70-Year Old Cowboy wins the Mongol Derby

Robert Long wins Mongol Derby

If the Tevis Cup (starting in just a few days) isn’t an intense enough competition for you, consider the Mongol Derby — a race that replicates Genghis Khan’s horse messenger system over 1000km of Mongolian steppe. If that doesn’t sound challenging enough, your mounts are semi-wild horses, which you swap out every 40 km and which are not always that cooperative.

This year’s winner? Robert Long, a 70-year old cowboy from Boise, Idaho became not only the oldest rider to compete in the Mongol Derby, but also the oldest winner.

Robert Long
Bob Long won the Mongol Derby with no vet penalties, demonstrating his excellent horsemanship.

Competition is not limited to the actual race. Only 40 spots are available, and they fill up quickly, despite the entry fee of $12K+. To become a competitor, each rider must demonstrate their riding skills and hardiness. They will spend 13-14 hours per day in the saddle (time in the saddle is restricted to the hours between 6:30 a.m. and 8 p.m.) and need to camp at night. Because the Mongolian horses are small, riders can weigh no more than 188 pounds dressed to ride and can carry no more than 11 lbs of gear. On average, only half the riders complete the race on a given year.

The course changes every year and is announced only days before the ride. There are no directions. Riders are all given a GPS tracker to navigate between the 24 horse stations. The GPS units allow fans to follow along on a map, but also let race officials track the location of each rider. This is probably the only race in the world where riders are given an SOS button in case they get into real trouble.

Tiny yet Tough

The horses used in the race have changed very little since the time of Genghis Khan. Most Mongolian horses live in semi-feral herd and must survive temperatures that range from -40°C in winter to +30°C in summer.-40 fearless, wild and unbelievably tough they have changed very little over the centuries. They range in size from 12-15 hands but are genetically considered horses, rather than ponies, because of th


Horse welfare is the Derby’s primary concern.
Horses are checked by vets along the ride and riders are penalized if there horse is not sound or takes too long for it’s heart rate to come down.

While the riders travel 75-100 miles per day, they change horses every 45 km (25 miles). The horses are checked frequently by vets to make sure they are sound and that their heart rates return to 56 bpm. Riders are assessed a penalty if their horses don’t recover promptly. While the humans ride for seven days, each horse is used for only one leg in the Derby.

Part of the challenge of the competition is that the horses are completely unknown, and may be only lightly trained. Since the choice of horses is first come, first serve at the stations, it’s a real advantage to be in the lead as the first riders get their pick of available horses. As you can see from the video below, they are a feisty lot. Most riders will fall off multiple times during the course of the race; broken bones and torn ligaments are common (the second place finisher today rode in without stirrups because of a ligament issue in one ankle).

While riders will be trying to travel 75-100 miles a day, each horse will travel about 25 miles or so, and each horse is used only for one leg during the Derby. It’s first come first serve at the horse stations, so riders that get in first get their pick of the horses. From what I’ve read, making friends with the herders is key to being steered toward the better horses at the stations. While non-verbal communications will work, if you want to compete in 2020, now would be a good time to brush up on your Mongolian.

This is truly a race where to complete it is to win. But for those who finish last, don’t despair. During the Naadam festival, they sing a special song for the horses that finish last in the race so that they don’t feel bad.

Would you ever consider entering an endurance event like this? After all, Bob Long has just showed us that age is just a number.


4 thoughts on “70-Year Old Cowboy wins the Mongol Derby

  1. Look at these tough ponies (sorry! horses!). I got told off recently because I have a 13hh Irish cob mare that I fully intend to start riding next year (once her foal is weaned). I am 5’7 and got told I was too big for her and that I would look ‘wrong’ on her. Now, she is a strong stocky mare – she will be able to carry me easily. and I don’t care how it looks! I am not planning to do 25km stretches on her though 😉

  2. I recently read a study that was done among endurance riders that showed horses can easily carry riders of up to 30% of their weight. For endurance, there was a maximum recommended weight (I think it was 1200 pounds) for optimum performance. I’m planning to write about it because people have all kinds of “ideas” about people being too large for their horse. Enjoy your cob!

  3. Age is not just a number. It can be a measure of opportunities taken. Obviously Mr Long used his years well: he is wealthy, healthy and must love horses!

  4. When I’m asked, where in the world would you like to go and I say “Mongolia”, they look at me as if I were insane. But, part of it is I have read virtually every history of Genghis Khan, his sons and grandsons that’s been published in English. I even have “Secret History of the Mongols’ only semi translated from the Russian. No, I don’t read Russian.
    Would I care to ride in that race? Oh, HELL no. Think of it…the two girls in the above clip..they put up mounting and trying to ride a semi wild horse AT LEAST THREE TIMES A DAY. For how long, a week? That’s tenacity.
    I just want to go to see the last remnants of the steppe and, to ride a horse where the Mongols of the 1200’s did..and still do. I have to explain that last June, my husband and I went to Nome, Alaska, where it’s still tundra…and I could not tear my eyes from it. It. No, it’s not awe inspiring, like Glacier National Park, (soon to be just National Park) but the tundra is miles and miles and MILES of open. Sky overhead and nothing between you and the horizon but open. I like that. I think of Mongolia as being the same But the plane trip is daunting, and I’m no longer able to travel much or very far. So…………I ride my well behaved, 16.2, wouldn’t think of misbehaving warmblood in a soft arena, and dream.

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