Eion Kemp from Matamata has been selected to race in the world’s toughest horse race, the Mongol Derby.
 Waikato man Eion Kemp is always up for a challenge.

And in August he’ll leave his home in Matamata to compete in the world’s toughest horse race, the Mongol Derby.

The 1000 kilometre derby, in Mongolia, is run across high valleys and open passes, semi-arid dunes, wetland and river crossings.

Many riders compete in the Mongol Derby to win, others just for the experience. Far left is Marie Palzer, a New ...

Julian Herbert

Many riders compete in the Mongol Derby to win, others just for the experience. Far left is Marie Palzer, a New Zealander who placed sixth in 2017.

 Temperatures can drop to -8 degrees Celsius and soar to 50deg C in one day.

In the past, riders had suffered dehydration, hypothermia, broken bones and concussion.

Even the most experience horse riders can get thrown from the wild Mongolian ponies used for the race. Injuries include ...

Supplied

Even the most experienced horse riders can get thrown from the wild Mongolian ponies used for the race. Injuries include broken bones and concussion.

 Some were chased by wolves and packs of wild dogs.

The unmarked course changes each year and riders navigate by GPS.

Kemp was comfortable and confident around horses.

Friendships are forged between the riders in the Mongol Derby, a 1000 kilometre horse race in Mongolia.

Supplied

Friendships are forged between the riders in the Mongol Derby, a 1000 kilometre horse race in Mongolia.

The Kilgraven Lodge owner breaks in and pre-trains thoroughbred race horses but he was yet to meet the Mongolian horses used for the derby.
Described as the “ballistic missiles” of the 13th Century, these tough, revered steeds once carried the all-conquering Mongol warriors across half the world.

Endurance and speed was their niche.

Kemp had been considering the derby for five years.

Last year he “took the punt” and applied.

“I decided it was time do something for myself.”

He will join 45 other riders from around the world, including three from New Zealand.

Kemp said he could have eased into the world of extreme horse racing with shorter races.

But something easier would have been “cheating” himself.

“I am capable of more than that, and I will either make it or I won’t.

“It’s something different, an adventure out of my comfort zone.

“Challenging myself and what I can do.”

He said people entered to win, others for the experience but all had one thing in common, to face the challenge head-on.

“After three days, the field breaks away,” he said.

“The winners will go forward and the people there for the experience will just cruise and probably see more.”

He has spent months preparing, but a 1000km race at a gallop is fairly difficult to train for.

“I have done 40km rides, but that’s only one leg.

“Treks are walking or trotting, but these horses are designed for galloping for long distances.”

And participants are in for a wild ride.

The horses belong to nomadic herding families and breeders along the 1000km course.

But it doesn’t mean they are even tempered or broken in.

“I am told the hardest part is getting on them,” said Kemp.

“I have spoken to a lot of people who have done the race.

“They say once you get going, you may not have steering but as long as you point them in the right direction, you are half way there.”

About 1400 ponies were selected and trained for the annual race.

Horses must be swapped every 40km at stations where riders could also replenish food and drink or spend the night.

Participants could cover 160km a day, changing horses four-to-five times, riding up to 30 steeds throughout the race.

For the horses’ benefit, riders must weigh under 85kg.

They could carry an additional 5kg on the horse, including sleeping bag, medicine, clothing and shelter.

“It’s damn hard to organise your gear,” he said.

“You don’t have a lot of room or know exactly what you will be facing day to day.”

A GPS tracker ensured riders were retiring their horses every 40km and keeping the animals’ heart rates down.

It also ensures riders were not on course between 8.30pm and 7am.

If riders don’t find a station by 8.30pm, they either ask a Mongolian family to take them in, or sleep under the stars.

Failure to meet guidelines could incur a two-hour penalty.

A requirement of entry was fundraising $1000 for charity.

Half must go to Cool Earth, an environmental charity working in partnership with indigenous communities to protect rainforests.

The other half goes to the rider’s chosen charity.

For Kemp this is CatWalk SCI Trust, supporting spinal cord injury research to get people with paralysis back on their feet.

But Kemp doesn’t do things by half and has arranged a charity auction during the New Zealand Bloodstock sales on May 7.

The guest speaker is Brendan Lindsay, founder of Sistema, who now owns Cambridge Stud.

Kemp said there isn’t much more he can do to mentally prepare.

Despite the challenges ahead, he isn’t one to quit once he has made up his mind.

“If I don’t do it, I will regret it.”

It’s a costly experience, made possible with sponsors New Zealand Bloodstock, Prydes Feed, Livamol and Gregory Equine.

And it’s not an experience he may want to repeat, so winning is his main goal.

“There is no point otherwise. I have a competitive nature, I like to do the best I can.”

 – Stuff

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