Horse Wanderlust – The Mongol Derby

It’s common knowledge that taking care of horses basically means, I never go anywhere. How could you? There’s horses to take care of, chores to do, and no one can take care of your horses the way you do. When you do end up going someplace, you spend the whole vacation worrying if everything is alright.

Except those of you that board, of course. You lucky ducks.

Let’s say, hypothetically of course, you do manage to get away for a vacation. Do you pick your spot based on what horse activity you can possibly fit in? Or maybe after you’ve picked your spot, you’re immediately googling for nearby horse attractions. This is definitely me. We have a vacation planned in the next few months and I’m instantly googling to see where I could ride. I was pretty disappointed when I found that the gorgeous tropical islands we will be visiting do not have horses. Honestly, what’s the point of a tropical paradise if you can’t ride on the beach, splashing in the waves?

I do want to see the world. I would love to be one of those magical people on Instagram whose job seems to literally be traveling. Other than not understand how that is possible, how could I be without horses? This is why I’m fantasizing about vacations that are all about the horses. The best way to take a vacation from your horse is to go see and ride someone else’s horse. Obviously.

Since I fantasize about being extreme and tough, the top of my list is the Mongol Derby.

Horse and Hound UK

This race is run by Adventurists, a British company that specializes in the craziest adventure vacations I have ever seen. Some of their other vacations include driving an antique motorcycle across a frozen Russian lake, driving a rickshaw through India, and a dugout canoe sailing race. They are certainly interesting ways to see the world.

The Mongol Derby, which started in 2009, is a 621 miles race over 7-11 days, via local feral Mongolian horses. It includes beautiful Mongolian scenery, sleeping under the stars or with the nomads, riding barely trained horses for 14 hours a day, and tons of potential injury. If that doesn’t sound awesome, I don’t know what does. This is the Everest of endurance races. You do it because it’s there.

The race costs $11,237 American dollars. It’s a pretty hefty sum, but it includes the horses, a saddle, a support team to care for you if you get hurt, tracking so your support team can find your battered body, and 3 days of training. I might be a crazy person, but it seems worth it to me… as long as they include airfare. Including airfare makes me feel like I got a good deal, no matter what the cost of something is.

Telegraph UK

The course runs through the steppes of Mongolian, a re-creation of the routes of the very first long-distance postal system (circa aproximately 1200). Using the system of stopping at gers, the tents the herders live in, and swapping out their horses, messengers could make it across the country in days. You can pretend you’re the messenger as you switch your feral horse for the next feral horse, although you can’t just ride your horse into the ground. Veterinarians will check your horse at each stop to make sure its still in good shape. Riders who don’t care for their mount are penalized.

Riders are provided a Mongolian horse to ride. The horses are actually pony sized, vital to the modern day life of the nomads, and they haven’t changed much since the days they were first used, as they are left free most of their life, and rounded up as needed. There isn’t human interference in this breeding program, it’s still darwinism at work. At each stop, you switch your feral horse for the next feral horse, although it should be noted that veterinarians will check your horse to make sure its still in good shape. Riders who don’t care for their mount are penalized. But I’m impressed by the apparent athleticism of these little horses, as many riders have said that they could easily have galloped the entire 25 miles, or in the case of the video below, did gallop the whole 25 miles.


My first thought was, If I really liked my horse, can I buy it and bring it home?! Sadly, there is no information on the website about this, but I have a feeling that these horses who roam freely over hundreds of miles, would probably be pretty sad in my 3 acre pasture. I would just have to appreciate them while I’m there, I suppose. Assuming they don’t throw me off and break my limbs, which would make me not appreciate them at all. According to some articles, the horses could bolt the entire time, fall over, or perhaps worst of all, completely refuse to go faster than a walk.

As someone who has ridden some green horses before, I think I’m up to the challenge. I want to see Mongolia, I want to ride for hours, sleep in gers, and experience something that I’ve never experienced before. Who’s with me for 2018?! (I need some time to work up my endurance, although I think I can practice on Pony, he looks kind of like these horses. Also I need to save some money, and convince Dave this is an excellent use way to burn some money.)

If you need some inspiration, here’s mine: I Rode a Horse of Milk White Jade, by Diane Wilson. I read this book as a kid, and it’s stuck with me every since. It’s about a Mongolian girl who is “chosen” by the horse when her foot is crushed by a horse’s hoof. She is forever a cripple, but she finds freedom on the horse’s back. When she’s a teenager, she pretends to be a boy and is drafted into the service of the great Khan, where she ends up becoming a messenger along this very route. It is a book for children, but it’s a pretty damn good book for children. Although I do intend to eventually find some adult reading inspiration… being an adult and all.

You may also like


  1. Horseback riding in Mongolia is on my bucket list. I really want to do one of the treks through the steppes. But this Derby thing sounds terrifying. I will have to just read about the experience through you when you do it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.