The Mongolian Derby

What is the Mongolian Derby?

The Mongolian Derby is the longest race in the world at 600 miles. The general route that is used was first established by Genghis Khan in the year 1224 to enable communication throughout the empire. Each year the route of the derby changes. The derby is run every August and takes ten days to complete.

Mongol Derby 2013

(Photo Credit: The Adventurists)

The Mongolian Derby Course

The course itself is not marked and winds its way through the Mongolian wilderness. The course is not announced until shortly before the event and organizers spend months designing, planning, and testing the course. There are no stables available along the way and no official place to rest and take a shower. Riders have a team of horses to get them through the whole 600-mile course and many use a GPS. Each year the course goes over a variety of terrain, with hills, open valleys, woodlands, rivers, wetlands, and open steppe.

There are 25 stations spread out throughout the course known as Urtuus. These stations are where you have to switch horses and you have a chance to refuel. Each of the horses you have must to get to each station in perfect condition. One of the rules is that riders can only be riding between 6:30 AM and 8 PM, which are the daylight hours.

Mongol Derby 2013

(Photo Credit: Globe Trotting)

Urtuus- Horse Stations

There are horse stations close to every 24 miles of the course for riders to switch horses and take a quick break. Each stop consists of canvas or felt tents that Mongolian herders use to live in. Fresh horses are also waiting for the riders to come in and switch to. There are vets at each stop to look over the incoming horses, along with some herders. Horses at each station are available on a first-come-first-serve basis, so the riders that are in the front get the first pick. Riders can take the opportunity to sleep at one of these stops or just take a break and hang out with the herders while getting some food and water in their system.

The Horses Used

The horses used in the derby are not the riders own horses. They are Mongolian horses that are known for being small but sturdy and tough. They have not been influenced by outside sources since the time of Khan, making them unique to most other breeds in the world. This breed used to carry the Mongolian warriors across the land and are highly prized in the country’s culture.

mongolian horse

(Photo Credit:

Because of their small size, riders must not weigh more than around 140 pounds while being dressed to ride. Riders have to travel light and can only carry a small survival kit.

Several months before the event is scheduled to happen, 1400 horses are selected and they are put into a training program specifically for the derby. These horses all belong to nomadic herders and breeders that live along the 600-mile route. All horses that are selected are screened by a vet to make sure that they are sound and strong. The rules of the derby are to ensure the welfare and safety of these great horses.


(Photo Credit:

The Family Selection

Herder families are selected along the route to be the set location for each horse station. Many of the families chosen already live right at the spot that will be used along the route, and are eager and willing to play host to the derby riders and help out however they can. The Mongolians are a hospitable people and during the derby, don’t mind having tea and food for the riders. Some of the families even move to the location that is needed to be a horse station in order for the derby to happen.


(Photo Credit:

Entering the Mongolian Derby

The cost of entering the derby is $12,995, but this includes a lot. Each rider gets 25-27 horses to use during the race, and 3 horses just for training before the race. The entry fee also goes towards the 150 herders that get the horses to where they are supposed to be when they are supposed to be there, along with a custom-made saddle. There is a team of vets and a team of medics on hand at all times for the horses’ and riders’ safety. Drivers, interpreters, and a race crew are also on hand, along with the vehicles, medicine, technology, and other equipment needed to make this long race happen.

The riders of each derby get three days of training on the steppe and briefings from the medics and vets. Each rider is provided with a tracking device so everyone can know where you are on the course at all times and can track your progress.

The 2018 derby will be held August 5th-18th.


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