re-sized Ben Fogle rowing

Extreme Dreams, extreme people, extreme challenge – what else could we be talking about but Ben Fogle and the Mongol Derby

Ben Fogle is atypical of our site. He challenges every aspect of life and seems to have a lot of fun doing it. As far as extreme sports go – he pretty well does them all…

So who exactly is he? He is a Presenter, Writer and Adventurer. His achievements include racing 160 miles across the Sahara desert in the notorious Marathon Des Sables. He has rowed the Atlantic Ocean in 49 days and crossed Antarctica in a foot race to the South Pole. That’s just for starters…

Rowing 2006 (001)

He has presented numerous television programmes including Extreme Dreams and as well as writing regularly for the Sunday Telegraph and The Independent, he has written four best-selling books.

He is also an ambassador for WWF, Medecins Sans Frontier and Tusk. He’s a fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the President of the Campaign for National Park’s.

And he’s only 35 years old…

His next testing task is going to be the Mongol Derby – the longest, toughest horse race on earth. He’ll ride 1,000 kms accompanied by 25 horses, for which he will be personally responsible. “It’s already giving me sleepless nights,” he says with a grin,but if I didn’t do what I do, I’d be like a caged animal.”

So, what exactly is the Mongol Derby?

It’s “a race so big it would make Roman Emperors go weak at the knees.”

Great description that isn’t it. But I’ll give you more…

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The idea for “the race” comes from Genghis Khan’s incredible postal system – and we’re talking many many years ago, somewhere around the turn of the 12th century.

When he ‘ruled the world’ he realised the importance of being in touch, and knowing exactly what was happening and where. So he took the existing ancient and rather small network of horse messengers and supercharged it, creating a mind-bendingly efficient relay system of horse-stations that enabled his messengers to go faster than the speed of light itself. With horses stationed every 30 to 40 km it’s said he could get a message from Mongolia to Eastern Europe in just fourteen days. That would probably beat today’s postal system!

This year, 2009, some bold adventurists have decided to emulate this great but forgotten postal service, resurrect the horse-stations and gather 800 horses to create the mother of all races.

The Mongol Derby will tackle the challenge of semi-wild horses and surviving alone in the wild steppes of Mongolia. There’s no carefully marked course, no catering tent and no support; this is horse racing on a whole new scale. You will change steed every 40 km so the horses will be fresh.

The nature of the Mongol Derby means it is the rider under stress not the horse. Traditional Mongolian horses are an extremely tough breed that has changed little since the Mongol Hordes swept across Asia on their backs in the early thirteenth century. They range in size from 12 to 14 hands high and roam the vast Mongolian steppe all year round. As the Mongol Derby will be run across wild terrain, not roads, the horses will be unshod as they always are.

A Mongolian horse (with trimmed mane) in traditional riding gear

Humans are not so tough. 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!

Now, for some of you who might be yearning to take part in this race, when does it happen?

The warm up

Pre-race Meeting, UK
Date and location to be confirmed Afternoon tea and talk with a renowned explorer.

Pre-race Training, Mongolia
20 & 21 August 2009
Two-day training extravaganza with former champion jockey Richard Dunwoody.

Launch Party
21 August 2009
Mighty send-off from Kharkhorin, the ancient capital of the Mongol Empire. Feasting, dancing, fermented mare’s milk and Mongolian merry-making galore.

The race

Race Start
22 August 2009
Riders gallop forth into the wilderness.

Midway Party
29 August 2009
Catch up with your fellow racers and spin yarns of wrestles with wolves.

Closing Ceremonies
5 September 2009
Bathe in the glory of completing the world’s longest and toughest horse race. Riders will be lauded as pioneers and their names etched in adventuring history.

It costs US$4,550 in total. However, don’t despair – you could always try for sponsorship and raise money for your favourite charity at the same time.

Additional costs will be the airfare to Mongolia, a single-entry Mongolian visa, and hotel costs before and after the race.

As the race approaches you will be able to track the riders live through an interactive map. The route starts in the Khentii Aimag, at Delgerhaan and ends at Kharkhorin, Chinggis Khaan’s capital, 1000km later.

The organisers of The Mongol Derby, in partnership wtih Tengri, have issued the following warning:


Before you even consider applying for this race we want to point out how dangerous the Mongol Derby is, and how dangerous the sport of horse riding is.

And when we talk about horse riding, we don’t just mean getting on a horse you are familiar with at home. We mean riding a series of unfamiliar horses across wild Mongolian terrain. By taking part in this race you are greatly increasing your risk of severe physical damage. You could break limbs, suffer internal injuries, become paralysed or even die. Please do not underestimate the extreme nature of the Mongol Derby.

I am afraid that, having given you details of costs etc, entrance to this race is now closed for 2009. However, just around the corner is 2010 and with some planning you could be one of the handful of riders in the next race…

Watch this space – I’ll keep you updated on this fantastic and extreme endurance race.

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