Practical Horseman Associate Editor Jocelyn Pierce will be competing in the Mongol Derby, a 600-mile expedition considered the longest and toughest horse race in the world, in August. As she prepares, she’s reporting on her progress with weekly blogs here at www.PracticalHorsemanMag.com and www.JPMongolDerby.com and in Tips & Talk in Practical Horseman.
About 20 miles into a 23-mile ride—my first endurance outing—it occurred to me that maybe I should have learned a little more about long-distance riding before submitting my application for the Mongol Derby. According to the sport’s standards, an endurance ride is at least 50 miles. During the Derby I will need to ride about 75 to 100 miles a day for seven to 10 days. But flying by the seat of my pants is kind of my style, and I still have a few months to learn more.
Since being accepted to participate in the Mongol Derby, I’ve reached out to numerous past competitors to pick their brains on everything from fitness to gear suggestions and general overall advice. I’ve chatted with on-site Derby organizers, including Maggie Pattinson, who’s also chef d’équipe of the England home endurance squad. Maggie is an invaluable resource who’s shared lots of tips about endurance riding, such as learning what 25 miles—the length of one leg of the Derby—feels like so you have an idea of how far you’ve gone, how much farther you have to go, if perhaps you’ve taken a wrong turn or, God forbid, are horseless and need to decide if heading forward to the next station makes more sense or backtracking is the way to go. The guidance Maggie emphasized most was to get as much saddle time now as possible. I have my own horse, but riding one horse for an hour a day simply isn’t enough.
I’ve sought out horsepeople in the greater Washington, D.C. area for more rides. First, I met up with a local racehorse trainer, thinking that galloping on the track would apply to galloping across the Mongolian steppe. While it was a new experience and a total blast, I decided it would be more beneficial for me to rack up miles at a slower pace with endurance riders rather than do four 25-minute trot and hand-gallop sets. So far, I’ve been able to ride with decorated endurance riders and husband–wife team Skip and Angela Kemerer, of Myersville, Maryland, who took me on that aforementioned 23-mile ride, as well as with fellow 2018 Mongol Derby competitors Carol Federighi, an experienced endurance rider, and Matthew Graham, both from Washington, D.C. Skip and Angela showed me how endurance vet checks work, explained the importance of changing your diagonals and leads frequently to help your horse stay sound and patiently answered my rapid-fire questions about their preferred stirrups, breeches and so much else. I’ve also enlisted my patient and accomplished eventing trainer Rose Agard, of Monrovia, Maryland, to work with me on weekly longe lessons on my own horse to improve my seat, balance and coordination and to tighten up my position overall.
I’ve also changed up my out-of-the-saddle fitness plan. I consider myself active and before signing up for the Mongol Derby, a typical day of exercise for me usually consisted of some kind of cardio or high-intensity interval training workout (I see so much of world renowned fitness expert Shaun T on my computer screen that sometimes I forget he isn’t actually my personal trainer), a 4- to 5-mile hike and a ride on my mare. But now I’ve kicked things up a bit, adding more core conditioning and isometric exercises with barre classes three to four times a week and spin classes two to three times a week to target my legs and glutes. On the weekends when I don’t have an endurance ride I go for a long hike, at least 15 miles, to challenge both my physical fitness and my mental toughness.
Focusing on my physical fitness has been my main priority so far, but I’ve got plenty of other things to consider. Researching and testing gear has become an obsession. I’ve spent hours upon hours reading reviews of the best and latest helmets, riding breeches, stirrups, down jackets, sleeping bags—the list goes on—to figure out what will make up my precious 11-pound allotment.
Throughout this process, it’s occurred to me how truly generous horsepeople can be. I’ve cold-called several people who’ve willingly agreed to let me ride their prized horses without ever seeing me ride–to help me reach my goal. They’ve patiently answered my rookie questions, given me useful tips and shared encouraging words about my big adventure. I know that I can’t prepare for the starting line all on my own and that to log miles in the saddle I must rely on others—sometimes even total strangers—to help,but so far it hasn’t been a problem and for that I am incredibly thankful.