Controversy Over Running of “Mongol Derby”

A horseback excursion scheduled to begin August 22, 2009 (and to be held annually thereafter) in Mongolia has ignited fierce debate in the equestrian world.  The ride that organizers have dubbed the “Mongol Derby” is the brainchild of a travel organization called the Adventurists.  According to the group’s website, the Adventurists started out as a couple of mates on a lark who decided to drive a Fiat from Europe to Mongolia.  It grew to a more-or-less organized automobile ride (the “Mongol Rally”) with the aim of raising funds for charity, and is now a commercial “extreme” or “adventure” travel enterprise run by a corporation called the League of Adventurists International.  The Adventurists’ excursions typically involve paying a fee to drive some kind of “inappropriate” vehicle through unforgiving terrain and then having a great party at the end.  One such adventure involves driving a motorized rickshaw from India to Nepal.  Another has players/payers piloting  a”mototaxi” (a three-wheeled motorbike) through the Peruvian Andes.

Described by founder Thomas (“Mr. Tom”) Morgan as a “movement against our boring world,” the Adventurists’ excursions may carry higher than usual risks for participants (and possibly rescuers), but that’s the whole idea I guess.  At any rate, no one is forced to go on a rickshaw excursion to Nepal or to run a mototaxi off a cliffside in the Andes.

The controversy comes with the idea of replacing the motor vehicles with Mongolian horses, and racing the horses across the Mongolian desert.  The 25 human riders scheduled to participate in the first such event, by the accounts posted on their blogs at the Mongol Derby website, are either adventure-seekers looking to escape boredom and the “nanny state,” or are facing a mid-life crisis, or got talked into it by friends, or are experienced horse travelers who have ridden horses before they walked, or are novice riders whose main motivation is to raise money for charity.

The equine “transportation” will be provided by Mongolian horses owned by local breeders and herders who are to be “paid generously” by ride organizers for the use of their horses according to a “horse welfare” release issued by ride organizers.  Also according to organizers, though riders will go 1000 kilometers, each horse will travel “only 40 kilometers” and no horse that is “not 100% fit” in the judgment of “three Mongolian horsemen” who will be stationed at “horse stations” along the route will be allowed to participate.  That is interesting because the release states that there will be only 26 horses at each station.  If two horses are found “not 100% fit,” what happens to the rider that just got there expecting a “fresh” horse to ride the next 40 kilometer section of the race?

According to The Long Riders, a U.K.-based equestrian adventure group, the Adventurists contacted the group last year seeking input on plans for the ride, but rejected the input offered by the more experienced equestrian travelers.  Concerns about the relative small size of the horses, a hard winter that could lead to undernourished horses, untrained and unprepared riders, no veterinary supervision and lack of available water led to calls by The Long Riders and other groups and individuals to stop the ride.

At the U.S. endurance.net forum (search under “Mongol derby”), opinion is mixed and the debate is lively.  California psychologist and equestrian Beverley H. Kane even weighs in with an armchair analysis of the psychological health of The Long Riders based on what Dr. Kane describes as their “pissy, petty, unprofessional, unsportsmanlike diatribes” on the event.  Dr. Kane’s diagnosis, from across the waves, is that the Long Riders suffer from “envy,” “NIHism” (“Not Invented Here” ism), and something she calls “Dark Shadow Projection” wherein the patient exhibits a “huge emotional outlay” when making an objective observation.  I think she means someone is getting emotional about something they should not be getting emotional about (I think).  Dr. Kane points out that she teaches “the dynamics of projection” at Stanford University (“Projection monograph available upon request”) so of course she knows whereof she speaks.  Personally, I think it is highly unprofessional for a mental health professional to diagnose at a distance people who are not her patients, but I am probably projecting from my own Dark Shadow here.

I am indebted to Linda Tellington-Jones–who joined with the Long Riders Guild and American endurance and long distance rider Kate Riordan in an appeal to the President of Mongolia to prevent the race–for putting the word out about this possible disaster for Mongolian horses.

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