I awoke the next morning feeling fantastic… my only issue was mild soreness in my shoulders from whipping the dud for 5 hours. I also had not used the bathroom the previous day, and still did not need to (gives you a sense of HOW dehydrated I got so quickly) despite drinking at least 10L of water that day. I chugged some water down with breakfast – some little donut bites with some sort of butter. Not laden with sugar like we have here, but enough sweet that I quite enjoyed them, and stuffed a few in my pockets for later (these were a staple throughout… almost every urtuu had them).
We all chatted briefly while getting our stuff together. Apparently I had been quite affectionate to my neighbors in my sleep. It was ok, I am sure my hugs magically healed their aches. I also learned that the horse I had chased with Chipmunk was Katharine’s. She had taken her legs out of the stirrups to stretch, and he promptly dumped her. These horses are semi-wild, and when they are ridden, they don’t have flapping stirrups like what we use (most Mongolians ride bareback, or in a saddle with leather that goes all the way down, and the stirrups are tied). So if you ever drop a stirrup, it could mean immediate and serious danger to the rider. Thankfully Katharine wasn’t battered beyond ability to ride.
I thought there would be a first in first out rule to picking the horses off the line, but again it just seemed like a free-for-all. So I wandered over and picked out a nice looking grey. We got him tacked up, I mounted, he bucked around real good for half a minute or so, and then I was off! (I apologize, I can’t remember who exactly I set out with). Despite the shaky start, I quite liked the grey: he had good steering, was fast and confident, and seemed quite thoughtful when I asked for anything.
After a few kilometers, I noticed I didn’t feel quite right up there. I looked down, and noticed the saddle was pretty much on his neck – yeah that would do it! I opted to stop, get off, reset the saddle and managed to get the girth up another 4 holes. Apparently it still was not enough, a very slight slip as I tried to mount, and the horse panicked and ran off – leaving my sorry butt in the dirt. I told the others to go on, and started my walk back to the horse station – where the horse was likely headed.
I was picked up halfway by one of the Derby vehicles, where they broke some bad news: first was that I had to pick another horse, as the grey had come in with a huge girth sore (from the saddle being on his side as he ran home) – I felt gutted knowing I had hurt such a wonderful little horse. Second, was that in his mad run, he managed to lose one of my stirrups and leathers – likely stepped on it. It was nowhere to be found. The good news is they had a pair of backup for me – the last set as 3 other riders had already had their stirrups replaced.
The crew pieced together some fenders and stirrups for me, and went to tack up a chestnut. The herder intervened and gestured to another chestnut, and shortly I was up… and the horse was off like a bullet! I am quite sure that was the fastest I have ever gone on a horse, and he had absolutely no steering… we just rocketed off toward the horizon but it was generally the right direction to the horse station, so ok, whatever it will work!
Somewhere about the same place where I had been abandoned by horse #1, I started noticing pain in my right ankle. After a few wiggles, I looked down to see what was going on (while galloping madly across the steppe) and noticed the stirrup twisting towards the inside of my foot to the point where I was only riding on the inside ball and my big toe, the ankle therefore was a broken line and absorbing my body weight instead of my feet absorbing the weight. I shuffled my foot back into the stirrup correctly… carefully so as not to drop the stirrup (thinking about Katharine’s accident early on in the race). I also attributed to it being that my stirrups were too short – since I was on a Steppe Rocket, there was no time to adjust the stirrups before we left the station. In an English saddle, it would be about 4 holes too short – and I am NO jockey.
Still galloping along at top speed over holes and shrubs, I noticed the stirrup twisting, again, and again and again. The pain in my ankle continuing to increase. I kept shuffling it again, but the longer I rode, the more it twisted and started to come right off my foot… every 1-2 minutes! A panic washed through me knowing how dangerous it was for me to be losing my stirrup, but thankfully this little horse didn’t seem to care. Perhaps he could not have found a gear beyond wild bolt that was suited to our panic, or more likely, he is used to being ridden and it truly didn’t bother him (because despite it being electric speed, he felt like still had more in him).
Let me interject now and mention the speed at which this horse was going… it was so fast that with my stirrup issues, I could not check my GPS for fear of losing it (the string I had attached to it had come undone) – later one of the riders told me she was clocking the faster horses at 30-34mph over 8 mile or more stretches. I was not about to mess with my pockets and take my focus off riding. I also didn’t get a chance to drink for the same reason. The only way I was really able to tell where we were going was the horse seemed to know where to go, and every so often, I would see another derby rider on the horizon and then blow by them and look for the next rider. Every so often, I would say “hey, can I ride with you!” but Electro strongly said “Nope” and galloped on.
At one point (early on) I was joined by that other chestnut, and the grey I started out on – tied together and slapped on the rump to return home. So we galloped along together, a little herd of 3 wild horses- so close I could pat them if I wished for a swift kick and a dump. It should have been magical… had I not been troubled with all of the above. For a few moments, I forgot about my ankle pain and my terrible fear of being bucked off for lost stirrups at 34 mph in the middle of Mongolia. It was beautiful, how I wished I had put my helmet cam on that morning!
I became quite sure this horse was a race horse… how was it the very last horse on the line? I saw Richard, the photographer drive by us, and with my lack of water, direction and jockey stirrups, I asked for guidance. Thankfully Electro saw the car, stopped and stood placidly while I adjusted the stirrups, took a drink, checked my GPS and remounted. I am sure he must not have looked like the beast I had felt up to that point. Then we rocketed right back off again. I am thinking maybe he thought the car meant the end of his Nadaam? Who knows, but its about the only time that horse gave me a break!
We rocketed off again, feeling more at ease with my stirrups the correct length, no longer delirious from lack of water, and confident that my horse knew what he was doing and I should just relax and let him do his job. I had some brief moments of euphoria whipping along the countryside at the mercy of this fantastic athlete.
Sadly, those moments remained just so: moments. I was almost immediately torn back to the problem of the dropped stirrups, clinging at each twist with my big toe, causing more and more pain in my ankle. The last several miles I actually SAT the gallop, by holding the pommel and the cantle and forcing my butt into the saddle… the pain was just too much for me to stand the gallop.
We passed about 6 riders in that leg. We rode the 35 kms in about 1.5 hours, and once again, I found myself riding up behind Loden into a horse station. Electro, brilliant of course (think, he just got me to the horse station without GPS or steering), knew how to take care of himself, slowed to a trot when he was within spitting distance of the horse station, and came in with a pulse of 48 – ARE YOU FREAKING KIDDING ME?!? (for those of you not into endurance, that is extremely low considering what we just did) Loden was equally shocked and said, “you did THAT on THAT?” and I took a good look at Electro for the first time, and he was a tiny little bag of bones.
Yes. Yes I did.