World’s Toughest Horse Race Retraces Genghis Khan’s Postal Route

2 Oct

by  Ashleigh N. DeLuca, National Geographic, PUBLISHED AUGUST 6, 2014

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Before most of the world woke up this morning, 47 riders from around the globe had saddled half-wild horses and set out on what the Guinness Book of World Records has called the longest equestrian race on Earth.

The goal—beyond not getting seriously injured—is to ride a 621-mile circuit (1,000 kilometers) ofMongolian steppe in less than ten days.

Fewer than half of the riders are expected to make it across the finish line. The rest will either quit or be carried off the course by the medical team. Broken bones and torn ligaments are common, frustration and bruised egos the norm. Every rider will fall off multiple times during the course of the race, says Katy Willings, the race chief and a former Mongol Derby competitor.

The race route is modeled on the horse relay postal system created under Genghis Khan in 1224, which was instrumental in the expansion of the Mongolian Empire. Guided by a local escort, specially appointed postal riders would gallop more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) to a morin urtuu, or horse relay station, where another escort would be waiting with a fresh horse.

At the postal route’s zenith, a letter could cross from Kharkhorin in the east to the Caspian Sea on the far western edge of the empire, a distance of some 4,225 miles (6,800 kilometers), in two weeks (an average of about 300 miles, or 480 kilometers, a day). Postal riders continued to deliver the mail until 1949, when the Soviet Union—which then controlled Mongolia—shut down the system in an attempt to erase the history of Genghis Khan from the country.

“The horse stations were not permanent but rather a responsibility that rotated so that each family provided the compulsory service for a month each year or two,” explains Dandar Gongor, 86, a former escort. From the age of 12 to 15, he carried the riders’ mailbags while navigating them to the next horse station.

“You would meet all sorts of people,” he says, referring to the postal riders. “Some were kind and would tell you folk stories while you rode. Others were arrogant and mean. We would let the next urtuu supervisor know what kind of people they were, and this would help him decide if [the postal rider] would be given a well-behaved or difficult horse.”

Continue reading and see the photographs here:  World’s Toughest Horse Race Retraces Genghis Khan’s Postal Route.

 

To see who won go HERE

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