Shake It Up fundraisers Sid and Jock decided to take on the Mongol Derby to make a difference and raise over $10,000. We spoke with the friends about their fundraising journey and connection to Parkinson’s, in part 1 of our Q&A.
The Mongol Derby is a horse race that spans a total of 1,000 kilometres across the Mongolian Steppe and must be completed in no more than 10 days. Great emphasis is placed on animal welfare during the race and there are strict rules regarding how hard the horses are ridden.
In this chat, we hear all about this huge challenge – the highlights, hurdles, laughs, and memorable moments. Read on to find out what it’s like to take part in the longest, and toughest adventure horse race in the world.
What were the biggest highlights and hurdles of the Derby?
Ronald and the Colonel
I’m not sure what they were feeding the horses at station 15, I can only assume that half the ponies were borderline diabetic. We drew a couple of girthy stallions, who became known as Ronald and Colonel Sanders. The colonel immediately bucked off Jock, so Sid, sensing impending danger, lunged Ronald with laughter as it gave a few half-hearted humps. Obviously too fat to buck, or so we thought. Fast forward to halfway through the leg, Sid’s knees felt like they are about to fall off so he took the opportunity to lengthen his stirrups while still mounted on his seemingly now exhausted and too-fat-to-buck pony. To Sid’s surprise and Jock’s profound amusement, this triggered an amateur rodeo show on the steppe. Roused by the spectacle and Jock’s uncontrollable laughter Jock’s pony followed suit and next thing you know we we’re both clinging on for dear life, whilst cackling with laughter as Ronald and the Colonel make an impressive attempt to leave us behind.
Station 24 was our saviour and holy grail, the oasis where our hopes and prayers were finally answered. So plentiful were our fortunes from station 24 that they require their own subheadings.
Escaping the pack
The previous 2 nights we had stayed at stations with the main pack. Morale among the riders was pretty low at this point and most people were suffering from illness, injury or bitter setbacks. With about 10 people jammed into a ger and not enough food, it was not a very jovial scene. We set a goal to make 4 stations the next day and escape the pack, which we managed by the skin of our teeth, stumbling into station 24 with 2 minutes riding time at 6.58 and Jock’s horse passing the vet check with only 3 minutes remaining before a vet penalty would have been given.
Eating our first vegetable in 8 days
For all the hospitality the steppe had to offer, our hosts being nomadic herders who live mostly off the produce of their livestock, rarely had fresh food. I don’t think either of us can say we have ever been particularly enthusiastic about vegetables but when the hostess of station 24 brought out a salad and fruit platter it was all gone in about 1 minute flat.
Drawing a pocket of aces
When the morning of day 9 came round and we stumbled dreary eye’d out of our ger to draw our horses for the next leg, Sid went first and the herdsmen brought a sleek looking bay gelding. Good horse? Sid asked. This one’s a racehorse, it’s their fastest. Replied the translator. Jock draws next. How about this one? Jock says. This one is also a racehorse, it’s their second fastest. We looked at each other. ‘Perfect’, we murmured in unison. It was 6.58 in the morning and the next chance we had to check the time it was 7.45 with 20 kilometres behind us.
Lack of preparation
No form of adversity is harder to swallow than self-inflicted adversity and we soon discovered on arriving to camp that we had really done a number on ourselves. Apart from lack of time in the saddle we soon encountered revelations that had been obvious to the other competitors for months such as what chamois cream was, that we needed to bring batteries for the GPS system and that without a long-sleeved shirt your arms would get fried by the sun. Our ignorance extended to our racing strategy and we spent the first 2 days learning some hard lessons. For example, spending 45 minutes at station 1 eating 3 bowls of spicy noodle soup was probably a little indulgent (although to be fair they were pretty good noodles), spending an hour searching for another rider’s bolted horse was probably not a great strategy in a competitive race and finally that it’s a lot easier to go around a mountain range as opposed to over the top of it. After overcoming these self-made barriers we started to make good progress, until Sid caught the dreaded steppe-belly.
Sid Contracting infectious diarrhoea (Funny and Sad)
The funny: About 5 kilometres out of Station 5 Sid felt the onset of the dreaded steppe-belly. I can make it to the next station. He said. He couldn’t. Scanning the landscape for an appropriate toilet stop, was time for reflection that perhaps the famous sea of grass/tree-less landscape of the steppe was a little more inconvenient than it was picturesque. Stopping in a small ravine and fumbling with shaking hands for the wet wipes wasn’t an opportune time for a herder interaction but it happened anyway. Wet wipes in hand and now fumbling with his belt, up pops a young herder riding a motor bike. Cigarettes? He says. Finding the right words would have taken some time with the Mongolian phrasebook, fortunately the expression on Sid’s face at that point transcended all cultural barriers and the young herder quickly got the message and left.
The sad: The combination of 6 hours hard riding through 35 degree heat and 24 hours of gastroenteritis had Sid looking worse for wear coming into station 8, which drew the attention of Ness the medic. What ensued was a feeble attempt by Sid to medically rationalise his ability to continue riding.
– Sid: I actually don’t feel that bad, I think I’ll be fine to ride
– Ness: Your temperature is 38.6 and your resting heart rate is 125, there is no way you are getting on another horse today.
– Sid: Yeah but I’m a doctor, I can monitor my symptoms.
– Ness: No, you’re an idiot and you’re not going anywhere.
After a teary goodbye, Jock continued on to station 9 while Sid was bundled into the medic can for a 6 hour journey to Ullaanbatar for some antibiotics and some TLC in hospital.
I’m not sure what Jock did in his former life but he certainly got his comeuppance with the horse lottery. Here are 3 of the highlights.
Kamikaze – Station 2, Jock draws a pony who became known as Kamikaze. After dragging Jock off on the horseline, Kamikaze made a run for the hills. With no breaks the pair hit a marmot hole at full gallop, with horse tumbling over rider like a scene from a Michael Bay film. Horse and rider miraculously uninjured, Jock asked Sid. Did you get that on your GoPro? To which Sid replied. Sorry mate, it’s out of battery.
Helter Skelter – At station 16, Jock drew our most neurotic pony of the race. Apart from being terrified of westerners like most of the horses, Helter Skelter was also scared of things like water, feet and walking, which was not great considering the Underground Railroad pass and road crossing we would soon need to navigate. It took 3 herders to hold the pony still as Jock got on, after which one of the translators informed him that he should under no condition dismount before the next station unless he wanted to lose his saddle, bridle and belongings. This was particularly inconvenient as we soon discovered that both the Herders and Jock had forgotten to tighten the girth before setting off. Luckily we made it into station 17 without incident, albeit with Jock’s girth flapping in the wind.
Lead-Zeplin – Station 26, Jock drew a pony who became known as lead-zeplin so called because of it’s lead colour and because of it’s determination to put its rider in an early grave. Sid drew a pony called Mr Hamburgers, which was cute. As Mr Hamburgers made his way up the mountain at a respectable waddle, Jock could be seen far up ahead clinging on for dear life as his horse with no brakes bolted along in slippery conditions. This no brakes issue was eventually resolved by wedging the unstoppable pony behind Mr Hamburgers, which was hence forth known as the “bun technique”.
What an amazing challenge to take on in support of Parkinson’s research! You can support Sid and Jock at their fundraising page here, and check out Part 1 of our chat to learn more about their fundraising experience.