Mongol Derby: The Eagle Has Landed!

A Derby-ready Jocelyn Pierce embarks upon pre-race training in Mongolia’s capital city and heads to start camp on the steppe

“I’ve spent the last three days in Mongolia being a tourist (this guy is heavier than he looks!), but now it’s Mongol Derby time!” Courtesy of Jocelyn Pierce.

Сайн уу (hello) from not-Mongolia! Leslie Wylie here, taking over the reins of Practical Horseman’s 2018 Mongol Derby coverage starring full-time Prac Associate Editor/part-time wild pony wrangler Jocelyn Pierce. Please stay alive so I have something to write about every day, Jocelyn!

Quick intro: You may remember me as a competitor in the 2017 Derby, which I did in fact survive. Barely. I came out swinging and was even in the lead for the first few legs, before a naughty pony ditched me and ran off with all my gear never to be seen again. Like, literally they never found him. I finished the race and it was amazing but not without some legit dark-night-of-the-soul moments. This Derby thing is no joke, that’s for sure, and mad respect to Jocelyn–our girl is in for the ride of a lifetime!

With just hours to go before the starting guns fire (mistake #1: firing a gun around a bunch of fire-breathing, semi-feral ponies with white-knuckled riders strapped to their backs), let’s recap Jocelyn’s past few days.

Ulaanbaatar is Mongolia’s capital city, and not unlike The Hunger Games it is where the riders are instructed to meet up for round one of their pre-race training. There, at a deceptively first-world Holiday Inn, they underwent classroom style orientation: an overview of race rules and protocols, a debriefing on the course, a how-to session on the emergency SPOT trackers they’re encouraged to deploy in the event that they are actually dying, and veterinary/medical briefings.

Map of this year’s race course. The blue numbers are horse stations that riders must find via GPS and check in at for mandatory horse exchanges; they’re also race-supported urtuus where riders can crash overnight. And seriously, who knew that Boyd Martin’s Tsetserleg was named after some rando town in Mongolia? Check out PH’sundefinedrecent interview with Boyd about “Thomas” here. Image via Google Maps.

Looming large on every rider’s mind in the lead-up to the race is whether their gear kit is going to make the maximum 11-pound weigh-in cut-off. In these Facebook live videos from Ulaanbaatar Jocelyn talks us through through the contents of her saddle bag, which looks pretty dang OCD organized to me (part 1 and part 2).

“Ready for the steppe! Pack weigh-in is on Sunday, fingers crossed my nut butter packets make the cut.” Please join us in praying for that nut butter #nosnacksleftbehind. Photo by Jocelyn Pierce.

We’re glad to hear that Jocelyn had time to sightsee around Ulaanbaatar, including but not limited to spending some quality time with a majestic golden eagle, before the riders were loaded up onto a bus to start camp. There, their pre-race training continued with some practice rides on the steppe wherein they were able to test their kit, practice GPS navigation (“Siri, I need directions to the finish line?”), and re-examine everything they thought they knew about horses.

Riders gather around a horse during pre-race training on the steppe. “Um, question: Where is the emergency brake?” Photo courtesy of the Mongol Derby.

Let me tell you: Mongolian ponies are very, very different from the equines that you and I are used to here in the Western hemisphere. They have a mind of their own–the best you can do is get them pointed in the right direction and hang on for dear life. Apparently there have already been a few pre-race thrills and spills.

Michael Gascon, a horse trainer from Mississippi and one of 14 U.S. competitors, sitting pretty atop a hot-sauce stallion during a training ride. Photo courtesy of the Mongol Derby.

Wonder what Jocelyn is doing right now? Hopefully, since Mongolia is 12 hours ahead of us, she is fast asleep in a cozy start-camp urtuu, dreaming dreams of galloping headlong across the steppe, a handful of bushy mane in her fists and nothing but the big blue Mongolian sky above her and the great unknown unfurling around her in every direction.

Godspeed to you Jocelyn, and all of the 2018 competitors. Ride fast and take chances, or don’t, but whatever your strategy be sure to savor every moment!

Practical Horseman Associate Editor Jocelyn Pierce is competing in the Mongol Derby, a 600-mile expedition considered the longest and toughest horse race in the world, Aug. 8-27. Here’s how to follow the action, sponsored by Mane ‘n Tail and SmartPak:

• Visit Practical Horseman for daily race recaps and Jocelyn updates from 2017 Derby finisher Leslie Wylie
• Follow Jocelyn’s progress live via her GPS tracker, read official reports via the Derby website, and follow @mongolderbylive on Twitter
• Tune in for Derby Dot Watch Party podcasts presented by Horse Radio Network in partnership with Practical Horseman, broadcast live nightly at 8 p.m. EST 


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