South African 22-year-old Byeronie Epstein has won the 2015 running of the Mongol Derby – the world’s longest horserace – in spectacular fashion.
Beginning the day five several stations from the finish, it looked like the race would certainly go into the eighth Day. Byeronie and 17-year-old Elise Poitrinal (France) had other ideas though, and upon reaching HS 27 with less than three hours until the course closed, they made the decision to ride on.
Given that the changeover would take half an hour this was a brave tactic; arriving at the finish line half an hour after the course closed would have given them a three-hour penalty. Even if they finished in time, presenting a horse with heart rate over 56 bpm after an hour would have cost them a penalty too.
However, Byeronie picked a spectacular horse from the last Urtuu, which carried her much of the stage at 24 kmph, meaning a later riding penalty was never a question. She couldn’t have chosen a better horse as it boasted an unrivalled 21 Nadaam medals (top five finishes in seasonal equine festivals).
The horse delivered her to the finish just 30 seconds before Elise but its heart rate stabilised within just 15 minutes. The head vet Helen declared it has the strongest heart she’d ever heard: “This horse is a freak; a Mongolian Secretariat. No wonder Elise’s horse looks more tired.”
The Mongol Derby recreates Chinggis Khaan’s ancient horse messenger system in epic fashion.
The hardy and semi-wild native horses of Mongolia reprise their traditional role as the legs and lungs of the adventure and the horse stations, or morin urtuus, are manned by nomadic herding families as they traditionally were. The messengers themselves are played by horsemen and adventurers from around the world all riding up to 160kms a day, navigating independently and changing horses at 40 kilometre intervals.
Byeronie rode her luck in the morning when she fell off her horse and was only reunited with it when Ben Wilks, Maxim Van Lierde and Michele Tanaka stopped to help her.
“It’s quite surreal at the moment, I’m relieved and excited,” she said after crossing the line. “I’m glad the training has paid off, I’ve had a phenomenal time, it was a great adventure. I’ve aches and pains all over my body, on day three I blew out my left knee, since then I’ve been trying to strap it up and have been going through a lot of pain, but it’s been worth it.”
Byeronie is now the third South African champion after Charles Van Wyk (joint winner in 2009) and Craig Egberink (2011). She is also the third female winner after Sam Jones and Lara Palmer in 2014 and 2013 respectively.
When she’s not winning the world’s longest – and undoubtedly toughest – horse race, Byeronie is chemical engineer, eventer and show jumper. Before the race she said: “The Mongol derby is a once in a lifetime chance for adventure, endurance, adrenalin, horse riding through surreal landscapes and pushing myself to my limit whilst on a horse.”
You can see her full after-race interview here – http://www.theadventurists.com/the-jibber/2015/8/11/winning-the-mongol-derby-interview
Second-placed Elise Poitrinal rode an amazing race too. She is a French student who wants to be a vet or doctor.
Places for the 2016 Mongol Derby are selling out fast – visit www.mongolderby.com for more information.
Cool Earth is the race’s official charity, although riders can also raise money for causes close to their saddles, and hearts. http://www.coolearth.org/