1000km horse race across Mongolia is won by female rider for the first time in 5 editions
First rider across the line Devan Horn fails vet inspection after riding ‘near immaculate race’ and incurs 2 hour penalty handing dramatic victory to Lara who finished an hour later
Half of the 30 riders who began the race have already withdrawn adding clout to the race’s claim to be the longest and toughest race on the planet
19 year old Lara Prior-Palmer from Hampshire, UK has won the Mongol Derby today in dramatic fashion. She is the first British rider, the first female rider and also the youngest person ever to win the race since it’s launch in 2009.
American 20 year old Devan Horn crossed the finish line first following a tight contest with Lara in the final few days of the race that began back on Sunday 4th August.
However, race rules stipulate each rider’s horse must pass a strict veterinary inspection at the end of each leg and Devan’s horse’s heart rate did not recover in the required time and she was issued a 2 hour penalty.
When Lara crossed the line an hour later she passed the vet inspection and was therefore declared the winner. Agony for the American rider after a near perfect race over 1000 km and ecstasy for the niece of well known British equestrian Lucinda Green MBE (6 times Badminton champion and eventing legend).
The world’s longest horse race is a recreation of Genghis Khan’s ancient postal system – a mammoth network of 25 horse stations across the Mongolian steppe. Riders change their semi-wild Mongolian horses at each station approximately 40km apart and stay with the local nomadic herding families that run the stations and provide the horses.
Just after crossing the line 1st placed Lara said:
“I can’t really believe it … I came into the first station last because my horse was so slow and I had to walk him in. I thought that would be the end of my Mongol Derby.
“I knew that there were 30 people and nearly all of those 30 wanted to win and I really just wanted to finish. If you compare my first few days to my last few days I was going so much slower … and suddenly I just got the hang of it and how to ride the horses and what to do to catch up with the rest.”
Devan Horn, the American rider first across the line but placed 2nd following her penalty, said:
“I really have had an amazing ride, I’m feeling mixed emotions, I’m feeling a little bit disappointed, but I’m also feeling very elated that I finished. There’s definitely a little bit of rivalry going on – I thought I’d beaten her [Lara] The horse looked great … it was a kick in the teeth after riding 700 miles.
“Apparently we’ve set a time record and since James [Johnston, the youngest rider in the field withdrew through injury] I’m actually the youngest finisher, ever!”
The two riders approached the race with starkly contrasting styles and tactics. Devan had a precise plan to ride “as fast as my body would allow” and was mentored by 2010 Mongol Derby winner and former US Marine Justin Nelzen on how to assess then select the best horse at each station. Picking a fast horse from among the 35 or so on offer makes a huge difference.
Lara on the other hands says she “just sort of bumbled into it” adding that she thought she was very lucky. Rather than painstakingly assessing which horse to pick at each station she said “I always just let the herders choose for me” and admitted to not being the finest navigator the race has seen.
Both riders however demonstrated exceptional horsemanship. Richard Dunwoody, the official race photojournalist and former champion jockey, said he’d witnessed “phenomenal riding” and that both Lara and Devan had “set a scorching pace”.
“Clare Twemlow and Kirsten Melis aren’t far behind” he went on to say, “and I imagine Chloe Phillips-Harris is very close behind them so we’re looking forward to seeing them in tomorrow and certainly this year is one for the girls – they’ve secured the first 5 places and really put one over the lads this year!”
Officially the world’s longest horse with a Guinness World Record set in 2010, the Mongol Derby went a long way to confirming it’s reputation as the most gruelling horse race around as well.
Half of the 30 riders who started have withdrawn from the race, with only 15 now expected to complete.
Many have fallen off or been unceremoniously bucked off their semi-wild horses or sustained injuries. Richard Dunwoody said that “it’s been a very tough year, a lot of riders have been thrown from their horses and there’s been illness through the riders and crew too … Certainly it can hold its head high and say that it is the worlds toughest horse race.”
Lara added there is an element of luck in staying fit and healthy:
“Day 4 was tough, I was seriously knackered … I was riding a really fantastic horse this morning and it just somersaulted into a marmot hole, literally. It had been bolting so it was going really fast and then it landed on me and I was so lucky not to get hurt – it was a really intense and quite exciting experience.”
Both rider and horse were unhurt thankfully but every rider has similar stories that demonstrate the dangers involved (if the 50% attrition wasn’t evidence enough).
Second placed Devan Horn said:
“On Day 4, I was riding along and my horse started bucking really, really hard. I dropped my lead rein and without thinking I bent to catch it and unbalanced myself and the horse threw me, and then ran off!
“I had to hike the 10km back to his home ger where he luckily was headed. So I never lost my horse but I had to hike for a long time and I remember thinking while I was hiking ‘what am I doing here, why did I decide to do this with my summer vacation?’”
Devan was also kicked by her horse and experienced severe illness on the same day but along with many other riders showed a willingness to fight through severe conditions, intense pain, and a lot of chafing, scrapes and bruises to carry on riding.
While the horses are looked after by a team of equine vets, the riders are backed up by a team of emergency medics provided by Prometheus Medical, they’re a specialist team with experience of managing medical needs and emergencies in remote environments. They have dealt with everything from rashes and sores to severe gastrointestinal problems, dehydration and heat exhaustion among others.
14 riders are still on the race course and expected to finish over the next two days. Those riders can be tracked live on the Mongol Derby Tracker. The race team post regularly on Twitter at @MongolDerbyLive.