Under starter’s orders for toughest horse race
Only about 40 competitors worldwide are selected to take part in the annual Mongol Derby, which is described as “the world's toughest horse race”. Teesdale’s own Fiona Kearton will be taking part in 2020 and Wendy Short went to meet her on her smallholding near Bowes.
THE Mongol Derby covers 1,000km across the Mongolian Steppes, with riders racing across the gruelling terrain in just ten days. Competitors navigate the route with minimal assistance on the local Mongolian horses, which are switched every 40km and spend each night with the native horse herders.
Fiona Kearton has been involved in endurance riding for several years and first heard about the Mongol Derby in 2014.
“I became interested in endurance riding when I had a standard bred horse which liked to go forward in a straight line; that is an essential requirement of a horse that will excel at the sport,” says Miss Kearton.
“I have also participated in one of the overseas British Horse Society challenge rides and one of the female competitors had ridden in the Mongol Derby.
“My immediate thought when I heard about the race was that I wanted to take part. It is a huge step-up from anything that I have done before and I was surprised when I was selected after a telephone interview with the organisers. I was also asked to send in a photograph of myself riding at a gallop.”
At home, Miss Kearton’s main endurance horse is Valeo, a purebred Arab which she bought at three years old. He was her first Arab horse and it was the start of what seems likely to become a lifelong affiliation with the breed. Her level of competitive endurance riding is not strictly classified as a race, as the horse is graded at the finish line according to its recovery in relation to the speed and distance it has covered. At higher levels, there is a time element to the competition.
“Arabs are very special, they have so much personality and they are extremely intelligent,” she said.
“Valeo is seven now and has been taking part in endurance riding for three seasons. He now competes at open level. My favourite place to train is Hamsterley Forest, because it offers good terrain and I can focus on the riding because there is no traffic to worry about.”