Road to the Mongol Derby: Part Two

Needless to say, my life has completely changed in the last 14+ months since being selected to compete in the world’s longest and toughest horse race, the Mongol Derby. It has become a part of my identity it seems. My friends and family never cease to add this crazy fun fact when introducing me to new friends- opening a flood gate of questions. The most common question I seem to be getting is, “how the heck do you prepare for 1000km on a half wild horse?!” Great question!

I have been doing my homework at home to prepare both mentally and physically. After my acceptance back in 2020 I quickly linked up with Dr. Alison Hartman and her equestrian focused fitness coaching, EQFit to develop a specifically tailored workout schedule to strengthen muscles critical for my performance on the horse. In addition to this I have also increased my time in the tack on both my personal horses and any and all mounts I can get my hands on. I am excited to get this opportunity to put all my hard work to the test!

I was able to link up with Stevie and Dylan Delahunt back in November for my first round of Mongol Derby Bootcamp. I collected a valuable set of tools to take home with me to continue my training. I made another trip at the end of May to put my training to the test as well as make additional preparations and tweaks to my gear and what little ‘plan’ you can have going into the Mongol Derby.

Stevie and her husband Dylan are the owners of Intergalactic Equine, a company ran by the couple and their amazing string of top-notch endurance horses out of central California. They specialize in training and preparing equestrian athletes for insane adventures like The Mongol Derby, The Gaucho Derby, The Tevis Cup, and numerous other long-distance rides. With Stevie and Dylan having completed these races, as well as MANY other accolades, their wealth of knowledge is unmatched on the subject.

I arrived in Sacramento Thursday evening and was met by fellow crazy adventurer, now friend, Jeff (Mongol Derby 2022) traveling down from Oregon for a boot camp weekend. Jeff just happened to also be in my November boot camp, so it was nice to have a familiar face to share in our adventures once again! We were met at Intergalactic Equine Headquarters with smiling faces and reunion hugs from Stevie and Dylan. We quickly settled into our tents for a good night of rest in preparation for a long few days of boot camp fun!

Kayleigh and Jeff (Mongol Derby 2022) Photos Courtesy: Kayleigh Davenport
Basecamp at Intergalactic Equine Photos Courtesy: Kayleigh Davenport

Friday morning came quickly with a 6:30 AM wake-up call at the top of a gorgeous hill and picturesque landscape. We woke up our bodies (pre-coffee!) with hill runs and hill lunges to get our blood pumping. Stevie loves hill runs because they don’t take too much time and are super effective. I can attest as my heart rate was working after just two sprints! My big take away from this tough cardio, besides the fitness, was my outlook when things get difficult. Yes it might suck, but you should be thankful you have a body that allows you to do hill runs – when you think about it that way, it really changes your perspective and doesn’t make it so hard. 

Hill runs aren’t so bad with this view. Photos Courtesy: Kayleigh Davenport

After cardio we moved over to some balance board work and meditation. Stevie uses the balance board as a main tool in her fitness training. Balance is a huge part of riding and this useful tool allows you to work smaller muscle groups that are hard to work otherwise. It may look easy, but after a dozen hill sprints (and still no coffee!) just staying upright is a challenge! Meditation is one of the things I was most looking forward to this weekend. Stevie is a lovely mediator and tailors the sessions to shed light on the amazing opportunity and thankfulness we have as Mongol Derby competitors. 

Balance board work Photos Courtesy: Kayleigh Davenport

After an award-winning breakfast and coffee (FINALLY) we loaded the horses up and headed to a local arena for a quick equitation lesson with a twist- BAREBACK! This was a great first ride and made you connect with your mount and really feel each muscle group working while you ride. From here we finally hit the trails for a fast ride through the mountains with some appropriate Mongol Derby weather, hail!

Bareback ride to start the day Photos Courtesy: Kayleigh Davenport
A surprise hail storm made for some realistic Mongolia weather conditions Photos Courtesy: Kayleigh Davenport

Both Saturday and Sunday began with more hill runs, balance boards and mediation, each day getting both easier and more difficult as my body fatigued. Saturday was our long ride with navigation training. Using the same GPS we use on the Derby, Garmin 64, both Jeff and I took turns navigating to preset points Stevie and Dylan had programmed. While navigating back to the final point (trailer parking lot) the GPS batteries died. This proved to be a good test in intuition and keeping our cool in a difficult situation, as well as planning to always keep some batteries within reach on the Derby!

Red Hero: my mount for navigation training. The capital city of Mongolia is Ulaanbaatar, which translates in English to Red Hero Photos Courtesy: Kayleigh Davenport

We finished up the weekend with another fast ride around beautiful Folsom Lake. It was a warm and dusty day rounding out some bipolar weather we had over the weekend. At the completion of each ride we also ran through the normal vetting procedure while on the Derby including vital signs and trot outs. Horse welfare is the top priority of the entire team on the Mongol Derby and a skilled team of veterinarians ensures all equine athletes are in top condition both before and after their legs of the race.

Folsom Lake on Alexander Hamilton Photos Courtesy: Kayleigh Davenport
I was able to spend a few hours in the saddle we are given to use on the Mongol Derby. Take away: I need a sheepskin cover (LOL) Photos Courtesy: Kayleigh Davenport

One of the most valuable parts of the Intergalactic Equine Bootcamp experience has to be the time spent at the dinner table. In addition to amazing food and drinks, it is a time to discuss anything and everything Mongol Derby. We talked about everything from how many pairs of socks to bring to strategy off the start line. We chatted about gear and the best way to secure your saddle bag to prevent a bucking bronco. This is also the time that real friendships and connections are made between like-minded, equally crazy and awesome people.

Overall, I feel I am on the right track in my training and preparation! I am bringing back tools to continue to improve my skills as a horsewoman and athlete. I am bringing back gratitude for my body that lets me have these crazy adventures. I am bringing back thanks and love to the family and friends that support my insane goals. Most importantly I am bringing back a fire and drive to complete this once in a lifetime experience- The Mongol Derby!

The week after I returned from boot camp, I got the word that the 2021 Mongol Derby would be postponed due to continued COVID precautions. While I was super bummed, I am looking forward to continuing my training journey and will be even more prepared in 2022! I am certain that this ‘come back race’ will be better than ever in 2022 – full of excited and amazing, equestrian athletes full of passion for this goal we have been training so hard for! Let the race begin!

Photos Courtesy: Kayleigh Davenport
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