The Mongol Derby is 620 miles of intense terrain and unpredictable weather. There are wide river crossings, endless stretches of grassland, mountain passes, and wetlands. One day it is sweltering hot, and the next has the risk of hypothermia. All of this is faced from the saddle of a half-wild Mongol horse. Only the best of the best make it to the finish line, and this year, that first-place prize went to 70-year-old Bob Long from Idaho.
Having ridden horses all his life, Bob is no stranger to the saddle.
He competed on horseback before, but his inspiration for entering the longest horse race in the world came after watching the movie, "All the Wild Horses." The horse-lover's film is based off the world-famous Mongol Derby, and it inspired Bob to push his limits and accomplish something amazing.
Forty-four competitors from 12 different countries met in Mongolia for the event. At 70-years-old, not only was Bob the oldest competitor to ever win, he was also the oldest competitor to even make it to the starting line.
Bob refused to let his age stop him from competing or slow him down.
He trained for months and dedicated considerable time and effort to making sure he was as prepared as possible for the grueling race. He told NBC,
"Preparation trumps youth. I was really, really ready for this event when I finally got there, and some of the other riders were a little bit less prepared."
Bob started the race knowing it would be the toughest thing he ever did, but he was also mentally prepared to push boundaries and do the impossible. Officially recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the world's longest horse race, the Mongol Derby models the same cross-continent messaging route Ghengis Khan established in the 12th century. Riders on horseback traveled for days stopping at outposts to rest, swap horses, or pass messages on to new riders. Instead of outposts, the Mongol Derby has 25 horse stations (or urtuus) along the race route where competitors exchange horses. Race organizers provide every rider with multiple mounts, and it takes experienced horsemanship to guide the half-wild horses along the route. Competitor Molly Pearson said,
"It blew my mind more than once these wild and powerful beasts would do anything we ask. But that's what it is--an ask. Not a demand. But a partnership and teamwork."
Traveling on his borrowed horses, Bob spent most of the race on his own. He was ahead of the pack and had 620 miles to reflect on life and experience the landscape and culture. The race rules include an 8 PM curfew, and riders have the option of camping out with local nomads or seeking shelter at an urtuu. Bob only spent one night at an urtuu and instead chose to immerse himself fully into the adventure.
He had once-in-a-lifetime experiences he will never forget.
After battling the terrain, weather, physical pain, and mental exhaustion, Bob finally crossed the finish line after 7 days, 4 hours, and 33 minutes of mind-blowing adventure. He was one of only 27 riders who finished the race. Local nomads he met along the way celebrated his victory by gifting him a horse.
Now back at home, Bob can't stay out of the saddle. He's still riding, and he's even contemplating taking on the Mongol Derby for a second time.
Horse Courses by Elaine Heney
- Listening to the Horse - The Documentary by Elaine Heney & Grey Pony Films
- Shoulder In & Out Training for better balance, bend & topline development with your horse
- Over 110+ Polework Exercises & Challenges to Download
- Dancing at Liberty & Creating Connection with Your Horse (11 lessons) - Grey Pony Films
Feature image via Facebook/Mongol Derby