Here are the main culprits, and explanations.
Veterinary penalty - 2 hours; for presenting a horse which in the vets' opinion shows signs of poor or negligent riding. We cannot sanction either, and whilst we know that no rider would intentionally mis-treat their steed, having a veterinary penalty encourages them to be vigilant and more attuned to how their horse is doing. See the Vet Check section for details on the vet procedures and the all-important heart rate rule. Once you sit out a vet penalty, your slate will not be wiped clean- your third veterinary penalty will incur a 4 hour time penalty and we will be seriously looking into why you keep incurring vet penalties and whether you should be allowed to continue. Any abusive riding will cause immediate disqualification.
Riding in the dark; riding hours are between 7am and 8.30pm, basically daylight hours. This is because riding in the dark is hazardous to the horses, with marmot holes to fall in, tree roots to trip over, etc. It is also hazardous to the back-up teams to provide cover through the night, and respond to emergencies. It is almost impossible to navigate in rural Mongolia in the dark, so you really won't want to ride on anyway. If you're less than 30 minutes late, you'll get 2 minutes' penalty for every minute past 8.30. After 9pm, you'll get a flat 3 hour penalty. If you are moving after 10pm you are liable to be disqualified.
Enforced hold (non-penalty) - Riders who are visibly exhausted and in the opinion of the vets pose a risk to the welfare of their horses may be held at the urtuu on the authority of the vet or the urtuu manager, or any member of the organising team who have observed them on course. This is not actually a penalty, and will not be rolled up to be served at the 'penalty urtuus', but an enforced hold, to be served immediately.
It sounds serious, but is most likely to consist of Maggie noticing you can't remember your own name and had no idea you were riding a horse, and forcing a bowl of noodles and some electrolytes down your cake hole. Inconvenient at the time perhaps, but a race-saving ploy if it keeps you out of the Medics log-book later in the event.
We do not intend for the penalty system to have any tactical significance during the Mongol Derby. They are designed to encourage good riding and sensible, respectful behaviour towards the horses, the event organisers and their Mongolian partners.
Mis-use of the SPOT trackers - 4 hours; we have to treat every emergency call-out on the SPOT trackers as life and death. We drop everything in the Operations Room and clear the airwaves between Ulaanbaatar HQ and field teams until we have responded to the call-out, sometimes holding riders at urtuus and taking vets away from their posts. If we get to your location and you have a) moved, so we have to go looking for you, or b) just needed someone to talk to, you'll get a stiff penalty. Have a read of the emergency and non-emergency assistance section in this here handbook.
Non-emergency assistance - 1 hour; see the dedicated section for the philosophy behind this one, but if you press your HELP button on the SPOT tracker, for example to summon help catching a horse or to get a bit of medical advice on your raw thigh/itchy arse/eye infection, you'll have to take a 1 hour penalty.
Vehicle carry-forward - 3 hours; there may be instances where a rider falls off and the horse disappears over the horizon, turning up 2 days later back with his mates, tack still on. We don't expect riders to track their horses for 2 days. If you hit the HELP button and we cannot get you back on the horse with a couple of hours' wrangling, we may be forced to transport you by vehicle to an urtuu where you can get a remount and ride on.
If you go BACK towards the previous urtuu, you will not incur a time penalty, but if we carry your FORWARD to the next urtuu, you will have to take a 3 hour penalty. In effect you will not have ridden the full course, but elimination is too stiff a penalty in this case and the time penalty evens things up between those who ride every step (lucky things) and those that have a rougher ride.