***The Mongol Derby launches on Friday 10th August***
The field of equestrian adventurists taking on the world's toughest horse race have met for the first time in the capital of Mongolia, Ulaanbaatar, and their pre-race training has started.
"Based on classroom ability and curry eating they are a cracking bunch" said the Race Chief Katy Willings. "Though it's a lower hurdle than riding semi-wild horses for 1000km they've cleared the first hurdle by weighing in, meeting the crew and completing the first bout of training."
The Mongol Derby is not a simple beast. It's an ambitious, logistically complicated and large-scale recreation of the ancient horse messenger system used by Genghis Khan and his chums back in the day when they were in charge of most of Planet Earth.
The race is a huge operation for organisers, The Adventurists, and for the riders probably the most dangerous adventure they've taken on. They face between 7 and 10 days and 1000km riding semi wild horses through unfamiliar terrain across the Mongolian wilderness.
They have to navigate themselves between waypoints and will change horses every 40km at each of the 25 horse stations. At night they'll either stay in the Gers with the nomadic herding families that operate the horse stations, or camp on the steppe.
To make all this possible the riders had to learn about the systems and race mechanics, now well established during three successful editions since the Derby launched in 2009.
Emergency response medics
Prometheus Medical, a race partner since 2009, are expert wilderness medics who provide the emergency back up for the riders. Each rider is tracked via GPS and has the ability to signal for help if they get into serious trouble.
The riders were trained on what constitutes a real emergency. They can seek help at any point but to ensure the medics aren't called out every time a rider sneezes, there are potential penalties for anyone who seeks help for something they can look after themselves. Basically they were told not to expect the emergency doctors to wipe their arses or rub soothing cream into their chafed areas.
Andy, the highly experienced medic who will lead the response team, gave the riders tips and advice on how to look after themselves in a difficult environment while putting their body through a properly gruelling adventure.
Veterinary checks and horse welfare
At the very top of the chain of priorities for organisers and riders is the horse welfare system. Each horse has been individually checked, selected and trained specifically the race. The riders' horse undergoes a vet check at the beginning and end of each leg designed to ensure they are ridden within their ability and without causing distress.
Fail a vet check, such as recording a heart rate or recovery time above the set limits, and riders incur an instant penalty. These start with time penalties, meaning they're held back for a set period of time before they can carry on racing, and then move through various stages of severity and end ultimately with instant disqualification. Thankfully penalties are rare and nobody has ever been disqualified.
The riders met the team of international and Mongolian vets who will provide veterinary expertise at each horse station and an emergency response team for any call outs involving horses.
The weigh in
There are strict weight limits for Mongol Derby riders, and strict limits on the amount of kit and equipment that can be carried on the horses. They can be no more than 85kg fully dressed in their riding gear and carry no more than 5kg of kit.
At their first session they were all weighed and checked just to make sure they hadn't been eating a considerable amount of cake between the time they applied and submitted their weight and arriving in Mongolia.
The first day of pre-race training on the Steppe was held on Wednesday 8th August, the second will be on Thursday 8th August and Friday is launch day.
For the latest updates follow @MongolDerbyLive on Twitter and check back here for race updates.
On Friday when the race begins at 10am Mongolian time, the Live Tracking Map will go live - you can find it in the Rider Updates section.