Road to the Mongol Derby: Part Three

While I was hoping to start this blog with cries of victory and triumph coming off my time on the steppe, this blog has a slightly different tone, still important, but different.

Photos Courtesy: Kayleigh Davenport

Adaptation and rolling with the punches are an inevitable part of working with horses. I am a planner, even when it comes to my equestrian endeavors, so this is something I am consistently working on. Since being accepted to compete in the Mongol Derby ‘21 back in May of ‘20, I have made it my priority to work on my adaptation and diverting from my original plan in the face of challenges. After my first interview with Mongol Derby veteran and Nation Media’s own Leslie Wylie, this piece of advice and caution really stuck with me. … “There is a LOT of adapting you’ll have to do in Mongolia! From the culture to the horses, no matter how hard you train for the Derby, nothing in the western world can quite prepare you for what is coming your way.” Little did I know there would be a huge wrench thrown my way as we approached the race start date.

Read Part One of Kayleigh’s journey here.

Read Part Two of Kayleigh’s journey here.

I got the unfortunate news that due to continued COVID concerns the Derby would be postponed to July of 2022. I was super disappointed and allowed myself some grieving time. Mongol Derby preparation had become an integral part of my being. From spending many of my waking moments in the tack, in the gym, or in my head about strategy and preparation, much of my life had become centered around this once in a lifetime 10 days in Mongolia. I saw a good chunk of my fellow Derby hopefuls drop out completely from the race, not knowing what their life would bring in the next year, they could not continue to commit themselves to this wild ride. I took solace in knowing I was not alone in my sorrow, there were some riders that have been waiting to ride since their acceptance back in 2018/2019 that I really felt for. After a day or two swiping through sad Instagram posts from my fellow heartbroken Derby hopefuls and numerous pep-talks from my friends and family, I dusted myself off and jumped back on the feral pony!

After popping out of my funk I sat down with my fitness trainer, Dr. Alison Hartman of EQFIT to produce a plan. I did not want to take anytime off- I was invigorated by my newfound time to prep and be the best I could be. We adapted my workouts with a sequence of building and peak periods over the next year. Also, with more time on the clock I have opportunities to meet up with Ali at shows and events to do workouts in person and catch up outside of the computer screen!

Photos Courtesy: Kayleigh Davenport

More prep time equals more time in the tack and more time to ride different horses! I am lucky to have some great friends with some quirky horses I have been able to borrow for more of a challenge. I have also gotten the opportunity to go on some longer rides giving me more of an accurate feel of the day to day in the saddle when I get to Mongolia. These longer rides also give me the opportunity to fine tune my gear. I had a fairly good idea of the items and clothes I was going to wear, but I have since made a few tweaks after being able to test for more time and different conditions. For example, I was able to do some heat testing in Florida over the last few weeks and have come to realize my fair northern skin isn’t too keen on being sweaty for extended periods of time- queue the body glide testing phase! LOL

I am also thankful for this additional time before my Derby to fundraise for the official charity of the Mongol Derby, Steppe and Hoof. Steppe and Hoof is a non-profit organization which has been set up to help herders and their animals in Mongolia. From a total population of 3.2 million (about the population of Arkansas) Mongolian people, only about 169,000 nomadic families remain today. Climate change and urbanization are contributing to the rapid disappearance of one of the world’s last traditional nomadic lifestyles. Mongolian herders are unique in that they depend solely on their animal herds for their existence. The goal of Steppe and Hoof is to try to save the unique traditions that are part of the Mongolian nomadic lifestyle by giving herders the modern tools and knowledge they need to keep their livestock. I look forward to being able to contribute to this great cause in preparation for my time spent in this amazing culture. 

I came into this journey to the Mongol Derby as just that, a major part of the journey being the preparation. I am using this time as an excuse for continued self-improvement. Many Mongol Derby veterans have said you can prepare for about 20% of this race, the remaining 80% is luck. Well gosh darn I am certainly going to take this extra time to be sure I have the 20% cinched up tight before July. Until then, I am just here to enjoy the ride!

Photo Courtesy: Steppe and Hoof
IHSA Nationals: A Veteran Shares Her Behind-the-Scenes' Perspective
Emma Cooper at IHSA Nationals 2024
IHSA Nationals 2024: A Student Athlete's Inside View
Lauren Nicholson and Vermiculus
Nicholson and Vermiculus Celebrate Fifth-Place Finish at 2024 Kentucky Three-Day CCI5*
Klugman and Bronte Beach
Klugman and Bronte Beach Breeze into Five-Star Status