When Genghis Khan’s army emerged from the Mongolian steppe back in the 13th century, one of the keys to his success was an equine postal system that enabled messages to travel across his vast and growing empire in a matter of days. He oversaw the establishment of a network of horse stations that allowed riders to exchange their exhausted steeds for fresh mounts and keep on moving.
Now, following in the hoof steps of the Khan’s hordes comes a modern-day take on the 13th-century's information superhighway – the Mongol Derby. Billed as the world's longest horse race, this grueling 1,000-kilometer marathon will retrace ancient routes across the rolling steppe with 25 horse stations set up at 40-kilometer intervals.
This year, the race, which has been held annually since 2009, gets underway on August 10. Competitors aim to complete the course on semi-wild mounts in an exhausting seven to ten days. The event aims to raise money for economic development charity work in Mongolia. It’s the brainchild of The Adventurists, the group that is also behind the annual Mongol Rally, a race from London to Ulaanbaatar in a vehicle with an engine size of one liter or less.
For the riders in this extreme equine test, the keyword is “adventure.” There's no route as such: It's up to participants to make their way between the horse stations as quickly as they can. At the stations each must pick up fresh horses. Accommodation is basic: Competitors either share a ger, a round felt tent, with a nomadic family or sleep under the stars in the wilderness.
Mongolian horses are renowned for being ultra-tough and holding amazing reserves of stamina. Let's hope the same can be said about the riders as they set off in the hoof steps of the Mongol warriors.