Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Shifting Priorities (Mongol Derby)

Wednesday July 1 2009

I see with a lot of pressure from horse people worldwide, the Adventurists putting on this Mongol Derby (who are not an equine tour company, and have apparently never put on a horse event in a first world country, much less a third world country), have suddenly proclaimed horse welfare "firmly" at the top of their agenda.

Now, instead of "Essentially once the starter gun goes off you are on your own", and instead of 2 jeeps "following the race from a distance" there is now a "fleet of back up jeeps," or a "fleet of jeeps," or the event is supported by five off-road vehicles running alongside the riders (um, which five riders?) and 2 standby 4x4 vehicles.

Now instead of having no established route to follow, and the riders being on their own: "Luck? Judgement? Ask a passing herder? Ride in concentric circles for a week? Divination... You will be given a map before the start with the locations of each Urtuu and the rest is down to you," there is an "established route" to follow, or a "route marked out by the horse stations."

Now, instead of the riders "tackling the challenge of semi-wild horses and surviving alone in the wild steppes of Mongolia", and "It's dangerous, it's unsupported and you could die," now the "safety and welfare of the horses and riders on the Mongol Derby is of paramount importance to us as organisers. With a network of first class professionals, both veterinary and medical, the Mongol Derby's support network is exemplary; before, during and after the race." Now, the "welfare of the horse is guarded and monitored at all times" (I'm a little vague on the math here... 26 riders and horses - or 600 horses, if you want to count all of them - spread out over days or weeks and how many kilometers, with the 5 off-road vehicles following the 5 riders.)

Most enlightening and comforting, now there is also an "extensive horse welfare program and emergency back up system" in place. There's a "fantastic team of equine experts and veterinarians", or "respected British and Mongolian equine experts," or "a network of Mongolian vets". (Mongolia must have a lot of vets, no?) An unnamed British equine vet "with 32 years of experience" will follow the Derby in one of our "fleet of back up jeeps" and the Mongolian vets will have with them "high quality veterinary medicines."

Now instead of: "They're going to give us GPS locations to the wells, where we'll be able to get water, and they don't guarantee that the wells will have water" (apparently said by a contestant - but surely this can not be a real quote!), a recent revision was made "to increase the number of water sources" (um... new wells dug?) that have been clearly plotted for horses and riders, or, an "extensive list of confirmed water sources." Now the provision of water is a prime deciding factor in the route for the horses. Now, "The route will under no circumstances be taken through any area without adequate water provision and has been designed with this primarily in mind."

There still is that weight thing, though. Horses can safely carry up to 20% of their body weight. Mules can carry 25% safely. 95 kg, or 209 pounds, (the weight limit of the riders plus equipment and personal things), is 20% of a 454 kg, or 1000 pound animal. I haven't seen a 14-hand pony yet that weighs anywhere close to 1000 pounds.

Karen C in her blog entry today raised some valid points, besides wondering what really happens to the horses after they are raced. Namely, who is supplying batteries for the GPS units? My GPS only goes 11 hours without a charge (or plug in, which you won't have at the Urtuus in Mongolia). What about the emergency beacons? They will need fresh batteries too. Keeping the GPS's and emergency beacons functional every day would seem rather important since they are paramount to horse and rider safety, and riders will be limited on the weight they can carry. Will the Mongol Derby organisation provide enough batteries for all 26 riders every day at each Urtuu?

All of this new info is from the June 30th press release and the newly released Mongol Derby Horse Welfare and Race Logistics Information from the Adventurists.

It all looks great. After all, IT'S ALL WRITTEN ON PAPER, SO IT'S TRUE.

Right? (Although, which written word is true: those before the press release, or those in the press release?). Now we can all stop worrying and start kvetching about something else.

(An aside, TOTALLY unrelated to this event. I do not believe everything my government and governmental officials have put in writing, or told me, the last decade. Some of it has indeed proved to be false. And now, back to the Mongol Derby.)

Now, aside from the weight factor, I commend the Adventurists organization for seriously addressing valid concerns from serious horse people around the world, and from CLEARLY disassociating themselves from endurance riding or racing. ("The Mongol Derby is not an endurance race for the horses...")

However, I remain skeptical of all of their written declarations.

Since only the riders and Adventurists organization will be there in Mongolia during the Mongol Derby, the world won't really know if all or any of these written declarations will come to pass, will they?

So, how about this: if the Adventurists are dead set (no pun intended) on their wild and crazy Mongolian Adventure, and they are dead serious (no pun intended) on horse safety being at the forefront of this entire adventure, why don't they also bring along a few independent expert horsemen to independently audit the event?

How about a horse expert (who really does ride horses, a lot) from the Adventurists organization (surely there is one), a rider from the Long Riders' Guild, and a third horse riding expert that both agree upon? They can ride in the fleet of jeeps following the riders. That way there can be no question that the WRITTEN WORD is actually what goes down. Riders will still have their uninhibited wild and crazy adventure, horses will indeed be taken care of, the horse world will be put at ease, and Tom Morgan will be absolutely vindicated

How about it, Tom??

4 comments: said...

Excellent post, Merri! btw - before the Long Rider's got involved this event didn't even have a weight limit for the horses!

Have you ever seen the Jack in the Box commercial for mini sirloin burgers where they are herding miniature cattle with mini horses? I can't see that any more without thinking of this Mongol Derby thing.


Anonymous said...


What people don't seem to understand is that although the Mongol Derby website is written in a light hearted manner this does not mean the race itself is organised in a light hearted way. A sense of humnour does not belie the ability to do something properly.

And that is absolute RUBBISH that before the LRG got involved there was no weight limit. Get your facts right before slandering people.

Anonymous said...

Anyone who was involved in the Mongol Rally in the early days when it was a non-profit organisation knows that Tom Morgan and his new profit-making travel company are not to be trusted. You are right to be concerned about Mr Morgan.

Anonymous said...

Superb post.
I hope you don't mind, but I quoted you word for word in a response to yet another anonymous dissenter in my own blog.
I lack sufficient knowledge of endurance facts to have come up with this information myself.
If you object to having been quoted at such length, please let me know ASAP and I will pull the quote.
Many many thanks,
Kim Carneal