I Need Your Help and I Need It Fast! (Mongol Derby Animal Welfare Violations)

I’m certain that most readers of this blog have heard of the ongoing controversy surrounding the Mongolian Derby, billed by its organizers as “the longest horse race in the world.” Among the dangers posed to humans, the organizers list, “bleeding kidneys, broken limbs, open sores, sun stroke, moon stroke and a list of dangers longer than your arm stand between the you and victory. No mention of the dangers to the semi-wild horses of the Mongolian Steppe. That’s what the kerfuffle is all about.


Most petitions have less effect than we would like. This one goes straight to Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj, asking for an immediate ban.

If you haven’t already gotten enough information to make up your mind that this is bad for Mongolia, and bad for the horses, please read on.

The event has been organized by an English adventure tour company with no equestrian experience, who gleefully described it as “the biggest, baddest equine affair on the planet.” The event wilfully violates the first three primary rules of endurance racing, namely it exploits horses for commercial purposes, boasts of staging the race without having a marked route and will not be able to ensure that water will be supplied at predetermined designations.

–ChuChullaine O’Reilly

Three of the most articulate objections in support of the cancellation of the race were written by CuChullaine O’Reilly, founder of the Long Riders Guild. Please read with care.

The Long Riders’ Guild is the world’s first international association of equestrian explorers, and is an invitation-only organisation. It was formed in 1994 to represent men and women of all nations who have ridden more than 1,000 continuous miles on a single equestrian journey. Members currently reside in 39 countries. These Long Riders have collectively written more than a hundred books on equestrian travel and ridden on every continent except Antarctica. Thus the history, stories, legends, and knowledge stored on this website represent the largest repository of equestrian travel information assembled in human history.

Global Condemnation of the Mongol Horse Derby

This “race” flies in the face of the true definition of equestrian sport on every level.

• The event has been organized by an English adventure tour company with no equestrian experience

• The event wilfully violates the first three primary rules of endurance racing, namely it exploits horses for commercial purposes, boasts of staging the race without having a marked route and will not be able to ensure that water will be supplied at predetermined designations

• Mercy Corps (the event’s designated charity) will receive a minimum of $50,000. But when asked how much the herders, who are risking their eight hundred horses, would be getting, the evasive answer was “a fair amount.” In a scene reminiscent of buying Manhattan from the Indians for $26 in beads, while Morgan and Mercy Corps get rich, naïve Mongolians are being enticed into selling their sacred equestrian heritage for pennies

• (from the Adventurists’ own site) There’s no carefully marked course, no catering tent and no support

• In Mongolia, there are no services – no trees – and no people, but where an unwary mounted traveller must be ready to survive wolf attacks, bubonic plague, rabies, flash floods, foul water, poisoned food, horse theft and personal assault

• “To consider putting foreigners with limited equestrian experience into an endurance race of this distance is asking one to deny the basic fact involved in this situation – namely that a race across this terrain, on those kind of horses, over that distance, would have taxed the original messengers of Genghis Khan, none of whom actually rode a thousand miles on one journey. To ask modern riders to do so is not just naive, it is irresponsible. The Adventurists is preparing to embark on an ill-advised equestrian misadventure, one in which your company does not appreciate the many equestrian hardships and dangers being presented to the horses and riders,” The Guild informed the tour company representative

• “You will have to navigate your way from one station to the next single-handedly; there’s no marked course and there will be huge stretches with no paths or tracks at all. In fact even when there are tracks there is little chance they will be going in the right direction. You will be facing the wilderness, alone…”

• Despite these dire warnings, none of the 25 amateur riders have any previous endurance riding experience. In fact some are barely able to climb atop a passive pony. The few with equestrian experience participated in mild dressage, jumping and part-time polo


It only takes a minute to sign the petition, and another to pass it on or post about this in your own blog. Feel free to copy this entire post word for word if you like. We have no time to lose.

Related posts: Toward An Equine Bill of Rights and The Five Five Freedoms of Animal Welfare: A Solid Foundation for An Equine Bill of Rights?

© 2009 – 2013, enlightenedhorsemanship. All rights reserved.

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9 Responses to “I Need Your Help and I Need It Fast! (Mongol Derby Animal Welfare Violations)”

  1. I already signed this. Hope you get many more signatures.

  2. Thank you Lori
    I am doing this on my own and on behalf of Linda Tellington-Jones, who is thus far the only major-name trainer to speak out publicly against the derby. She is now working with the Long Riders’ Guild to stop the abuse of the horses in the race. I am surprised the endurance world is not making more noise.

  3. It seems to me that the horses will receive vet care before, during and after the race. Also, what evidence to you have to suggest that the riders would abuse the horses? Are you sure you have researched the logistics of this event properly? I would like to know more about this.

  4. Hello Anon

    Yes, this has been researched estensively by the USEF and by many other equestrian organizations and animal welfare organizations, including the experts at the Long Riders Guild and horsemen who have spent time in Mongolia.

    THe main issues seem to be those of the wlfare of the horses.

    You say, “It seems to me” that the horses will receive vet care” yet there are not set stations for veterinary checks during the race. There are not even roads or sources of water along the path of the race. How then could they provide vet care in a consistent, organized manner? Or be prepared for emergencies? The governing body have made no provisions for regulating the condition of horses during the race at all.

    I have no evidence that the riders would abuse the horses during the race except that the race itself is abusive. Not even Ghengis Khan’s riders rode the entire race as this race is designed. They were fit, expert riders who were matched, size-wise to their mounts and knew the terrain. For a good percentage of these riders, the same cannot be said. Ignorance can breed a certain unfortunate kind of abuse. Riders who do not know ask too much of their horses in the form of going too far, carrying too much (all their water and supplies), and risking life and limb in unfamiliar territory (predation, etc.).

    Yes, I have resorted it properly. The folks who haven’t, from an equine welfare standpoint, are the Adventurists.

  5. Thank you for your response, I found it very interesting, however, I looked into the race logistics and researched this myself and found the following bits of information. Maybe you could confirm/disprove them for me?

    -There are vets stationed at every 40km horse station.
    -Riders are given GPS co ordinates of water sources and where to go.
    - The riders can only carry 10kg of equipment and must weigh less than 85kg all up.
    - The riders were asked to provide references and demonstrate their horsemanship prior to gaining entry into the race.
    - The riders are fitted with emergency beacons should they need it.

    I have read both sides of this debate and think they both have merit, but the bottom line is, these people are not going to head out to Mongolia and thrash these animals to death in order to win a race. These sturdy ponies are used to wintering in -40 deg and fending for themselves, they are tough and being ridden 40km from one horse station to the next, being provided with vet care before, during and after, food and water doesn’t sound like animal cruelty to me, I may be wrong.

    Regards, Anon.

  6. It looks like Anon above is either the Adventurists tour company or someone very closely linked with them. What a shame that there is yet another bunch of greedy westerners heading into Mongolia to profit off the people of that country, and this time taking a slack attitude to horse welfare whilst they’re at it.

    I hope the predictions by everyone don’t come true, but reading the background to the Adventurists and their races that dump crap cars all over the world, I don’t have much hope. I’ve also read about how they turned the Adventurists from a non-profit to a profit making organisation when it became successful – they don’t sound like a good bunch to me.

  7. Anon in disgust

    There are entirely too many “Anon”s around this post for my liking. responses would have ore credibility if everyone signed their names.

    I too hope the predictions do not come true. But I doubt it. A lifelong endurance expert made these predictions:

    Because they have not been conditioned for the race and faced a perilous winter last year, Mongolian horses ridden that distance under these conditions will:
    Die of dehydration
    Die of colic
    Die of azoturia
    Die of exhaustion
    Become crippled
    Sustain foot and lameness injuries that will lead to death
    These horses are not prepared physically for this ride. They are not prepared nutritionally for this ride. They are not prepared to carry this kind of weight over distance at speed.

    This is an animal welfare issue of enormous proportions that the FEI would do well to distance itself from. Let’s see what happens.

  8. Hello again anon,
    I applaud your persistence in learning about the important factors of vet care, weight regulations and the like in long-distance rides.
    If indeed such measures are now in place, I wonder if they haven’t been implemented in the face of the outcry against their lack at the outset. Regardless of the reason, if they are implemented uniformly, then I am thrilled. this remains to be seen, however.
    It is almost impossible to monitor that much physical space with any surety.
    If horses are allowed to carry only 10kg of equipment, where are they supposed to get the water necessary to sustain their lives an those of their horses? There is not adequate water on the Steppe.
    I wholeheartedly disagree with you concerning the demonstration of riding skill before the race and references. Even if this WERE true, Few people except lifelong endurance riders and foxhunters who had trained for months on end would have the skill and mental resources to complete this kind of race safely. Riding around in a ring or or even grand prix jumping at the expert level does not prepare one for extreme riding.
    Who would respond to an emergency beacon, and how? There are no roads, no emergency vehicles, no hospitals and no veterinary hospitals. Do you know the name of a single endurance veterinarian who is has not boycotted the race? There isn’t even any water or electricity.
    I do not intend to imply that people are going to thrash animals to win a race. I think that the race is going to thrash them and their horses will be endangered as a result.
    Your last sentence does ring true. But that’s just not an adequate reflection of the reality of a real Mongolian horse race. Have you watched the videos? It all looks like good adventurous fun but it’s not a day at the local hunter pace.
    I would also encourage you to read the following: SHIFTING PRIORITIES @ENDURANCE.NET (Please see the original post in the link and the rest of the blog), from which I quote, word-for-word, with gratitude to the writer for pointing out the issues essential to the sport of endurance riding and how they simply do not apply to the Mongol Derby:

    I see with a lot of pressure from horse people worldwide, the Adventurists putting on this Mongol Derby (who are not an equine tour company, and have apparently never put on a horse event in a first world country, much less a third world country), have suddenly proclaimed horse welfare “firmly” at the top of their agenda.

    Now, instead of “Essentially once the starter gun goes off you are on your own”, and instead of 2 jeeps “following the race from a distance” there is now a “fleet of back up jeeps,” or a “fleet of jeeps,” or the event is supported by five off-road vehicles running alongside the riders (um, which five riders?) and 2 standby 4×4 vehicles.

    Now instead of having no established route to follow, and the riders being on their own: “Luck? Judgement? Ask a passing herder? Ride in concentric circles for a week? Divination… You will be given a map before the start with the locations of each Urtuu and the rest is down to you,” there is an “established route” to follow, or a “route marked out by the horse stations.”

    Now, instead of the riders “tackling the challenge of semi-wild horses and surviving alone in the wild steppes of Mongolia”, and “It’s dangerous, it’s unsupported and you could die,” now the “safety and welfare of the horses and riders on the Mongol Derby is of paramount importance to us as organisers. With a network of first class professionals, both veterinary and medical, the Mongol Derby’s support network is exemplary; before, during and after the race.” Now, the “welfare of the horse is guarded and monitored at all times” (I’m a little vague on the math here… 26 riders and horses – or 600 horses, if you want to count all of them – spread out over days or weeks and how many kilometers, with the 5 off-road vehicles following the 5 riders.)

    Most enlightening and comforting, now there is also an “extensive horse welfare program and emergency back up system” in place. There’s a “fantastic team of equine experts and veterinarians”, or “respected British and Mongolian equine experts,” or “a network of Mongolian vets”. (Mongolia must have a lot of vets, no?) An unnamed British equine vet “with 32 years of experience” will follow the Derby in one of our “fleet of back up jeeps” and the Mongolian vets will have with them “high quality veterinary medicines.”

    Now instead of: “They’re going to give us GPS locations to the wells, where we’ll be able to get water, and they don’t guarantee that the wells will have water” (apparently said by a contestant – but surely this can not be a real quote!), a recent revision was made “to increase the number of water sources” (um… new wells dug?) that have been clearly plotted for horses and riders, or, an “extensive list of confirmed water sources.” Now the provision of water is a prime deciding factor in the route for the horses. Now, “The route will under no circumstances be taken through any area without adequate water provision and has been designed with this primarily in mind.”

    There still is that weight thing, though. Horses can safely carry up to 20% of their body weight. Mules can carry 25% safely. 95 kg, or 209 pounds, (the weight limit of the riders plus equipment and personal things), is 20% of a 454 kg, or 1000 pound animal. I haven’t seen a 14-hand pony yet that weighs anywhere close to 1000 pounds.

    Karen C in her blog entry today raised some valid points, besides wondering what really happens to the horses after they are raced. Namely, who is supplying batteries for the GPS units? My GPS only goes 11 hours without a charge (or plug in, which you won’t have at the Urtuus in Mongolia). What about the emergency beacons? They will need fresh batteries too. Keeping the GPS’s and emergency beacons functional every day would seem rather important since they are paramount to horse and rider safety, and riders will be limited on the weight they can carry. Will the Mongol Derby organisation provide enough batteries for all 26 riders every day at each Urtuu?

    All of this new info is from the June 30th press release and the newly released Mongol Derby Horse Welfare and Race Logistics Information from the Adventurists.

    It all looks great. After all, IT’S ALL WRITTEN ON PAPER, SO IT’S TRUE.

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