Forty six intrepid riders from across the globe recently completed the world’s longest horse race, The Mongol Derby. After a two-year break, jockeys battled across Mongolia’s steppe for eight days, with a Brit pipped at the post by winning pair, American Deirdre Griffith and South African Willemein Jooste.

During the 1,000km Derby, horses are changed roughly every 35km, at checkpoints strung out throughout the country, but riders must be in the saddle for up to 200km a day and most ride more than 28 different semi-wild horses.

Riders in race mode. Credit: Shari Thompson

After the pandemic forced the cancellation of the 2020 and 2021 editions, the twelfth Mongol Derby kicked off on the 23 July. Day one saw Kiwi pair, Sam Edney and Annie Hackett, take an early lead, as other racers suffered navigational errors and falls.

By the end of day two, riders four riders had caught up with the New Zealanders, and six camped together at station six. The race is made up 28 of these stations and riders aim to be at one by the end of the riding day, but can opt to, or unintentionally, wild camp or try and find a friendly Mongolian family with space in a ger.

Chris Walker with a friendly family. Credit: Shari Thompson

By day three, riders were pulling out of the race with injuries while others served time penalties for riding past cut-off times the night before. The end of the day still saw six riders neck-and-neck, amongst them experienced riders Irishman Patrick Heffron and Brit Chris Walker.

On day four the race hit serious mountainous terrain and the weather deteriorated, there was a sudden change for a field, with Patrick and Chris in the lead. The following day the pair kept in front, as they chose to wild camp only 18 minutes ahead of a chasing pack of seven, including Diedre and Willemein.

Horses lined up at a station. Credit: Shari Thompson

Patrick and Chris led through days six and seven, but on the final day, Deirdre and Willemein passed them and crossed the finish line together to win, leaving Chris and Patrick to finish joint third.

Brit Chris Walker and Irishman Patrick Heffron embrace across the line. Credit: Shari Thompson

Lead image Willemien Jooste and Deirdre Griffith cross the finish line together. Credit Shari Thompson

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