Jane Neale from New Zealand, First placed team overall!
HERE SHE IS...! JANE NEALE, NZ, First Placed Team Overall.
"This was definitely my day of extremes, from near despair to breathless exhilaration."
Well, it took the opportunity to go horse riding in Mongolia to drag me away from my busy life in Hokitika, on the West Coast of New Zealand. Racing in Mongolia has always grabbed my attention and to be able to enter the inaugural Gobi Desert Cup seemed like a dream come true. I still ummed and ahhed and counted coins, but finally made the commitment along with my partner, Bill, and daughter, Lucy. And son, Shea, promised to meet up with us in Mongolia at the completion of the race.
After some Fb promoting we found a 4th member to complete a Kiwi team - and she came from just down the road! We could have searched all of NZ and not found a better team member - thanks Tess Sullivan!
Bill and I had just completed our first season of endurance in NZ while Lucy and Tess had no competition experience at all. Lucy and I managed to squeeze in a 40km novice ride on borrowed horses the week before we left. However, no amount of riding in NZ would have prepared us for riding the Mongolian horses. Averaging around 13.2hh they are very stocky animals, with short necks, strong forequarters and often a very choppy gait. Not at all like the floating gaited arabs most of us were used to.
We had two days of training before the race was to start and we adjusted our riding style to suit. Stirrups were lengthened and a method of half rising and half sitting seemed to be the most comfortable for me.
Some of the horses were like little machines that could be put into gear and they would just keep on going. Most of them were much more forward and happy when ridden in a group. A few of us experienced being left behind and discovered what real frustration and exhaustion is like - eh Caitlyn! But the hard times only made the good times even sweeter. On day 4 I found myself at the back after lunch, with no others in sight. I could not get my horse, christened "No name" for the day, to move faster than the proverbial snail. After more than three hours spent dragging him through seemingly endless desert, working out that at this rate I would be in camp by about 11pm, then wondering if I could maybe make a shelter for the night out of my saddle and blanket and make hobbles for "No name" out of the camel hair reins, all interspersed with a little bit of cursing, then, and only then, along came a Mongolian herder, riding one horse and leading three others. I jumped back on, and with Aabi (pronounced eh-Bih) chasing us "No name" suddenly found a new level of energy. Before I could say Gobi Desert Cup we were galloping across the plains. It was exhilarating, and such a privilege to see how Aabi managed all four of his horses- the horses adjusting themselves mid-stride to allow for shrubs, uneven ground and the many desert-mouse holes that had worried us all so much on the first day.
This was definitely my day of extremes, from near despair to breathless exhilaration. And finally arriving at camp, and vetting through, well after everyone else, was more satisfying than the days when I finished in the first bunch. Because this race isn't just about winning, it's about overcoming challenges, digging deep, riding to the conditions be they the terrain, the horse that day, the weather or your energy levels. It's about being part of a team - your 4 member team, the team of all the riders, and the team of all those involved in putting on this amazing event! I thoroughly recommend entering the 2018 Gobi Desert Cup to anyone thinking of doing it.