Normally in the training world of endurance riding we are quite scientific in preparing our horses; there are training plans, optimum heart rates, speeds, pace and endless mid point goals and measures. The basis however of every single one of those plans should be the BASE Fitness, the gruelling weeks of walk and variations on walk followed by equally gruelling weeks of trot and variations (at least there are more of those variations) on trot and all usually in the most disgusting weather ever known to man – this ladies and gentleman is not something you will have to do or worry about for the fine Mongolian mounts you will be partnering over your 1000km in August. Mongolia has done your base fitness training for you. Survive at least five winters in Mongolia, canter 50kms with your herd for water, and you will find a very fine athlete, even under a considerable fat-jacket.
Conditioning and selection
Your mounts will come from among these fine Mongolian steeds, some Naadam racing horses, some tough working horses, some souped-up family safe conveyances, chosen carefully for their temperament (you may question that at times), their strength, stature, they are studied moving, standing and listen to heart rates and respiratory systems. Only those who pass muster are chosen and in the weeks before you arrive they will be put through their paces to ensure they are up for their leg with you on board.
The distance is nothing new to these horses. In fact it's no more than the herd would canter to find water. Each of your legs will be between 35 and 40kms. As long as you navigate properly. It's further if you go round in circles, obviously.
BUT - carrying your 90 kg of western body weight does make a huge difference. Especially at speed. If you're upwards of 80kgs and riding with someone who is 55kgs, this will make a significant difference to how your horses perform. Be aware of this, adjust accordingly.
Oh yes - speed! Let's talk about that. We expect you do be the great horsemen and women you have been selected as and remain in the aerobic zone working with the horses – there is no place on this Derby for sustained sprinting of 25 km + over 40 km. In fact if we see these kind of speeds from the live tracking it will be a horse welfare red flag; you are likely to get an earful, get spied on by me and co-ref Charles, and if caught at a sustained sprint, sent home. The longest Naadam race is around 30kms, and horses do sprint the whole way, but with some serious speed training under their belts, and with 15kgs of infant in the saddle. This is a spectacle but it is NOT the Mongol Derby.
So you don't gallop 40kms straight. What do you do then?
- Warm up, get on and have a little feel around the Horse Station, it might be lively or it might be a nice gentle warm up, but please do WARM UP
- A steady trot or canter should see you cover the ground at around 16 – 18 km per hour – this is sustainable if you are riding well. Note that your ground speed will hardly change between trot and canter, so don't place undue importance on the pace if the horse doesn't seem to. Vary it if you have the option, it does help keep them fresh
- You’ll jog at 8 -10 km per hour if you have tired your horse but you should still make it in ok. This is a great option, even a dribbling jog is significantly faster than a plod. As long as you took those lunge lessons and are comfortable in sitting or rising trot for a couple of hours...
- If you overcook it your be walking alongside at about 3 – 5 km per hour, and they are rubbish at being lead, they are used to being herded from the rear not dragged from the bridle – my advice just DON’T get into this position!
- So at the risk of repetition do not think you are going to run this race at 25 km per hour, you might do a bit of “yeaaaaaahhhh “ out of control at this or faster, especially leaving the stations as a gang, but get it together it’s your responsibility and we will consider speeds like that to be a horse welfare red flag.
If we analyse the overall speeds for the Derby winners, they are covering most legs at around 16kph, including the inevitable stoppage time for a water, fag or pee break. You could easily trot the entire 1000kms and finish first, if you do everything else right.
Horse won't go?
If it won’t go ....... maybe it’s you? Midday Sun ,,,,, disgustingly wet ...... or actually just bloody stubborn! If you think there’s something actually wrong, you have options:
o You can swap the horse, if there are more to choose from
o You can dismount, check your tack and your kit - is the girth cutting him in half, is there something sticking into him from the saddle bag?
o You can have another cuppa and try again – is it you that’s knackered and delirious?
o If this is the last horse on the line, you’re desperate to catch up with your team-mates, then you’d better bloody dig deep and find something!
We have found in most instances where the rider cannot motivate the horse, they get a humiliating demonstration from the herder who owns it of just how willing and able that horse is with Dad on board – look to yourselves my friends, look to yourselves! You need to train hard enough to ride each of your horses well no matter what pace, speed or terrain, ride lots of different horses in training, learn to recognise and differentiate between talented and lazy horses, ordinary horses giving you their best and also just plain old YOU not having your shit together. It is always surprising how few “this one was a dud” comments we hear from the really talented riders.
If you're only comfortable in a canter because your knees and core strength is crap, and you're tired after two days so can't be arsed to kick, or sit light, you are limiting your options to the best 5 horses on the line at every single station, the ones that everyone will want to ride "he goes but is under control, he's fast but really comfortable, he'll canter the whole way and not blow out a candle at the end of it". It's up to you to make sure you can gee on the lazy ones, and be comfortable on the big movers, the hard pullers, the ones that trot like a sewing machine.