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Racing into trouble: alert from The Long Riders Guild

Posted: Jun 29, 2009 06:51 am EDT

(ExplorersWeb.com) They broke the story that the horse snow-shoes Scott and his mates left behind at Antarctica could possibly have saved the expedition - and their ponies.

This time, they want you to help prevent a potential horse-race disaster in Mongolia. <cutoff>

<b>Wild and hard not the same as silly and cruel</b>

Long Riders' Guild, co-founded by author of <i>Khyber Knights</i> American journalist turned equestrian explorer CuChullaine O'Reilly is a proud assembly of the world's foremost adventure riders. Among members is George Patterson who in the winter of 1949 rode to India to deliver a plea for help from Tibet to the outside world.

O'Reilly rode through Peshawar and the surrounding lawless portions of Pakistan's North West Frontier Province in the early 80s. "I did not just see the skyline of mountains but sensed a crest in my own life as well," he wrote. "Some of us are made that way, to take delight in the wilder, harder portions of the world [...]"

Wild and hard is not silly and cruel though. In an upcoming event in Mongolia, undersized horses are reportedly to be ridden by inexperienced foreigners in an endurance race promoted by a Brit specialized in junk car races, a celebrity jockey-rider, a charity, and a reality show host with a tarnished reputation when it comes to animals.

Today the Long Riders' Guild and their international equestrian friends have jointly issued a global alert, as compiled in the following story by CuChullaine OReilly.

<b>Racing into Trouble</b>
<i>by CuChullaine OReilly FRGS</i>

Its an idea guaranteed to put Genghis Khan on the warpath.

At a thousand kilometers, the largest non-sanctioned endurance race ever attempted is set to be run this summer in Mongolia. Nearly a thousand under-sized native horses have been drafted into an effort which deliberately flaunts international endurance racing rules. And if that wasnt enough to worry Genghis, one of the worlds leading charities, Mercy Corps, has agreed to accept £25,000 in exchange for helping an English travel company organize the event.

Twenty-five foreign contestants from America, England, New Zealand and other countries have paid nearly $5,000 to obtain their chance to disregard the accepted international norms of the worlds fastest growing equestrian sport.

Warns the official race website:

<i>The Mongol Derby will see you tackle the challenge of semi-wild horses and surviving alone in the wild steppes of Mongolia. Theres no carefully marked course, no catering tent and no support; this is horse racing on a whole new scale. You will change steeds every 40 km so the horses will be fresh. Bleeding kidneys, broken limbs, open sores, moon stroke and a list of dangers longer than your arm stand between you and victory.</i>

<b>The Pied Piper of Bristol</b>

The horse race is being promoted by Tom Morgan, a native of Great Britain whose company, The Adventurists, is headquartered in Bristol. Morgan previously specialized in enticing adventure-hungry tourists into signing up to race junk cars to distant national capitals. It was an attractive lure that hit a raw nerve in modern day Britain, which has been described as a nanny state because of its severe social regulations. Young people who paid Morgan to set off on one his motorized events realized they were running a risk.

<i>We don't make any safety arrangements. Our adventures are designed to be just that, so organising a support crew would rather take the edge off things. People are made painfully aware that what they're entering into can be extremely dangerous, </i>Morgans website cautioned. Prices to compete have tripled and spots now sell out in seconds. All of which delights Morgan, who boasts that he has spawned <i>a community of other idiots.</i>

While the car rallies havent resulted in loss of life, Morgan says theyve seen plenty of near misses. An ominous note on his website warned, <i>We cant guarantee your arrival at the finish line, or your safety.</i>

In his search for high-profile profits, Morgan has now invaded the horse world.

<b>Death on the Steppes</b>

No one knows more about taking mortal risks on horseback than the Long Riders. Every major horse traveller alive today belongs to The Long Riders Guild, the worlds first international association of equestrian explorers. Long Riders have ridden on every continent except Antarctica and many have survived perilous rides across the Mongolian steppes.

For example, Australian Long Rider Tim Cope recently rode 6,000 miles alone from Mongolia to Hungary. What he found was that the world of Genghis Khan still exists out on the silent steppe, a place where 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.

Because of its expertise in equestrian travel, the Guild was contaced by Antonia Bolingbroke-Kent, events manager at the Adventurists. She was seeking the Guilds advice.

<i>We're launching our inaugural Mongol Derby, set to be the world's longest horse race. This is going to be all about the endurance of the rider, as opposed to the horse,"</i> she wrote.

Long Riders with Mongolian experience were asked by the Guild to study the proposed event. Their decision was unanimous.

<i>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,</i> The Guild informed the tour company representative.

The warning was ignored, plans for the race continued, and the Guilds request for answers as to who was supplying hundreds of horses and the logistical support system went unheeded.

<b>What £25,000 Gets You</b>

Where do you find 800 horses, the people needed to feed and care for them, as well a well-oiled network of media savvy foreigners ready to help you organize such an unprecedented equestrian event. In this case Morgan went to his friends at Mercy Corps.

Started in 1979, the famous charity raised $223 million in 2007. It operates in more than a hundred countries, maintains an international headquarters in Portland, Oregon, keeps a major office in Edinburgh, Scotland and has run an elaborate system of programs from Ulan Bator, the Mongolian capital, for the past ten years. According to Mercy Corps officers in Scotland and Mongolia, the charity is pleased to assist Morgan in organizing the endurance race.

Jennifer Adams, the Event Development Coordinator at Mercy Corps, European Headquarters in Edinburgh, Scotland, explained that the charity has been happily accepting money from Morgans motor racers since 2005. Thats why, <i>Mercy Corps are delighted to be a part of the first ever Mongol Derby,</i> Adams said.

<i>We have such a strong presence in Mongolia it was sensible to support them with this new idea.</i>

In an email Adams went on to state, <i>Twenty-five Mongolian families will be helping at twenty-five horse stations positioned every 40 kilometers. With twenty-five riders raising a minimum of £1000 for Mercy Corps, our fundraising target is £25,000- however we hope to exceed this.</i>

Project Director of Mercy Corps Civil Society in Mongolia. Ms. U. Mandal, confirmed in a telephone interview that the twenty-five herder families being used by Morgans company were already participants with RASP, a rural agribusiness support program managed by Mercy Corps and funded by the United States Department of Agriculture.

Neither Mercy Corps spokeswoman could confirm that the Mongolian national government, or the Mongolian National Horse Racing Association, had been informed and asked to participate in the event.

When asked if this partnership of participation meant that Mercy Corps was in the horse racing business, Adams answered, <i>I guess you could say that.</i>

<b>Altruism or Avarice</b>

The original motorized Mongol Rally was designed to be a non-profit charitable event, until Tom Morgan realized how immensely lucrative it was. In the Autumn of 2006 he split from his original partner and created the Adventurists. But having recognized the public potential of appealing to peoples goodwill, the Adventurists require their contestants to make a sizeable donation to Mercy Corps.

Its a case of you dont donate, you cant ride. With more than $130,000 expected to be raised from this years horse race entry fees alone, Morgans company is not only contemplating a long-term profit-making deal, the race is also being pitched as a possible reality television program. According to public documents, Morgan controls 70% of the company, which makes every race a profitable personal enterprise.

Jennifer Adams confirmed that her charity has already received nearly £6,000 in pre-race donations from the riders but she declined to say how much the Mongolian herders would receive in payment for their services, nor how they would be reimbursed if their horses were injured or killed by the foreign riders. The Mongolians would receive <i>a fair amount</i> Adams said.

<b>Ignorant of the Danger</b>

Though the finances may be murky, whats crystal clear is that the riders are riding into a storm of potential trouble.

<i>I hope theyre expert riders,</i> warned U. Mandal at Mercy Corps Mongolian headquarters. She has every reason to be concerned.

Morgans website boasts, <i>Having thundered out over the start line, a crotch pounding 1000 km will stand between you and glorious victory. 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 </i>

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. One rider admitted he had only ridden <i>ten times since the age of thirteen,</i> and another revealed how he's rubbing his tender posterior with surgical spirits. <i>Apparently this toughens the skin,</i> he said hopefully.

<b>Dubious Dunwoody</b>

In a move that may shock the English equestrian world, Morgan enlisted Great Britains most famous steeplechase jockey to help sell this potentially lethal cocktail of dollar driven business to the would-be endurance champs.

Though Morgan was quoted in a recent interview as admitting that he had <i>lied about how organised</i> his initial race efforts had been, Richard Dunwoody has nevertheless become an enthusiastic partner.

Dunwoody is a former Champion National Hunt jockey who rode more than 1800 winners. With his glory days behind him, Englands winner became an equestrian tour guide.

The Times of London reported how the celebrity rider led a group of nine wealthy female tourists across a portion of Krygyzstan. After having <i>patiently cajoled and nannied</i> the London city slickers <i>barely out of equestrian kindergarten,</i> the former British jockey must have appeared to be the perfect candidate for Morgans so-called endurance race. Originally employed to present a two-day lecture on how to race across the steppes, Dunwoody has announced that he now plans on racing against the rank amateurs.

<b>Under Mounted</b>

One fact looms large, how small the horses are.

Unlike most Western horses, Mongolian horses are undersized and often ridden under aged. That is why the famous yearly horse race known as <b>Nadaam</b> employs child jockeys under ten years old.

Adding to the controversy is the fact that the Mongolian ponies will be asked to carry heavy foreigners, that their lack of training will place the inexperienced riders at risk and that the overall welfare of the horses has yet to adequately documented. No veterinarians have been named to oversee the horses medical needs.

When asked if V.E.T. Net, a Mercy Corps program which trains Mongolians, would address this critical issue, the charity spokes people did not respond. With such vital issues as equine safety yet to be publicly resolved, and with his race having exceeded the international limit of racing endurance horses no more than 160 kilometers, Morgans race seems certain to create a tsunami of protest.

<b>The Disaster Race</b>

If the Adventurists, Mercy Corps, and their lawyers, have one word to fear, its <b>Catoosa</b>.

The modern sport of endurace racing was formed after 1892, at which time Prussian and Austrian cavalry officers raced 46 horses to death in a vain display of national pride and personal egotism. Since that murderous event, endurance racing horses have not only been rigourously protected by a standarized set of rules, these superb equine athletes now routinely rack up ten to twenty thousand miles during the course of their careers.

But all the rules were forgotten at Catoosa, Oklahoma.

In the blazing summer of 1987 another inexperienced man decided that his strong desire to stage an endurance race over rode all of the rules. The ride was held in 94 degree heat. The contestants were young, inexperienced riders being egged on by family members basking in reflected glory. There was a $20,000 purse but no vets. A single water trough was placed at the halfway point. After the first wave of horses arrived and drank it, there was no water for the remaining mounts. With no water behind them, the inexperienced riders who arrived late lashed their horses and rode on.

Thats when the horses began to die.

Law enforcement officials eventually discovered seven horses had been ridden to death, though it was strongly suspected many other animals died after being transported home. What Catoosa proved was that death and destruction were the result when a race organizer with no endurance experience allowed money and glory to annul the welfare of the horses.

<b>The Sounds of Silence</b>

Because Morgan's race will flaunt the rules established by the international governing body of endurance racing, officials in various nations might be justified in fearing that if this race is allowed to proceed it will effectively destroy more than one hundred years of careful planning designed to protect the horses.

Plus, given the fact that Morgan is fond of saying, <i>You're only having fun when everything's going wrong,</i> endurance riders worldwide might be surprised to learn that the Fédération Equestre Internationale (FEI), the international body assigned to protect endurance racing from exploitation, has refused to condemn the outlaw event.

Endurance is the second most important discipline within the FEI, its fastest growing event and is being seriously considered as an Olympic sport. Yet Morgans race violates the first three primary rules of accepted race procedure, namely it exploits endurance racing 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.

If allowed to occur, the result will be that Mongolia, long famous for being the home of Genghis Khan, will become the headquarters of the largest, and most potentially harmful, equestrian event ever attempted. Moreover, if the non-sanctioned event occurs it will open the door to deadly and illegal endurance racing all over the world and will turn Mongolia into the equestrian equivalent of a North Korean pariah nation.

Yet despite the gravity of the situation, FEI Endurance Director, Ian Williams, declined repeated requests to discuss the Mongol endurance event or to provide an official statement on behalf of the FEI.

Olivia Robinson, Publications Manager at FEI headquarters in Switzerland, stated <i>"The FEI does and will continue to support all global organisations committed to protecting the welfare of the horse.</i> She added that the organization would <i>"actively ensure that our member federations apply the FEI Code of Conduct at all FEI international events and competitions."</i> Then she confirmed that Mongolia had been suspended from the FEI because of non-payment of membership fees, thus effectively presenting Morgan and his company with an equestrian no-mans land where anything can, and will, happen.

<b>Fire and Brimstone from the AERC</b>

While the FEI may be running for cover in Switzerland, the leaders of the American endurance community are gearing up for battle.

Connie Caudill is the President of the American Endurance Ride Conference. As one of her nations endurance racing protectors, Caudill believes that Morgans Mongol race will cause permanent damage to the sport she loves.

<i>This will set endurance racing back 50 years,</i> she said, then added, <i>This isn't an endurance race, it's entertainment that will undermine endurance racing all over the world.</i>

The AERC is designed <i>"To promote the sport of endurance riding and to encourage and enforce the safe use of horses."</i> Yet in addition to harming the chances of turning endurance racing into an Olympic event, Caudill also fears that there are frightening similarities between the Catoosa Disaster Race and Morgans non-sanctioned event.

When asked if she believed that the same conditions exist in the forthcoming Mongolian race which led to the dead horses in Catoosa, Caudill said, <i>The same disaster could very easily happen again.</i>

<b>Flaunting the rules - Forever</b>

Dominic Graham, Mercy Corps' Director in Mongolia, was quoted on their website as saying, <i>Before Mercy Corps begins any new project or activity, we first engage in a careful assessment of local challenges, opportunities and possible solutions.</i>

That critical rule seems to have been overlooked in the case of the Mongol Derby, touted by Morgan as the <i>biggest, baddest equine affair on the planet.</i>

Despite the seriousness of the situation, the Mongolian National Horse Racing Association confirmed that their organization had not been informed or involved in Morgans race. To make matters worse, this is to be a yearly event, staged every August under the blazing Mongolian sun, whose focus will be on the riders surviving the danger, not protecting the welfare of the horses.

Because of the various violations and dangers Morgans race presents to the equestrian and endurance world, the Long Riders Guild, and its editorial ally, the English equestrian news service, Voices for Horses, have launched an international petition which asks Mongolian President Tsakhiagiin Elbegdorj to ban the race from occurring. The petition also asks Princess Haya, the current president of the FEI, to denounce the Mongol Derby because of gross infractions of international endurance racing laws.

<b>Genghis Khans admonition</b>

The mighty Genghis Khan knew how to handle upstarts that harmed his nations horses. Within the great book of the Mongols, the Mongolyn Nuuts Tovchoo, is this famous admonition issued by the legendary warrior.

<i>Take care of the horses before they lose condition. For once they have lost it, you may spare them as much as you will, they will never recover it on the march. Dont overload the riding horses, and no horse on the march is to use a bit. If these orders are disobeyed commanders are authorized to behead offenders on the spot, so as to protect the welfare of the horses,</i> the great Khan warned.

Yet this same equestrian treasure, this legacy of riding excellence, matched with compassion for the horses, is now about to be sold to English travel agents.

Is that what the immortal Mongol would have allowed? Would a man who beheaded Mongol offenders over a slight infraction condone his nations horses being ridden to death by novice riders from another country? Is Mongolias equestrian culture for sale to the highest bidder, as this English company appears to believe? Will Mongolias horses be used as a get-rich-quick scheme by a foreigner who gloats, <i>It's dangerous, it's unsupported and you could die?</i>

Will Mongolias president stop the race or share the shame?

Regardless of what happens out on the steppe, it is already plain to see that thousands of horse riders, equestrian explorers and endurance riders will soon band together in an unprecedented act of solidarity designed to halt Morgans spectacle.

For more information about the race, and the parties mentioned in this article, please visit the following websites.

<a class="linkstylenews" href="http://www.thelongridersguild.com/mongolia.htm" target="_new"> Long Riders Guild Mongol Investigation & Petition</a>
<a class="linkstylenews" href="http://mongolderby09.theadventurists.com/index.php" target="_new"> Morgans Mongol Derby</a>
<a class="linkstylenews" href="http://www.mercycorps.org.mn" target="_new"> Mercy Corps Mongolia</a>
<a class="linkstylenews" href="http://www.fei.org/Disciplines/Endurance/Pages/Default.aspx" target="_new"> FEI Endurance</a>
<a class="linkstylenews" href="http://www.aerc.org/Contact.asp" target="_new"> American Endurance Riding Conference</a>

<i>CuChullaine OReilly has spent more than thirty years studying equestrian travel techniques on four continents. After making lengthy trips by horseback across Afghanistan and Pakistan, he was thereafter made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society. One of the Founding Members of the Long Riders Guild, CuChullaine is the publisher of the worlds largest collection of equestrian travel wisdom, the director of the equestrian academic research organization LRGAF, and the author of Khyber Knights and The Horse Travel Handbook.</i>

<b>More comments to the race:</b>

<b>Basha OReilly</b> is a Founding Member of The Guild who has also suffered in the saddle in Mongolia. In 1995 she rode from Volgograd to London, becoming the only person in the twentieth century to ride out of Russia. After riding the infamous Outlaw Trail from Mexico to Wyoming, she was made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in recognition of her equestrian explorations. Yet she began her exploration career as Russian interpreter for a mounted scientific expedition in the Mongolian mountains. She comments the race:

<i>There is a saying in the Long Riders Guild: it is not the kilometres that kill a horse but the kilograms. I learned how accurate that was when I riding through the High Altai mountains. At 110 pounds my weight taxed my small Mongolian horse. Other horses were not so lucky. Being burdened by heavy foreign male riders, it caused me great distress to see these little native horses get so desperate they would lie down under the saddle. So my heart goes out to any horse which is expected to carry a heavy (and probably inexperienced) rider for 40 kilometres across that barren land- at speed!</i>

New Zealand Long Rider <b>Ian Robinson</b>, who survived perilous solo journeys across Afghanistan, Tibet and Mongolia, was likewise skeptical about the proposed endurance event.

<i>In regards to this Mongol race, it sounds like a great idea, on paper, but it's a disaster waiting to happen. Has this English tour company done any horse trekking trips before? Do they realise that twenty-five riders changing horses every forty kilometers for one thousand kilometers will require 625 horses? Good luck finding them. I had trouble finding one or two! But my main worry is the horses. Local herdsmen are not going to offer their fittest, healthiest, best conditioned horses. They are going to turn up with their worst, oldest, skinniest horses and hope to hire them out for a fortune. Riding such horses in a race would be downright cruel. Plus, as this race will be run in summer, it means racing a weak horse in the steppe heat with a large westerner on board. That could result in the animal dropping dead. Not on!</i>

<b>Bonnie Folkins,</b> from Canada, has visited Mongolia many times in preparation for her upcoming 1000 mile ride across that country. Because of the dangers and hardships certain to await her, Bonnie will be riding with two hardened Mongolian nomads. Having scouted the route, ridden the horses and met the people, Bonnie expressed grave concern regarding the safety of the endurance horses and riders.

<i>Mongolians tend to ride much younger animals than we allow, which is a concern. Does this company not realize that these Mongolian horses never see a portion of grain? Its like asking them to run a marathon on a diet of lettuce. Yet the most obvious question must be, if the Mongolian government will not allow their prized horses to even leave the country, then why are they authorizing them to be abused in front of the entire world? Mongols are taught to never shout at the horse because it is their friend. So imagine the lesson it presents to young Mongolian children to see this sacred example ignored when foreigners ride an animal to the point of exhaustion or death. Either this English tour company is completely devoid of compassion, or they are determined to carry out this mission at any expense.</i>

<b>Animal Sacrifice</b>

In a move certain to cause equestrian concern, The Adventurists tour company hired the controversial <b>Benedict Allen</b> to provide a pep talk to some of the would-be endurance riders. Allen, who began his career as a British travel writer, hosts a Big Brother style reality show where he oversees contestants being taken into the Amazon jungle, where they are bitten by ants and whipped by bamboo.

Allens television antics have not gone unnoticed. In November, 2006 Tom Stacy, in The London Times Literary Review described Allen thus. <i>He is not an explorer. He is a stuntman in remote places, a latter-day Munchausen with satellite phone and a video camera.</i>

Nevertheless, the television presenter agreed to share tales of his Mongolian equine adventures with the would-be endurance riders. <i>Arising to a somewhat groggy morn,</i> the Adventurists website reported, <i>the gin-soaked adventure chasers joined with fellow Adventurists at St George, Bristol to continue the weekends festivities over a spot of tea, a few rather nice pieces of cake and a splendid talk from Benedict.</i>

What wasnt discussed was Allens tarnished reputation with animals.

While searching for El Dorado in South America, Allen reported how he used <i>a machete to kill my dog and eat him.</i> In a similar South American episode, Allen once again used the death of his animal companion as a juicy story for a subsequent book.

<i>I once had a terrible mishap with my pet monkey, Mono, who used to sit on my shoulder, when I visited an Indian village in South America. I tried to ask them if they could rustle up something to eat and I rubbed my stomach. Mono disappeared. Half an hour later, the smell of cooked monkey came floating across the air and I was presented with a wooden platter. Im afraid to say he was delicious.</i>

Yet it was Allens bungled ride in Mongolia which prompted the Adventurists to hire him for their pep talk, as in 1997 he made a controversial ride in that country which resulted in his horses being devoured by insects. Having left his horses unguarded, Allen met a Mongolian who warned him that in his absence the animals were being slowly slain by stinging black flies. He returned and found the rumour true. Yet instead of removing the animals from danger, Allen decided, <i>there was nothing I could do today.</i>

He decided instead to go with Mongolians to celebrate the Nadaam carnival. <i>I agreed to go along to the festival and try to forget the dying friends on the hills.</i> After the party, Allen returned to find his horses had been killed by the carnivorus pests. <i>They had been dead since morning. What a waste,</i> he lamented, as the saddle sore on one of his now dead horses <i>was healing nicely.</i>

Because of this incident, Benedict Allen is prohibited from joining the Long Riders Guild.

#Polar #feature

The Mongolian Steppe is dangerous to horses just trying to survive on its unforgiving landscape. Photo courtesy of Pichugin Dmitry. (Click all to enlarge).
The Mongolian steppe has broken even the most experienced riders hardened by years in the saddle. Mongolia is hot in the summer and extremely cold in the winter, with January averages dropping as low as -30&deg;C (-22&deg;F). Much of the country is a stony waste where not even Bactrian camels can survive. Photo courtesy of Pichugin Dmitry.
An average-sized Mongolian horse appears to be capable of carrying heavy foreign riders, when the animal is placed next to this Mongolian child... Photo courtesy Bonnie Folkins
...but when the same horse is seen next to his 55tall Mongol father, one can see how tiny these animals really are. Photo courtesy Bonnie Folkins.
Thanks to the strict rules designed to protect legitimate endurance horses, twenty-one year old Morab gelding, Tulip, has completed 20,805 miles during his remarkable endurance career. Photo courtesy of www.lynneglazer.com and Horse Talk.
Though often derided in the West as a conqueror, Genghis Khan was a superb horseman who enshrined laws designed to protect his nations horses from cruelty and exploitation.<br><br>