The Gaucho Derby, a 500km horse race across the mountains and pampas of Patagonia, has concluded for 2024 with riders contending tricky terrain and unpredictable weather while testing their endurance and camping in the wilderness.

Billed as the ‘greatest test of horsemanship and survival skills on earth’,  the competition requires mindful riding and orienteering, as well as the ability to cope with the unexpected. Competitors ride endurance horses for the first few days of the race, but when the land levels they must swap horses for faster riding, but still must be careful not to push their steeds too hard.

The sandstorm rolls in. Credit: Kathy Gabriel

“We would rather nobody wins than someone wins by pushing too hard,” said Tom Morgan, The Equestrianists founder, who organises the event alongside the Mongol Derby. “Riders seen making bad decisions, riding too fast across difficult terrain or not presenting horses in great condition will get penalties or be disqualified.”

This year was the third Gaucho Derby, with Covid causing a break in proceedings. Thirty nine riders from nine nations took to the start line and were immediately challenged with the prospect of riding through a sandstorm. This slowed things down and no one was able to break away from the pack during the first day’s riding.

Josephine Jammaers from Belgium sets up camp. Credit: Kathy Gabriel

Each rider must care for their horses at the end of each race day, ensuring they are fed, watered and comfortable, before setting up camp for the night. Participants carry their own tent, equipment and food, without
reliance of a support crew.

The second day brought scorching temperatures and little wind. Sixteen riders spent the night together between vet stations seven and eight by the end of day three.

Gauchos at work. Credit: Kathy Gabriel

It wasn’t until day five that another breakaway occurred, with Gaucho Derby veteran Daniel Van Eden from the Netherlands, endurance athlete Holly Masson from the UK and Mongol Derby veteran Rendel Rieckmann from Germany pulling away from the pack.

The trio carried the lead forward over the following three days, although at one point it looked like Daniel and Rendel would be able to get a lead over Holly, after she received a two hour riding penalty, but the pair decided to wait for her.

Holly Masson doing final checks before another leg. Credit: Kathy Gabriel

“Honestly, it was exhausting to constantly look over your shoulder every 10 minutes and see them chasing you,” said Rendel. “Eventually, at one of the stations, we collectively made the decision to ride together and finish as a team. It has truly been a massive relief and a much more enjoyable race since we decided to work together.”

It was these three riders who went on to claim the joint title of Gaucho Derby winners, on day eight, but only after a very tense wait at the finish line.

Rendel Rieckmann leading the way through some tricky ground. Credit: Kathy Gabriel

Midway through the race, at the Meseta de la Muerte (Plateau of Death), a severe storm rolled in and, in consideration of the well-being of the horses and riders, the race directors opted to pause the race until it was deemed safe to proceed. At the time, Daniel, Holly and Rendel were in the lead and were given a two-hour ‘credit’ once the race had restarted.

Daniel van Eeden riding lakeside. Credit: Kathy Gabriel

Hot on their heels were French riders Nathanael Bienvenu and Olivier Picard, who rode together throughout the race. They managed to cross the finish line first, but had to wait to see whether there was more than two hours between them and Daniel, Holly and Rendel. Unfortunately, for the French riders, they weren’t quite quick enough and the trio were crowned champions (pictured top, credit: Kathy Gabriel).

For more details on the race, which raises funds for various charities, visit

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