

If, on the other hand, I decide to streak ahead and sleep wherever I find myself at moonrise, then the steppe is will be my oyster and I and my horse will be able to enjoy a romantic night out under the diamond-studded vault.


The Horses

Mongolian horses were the intercontinental ballistic missiles of the thirteenth century. These indefatigable steeds once carried the all-conquering Mongol warriors across half the world.  Diminutive, sturdy, fearless, wild and unbelievably tough, they're rightly revered in Mongolian culture and have changed very little over the centuries, free as they are from human interference.

These are small horses, so I’ll need to travel light - just 5 kgs of essential survival kit.  The Adventurists (the organisers of the race) won’t accept anyone who weighs more than 85 kgs dressed to ride.

In the months prior to the event the Adventurists select around 1000 of these feisty little beasts and they all undergo a Derby training program of regular ridden work to prepare for their Derby dash.  They belong to local nomadic herding families and breeders along the 1000 km route.  Horse welfare is the organisers' primary concern and all of the rules put in place are designed with the horses in mind.

horse cutout.png

Veterinary Support

All being well, you really are on your own, and the riders will be oblivious to the miracle of back-up and logistical support going on around them.

What the riders will be aware of however, is the Derby's sophisticated web of veterinary support.  Each rider will carry a vet card and every single horse that takes part is rigorously checked before and after they take part.  Any riders deemed not to be taking proper care of their horses will be penalised.

The Adventurists give each rider a satellite tracker and emergency beacon which allows Derby HQ to see where you are at all times and to dispatch veterinary assistance if required.  It also means they can can keep vet support at the optimum distance to all  riders and horses to ensure a rapid response.

The Adventurists' fabulous team of Mongolian and international vets was led in 2012 and 2013 by Harry McKercher MRCVS.  Harry has run a veterinary practice for 35 years and has been qualified for over 40 years.


Medical Support

Since this is a very dangerous event the Mongol Derby does have a degree of medical back-up.  This is provided by the marvelous people at Prometheus Medical who are ready to deal with all manner of medical mishap.  Their two mobile medical units are not just packed to the rafters with medical gubbins and supremely qualified medics, they also have satellite phones and trackers galore so the Adventurists can get them in the right place as fast as the steppe will allow.

As a rider I'll get a satellite tracking device and emergency beacon which shows DerbyHQ where I am at all times (even if I haven't got a clue).  The data from the trackers is monitored by DerbyHQ so they can keep the emergency support vehicles in the right area. Should I find myself in a medical emergency I will press a button on the tracker and the nearest team will be sent to my aid.