Entering Natures Giants - The anatomy of a Derbyist

The Mongol Derby is the world's longest and toughest horse race, a 1000km dash across remotest Mongolia aboard the semi-wild native horses of the steppes.  It takes a very specific type of rider to tackle the hazards of the Derby; from exposure to sleep deprivation to broken bones, the Derby is a test of nerves, gumption and common sense as well as horsemanship. 

So just what is under the helmet of one of these Derby riders?  We sent Mongol Derby chief, veteran of the inaugural Derby in 2009, and rather amateur biologist, Katy Willings, to investigate.  Her research suggested they are an entirely disctinct species: Adventurist Equestrianus Mongolicans.

Here she is with a head-to-toe look at the special features and key modifications of this most fascinating species, the Mongol Derbyist.

Derby Chief Willings oversees the in-house team of biologists and natural historians as they  tackle the remarkable iron loops of intestine which are the hallmark of the Mongol Derby rider.

Head - unusually level.  Adv. Eq. Mongolicans is not  prone to feelings of over-excitement, fear, or panic.  The large cerebrum allows the rapid assimilation of information such as the geographical lie of the land for navigation purposes,  or which horse out of a choice of 35 will be the fastest or kindest, or what is mutton fat and what is noodle in a bowl of mixed materials served at daybreak.

Eyes - long-sighted, with well-developed night-vision, for locating horses who have high-tailed off into the distance, especially when camping out overnight.  Also excellent eyesight for close and detailed work, allowing for successful GPS readings whilst travelling at speeds of up to 52kph over rough terrain.  Tear ducts so small as to be non-existent, suggesting that the species rarely, if ever, cries like a little bitch.

Nose - sub-sensitive.   The species must endure up to ten days of strenuous activity with no access to soap, in the very close proximity of 34 other members of the species, so the under-developed sense of smell is an important advantage, allowing use of both hands for non-nose holding activities such as rein-holding, GPS navigation and feeding.

Chin - extremely large and well-developed, allowing Adv. Eq, Mongolicans to 'take' a great many things on it.  An apparently symbiotic relationship with the pre-vented spleen referred to below, though no physical connection between the two discovered on dissection.

Gullet - depressed gag reflex, for ready ingestion of whole dried curds, often larger than dominoes, plus any number of large animal fat particles such as sheep’s tail which do not reward careful chewing.

Mouth - the upper lip of Avd. Eq. Mongolicans can be stiff and unwieldy whilst mounted, lost, or in adverse weather conditions.  When unmounted the most successful of the species tend to relax their upper lip and engage in social activities  classified as “joining in”. 

Hands - exceptionally strong and robust hide on the palm, allowing Adv. Eq. Mongolicans to endure any number of adverse weather conditions and traumas whilst retaining a grip on the reins.  High degree of dexterity for knots, impromptu leatherwork and braiding the hair of Mongolian children. Despite the apparent roughness, the best of the species still display what other Equestrianus geni describe as “soft hands”.

Heart and lungs- large and well-developed.  The cardiovascular system of Adv Eq. Mongolicans can withstand running after errant horses for up to 10kms above the aerobic threshold, and within the aerobic threshold, can facilitate the riding of wild horses for 14 hours continuously. 

Liver - unusually robust and efficient.  The species is exposed to toxic levels of Vodkans Mongolicans on an almost nightly basis, and yet is frequently able to rise before dawn, eat a full bowl of noodles, and then ride 120kms.

Organ Stew; a Mongolian delicacy. Equally enjoyable hot for dinner, or cold for breakfast.

Organ Stew; a Mongolian delicacy. Equally enjoyable hot for dinner, or cold for breakfast.

Diaphragm - for some of the weaker Adv. Eq. Mongolicans, a strong diaphragm ‘crowds out’ the need for a strong liver, by enabling regular ‘tactical’ evacuations of toxic levels of Vodkans Mongolicans.  In all of the species, a powerful diaphragm also allows for the successful projection of voice signals, which may be used to summon assistance - "HELP!" - or warn off large and snarling specimens of Canis Mongolicans - “NOKHOIGOOROO!!”, or even encourage the onward progress of the equid specimen they happen to be riding at the time - “CHU! CHU!” The finest of the species also display a remarkably full and tender singing voice, used both as a mating call, and as a barter in exchange for lower doses of Vodkans Mongolicans.

Spleen - pre-vented.  Anger is a notably useless emotion on the Mongol Derby, with typical objects being the weather, the time, some immovable geographical feature, or a semi-wild horse.  A pre-vented spleen allows Adv. Eq. Mongolicans to divert any bad feelings towards their well-developed chins while maintaining full adventuring function and motor control.

Intestines - here we see some of the most startling modifications of the entire species, for it appears that the entire gut is actually made of iron.  This seems to have two key advantages; firstly the additional ballast of the iron guts appears to affix the species most securely to the saddle.  Secondly, Adv. Eq. Mongolicans can derive nutrition from any number of unusual and rarely tolerated foodstuffs with no apparent difficulty (see example below).

Derby rider thigh in detail, showing early evolution of plastic polymer coating

Derby rider thigh in detail, showing early evolution of plastic polymer coating

Arse - unusually pert and tight.  This may be the result of extended squatting and lunging training sessions, a vital part of the mating rituals of Adv. Eq. Mongolicans.  Happily the increased muscle mass and density of the arse also allows the species to endure something like 720,000 impacts on the saddle, and up to 8 impacts on the hard baked earth from saddle height, during the course of the Mongol Derby.

Balls (and Ladyballs) - both genders of the species display behaviours consistent with being nourished by a quite almighty set of balls.  Whilst the physical markers, the actual kahunas, may undergo considerable stress, or indeed erosion, during the adventure, the elevated tolerance of discomfort and appetite for calculated risk suggest that their function is not unduly affected, or may in fact be enhanced, by the equine endurance adventure.

Thighs - unusually concave, to the extent that, when stood on the ground in the standard biped arrangement, an adult equid may be successfully parked between them.  Often this characteristic is associated with a temporary thinning, or removal, of the outer hide on the inner thighs.  There is no apparent biological advantage to this modification, though one theory goes that future generations of Adv. Eq. Mongolicans will have duct tape instead of hide in this region, and the weeping sores prevalent in current specimens  are an early, yet-to-be-perfected, plastic polymer. 

Despite the strange physical features of the thighs, their function is, if anything, improved.  This is manifested by the dexterous negotiation of multiple 'slit-trench' sanitary facilities, requiring a deep, and at times, rather extended, squat.  See above section on Iron Guts.

So there you have it.  A creature of incredible versatility, physical resilience, stamina and ability, underpinned by characteristics of stoicism, chivalry and uncommon good looks.  Next time you see a Mongol Derbyist out in the wild, be sure to give them the respect and appreciation they deserve. 

Less than 100 sightings of these hardy beasts have been recorded, and several of those were butchered for this piece of research, though several more are said to be being bred in captivity in a bunker near Bedminster, Bristol. 

With thanks to Charlene Lim for the image of the Derby lab technicians.