Ok...so I know you are sitting there asking yourself "WHO in the heck is crazy enough to set off for 700+ kilometres on horseback...in 10 days??!!" And why....? Well, the Gobi Gallop is our annual major fundraiser to help raise funds for Veloo Foundation projects. Each year we ride 700+kms, and each year we ride a different route across Mongolia.
This year eight intrepid riders were willing (even eager!!) to take on the challenge to help the children from the Veloo Foundation's Children of the Peak Sanctuary. Fully 50% of the entry fee from the riders as well as all of their private and corporate sponsorship goes directly to help the children. To date, thanks to our great riders and wonderful individual and corporate sponsors like ME Elecmetal and Oyu Tolgoi, the ride has raised over $16,000.00!!!!
So...to begin, here's a look at our wonderful riders.
This is Soyolbold's second time taking part in the Gobi Gallop. Soyolbold is a serious student of traditional Mongolian culture and is determined to reclaim his nomadic roots, and he does it with flair as he volunteers to ride the "Gobi Gallop Offical Mongolian Comfort Saddle" for long stretches. This is the traditional wooden saddle that every participant must ride - and then at the end we auction it off to raise funds for the kids. Soyolbold is also passionate about helping the children and as the only Mongolian participant on both Gobi Gallop 1 & 2, he is a truly shining example of not only what the Gallop is all about, but the true gentlemanliness of the Mongolian Culture.
.At 69, he is definitely the oldest participant we have had so far, and what a participant!! On board Tom Har ( or Tommy for short) he was graceful, stylish and.... impervious to pain....not once complaining of aches, pains, fatigue...just always asking the same thing..."Can we gallop now??" At the end of the 712 kilometres, he was so attached to the wooden Mongolian "comfort" saddle that he bid on it at the auction and it now graces his home as a constant reminder that he rode over 700 kilometres across the vast Mongolian steppe.
Gale is a true adventurer and a passionate conservationist who was moved so by the plight of the children at the Children of the Peak Sanctuary and the fact that they scavenge at the garbage dump with their parents that she jumped at a chance to come and participate in the ride, despite not having a ton of riding experience. AND....she is responsible for some of the amazing shots you will see here...not to mention the transcription of the theme song..."I've Been Through The Desert on a Horse With No Name"! One of these rides we'll all have the energy to learn that song!
Ann is one of those people who is always up for a challenge...she started the ride a little nervous at a canter ( oh no Boroogui..not now, no no, not now oh no..oh..good boy!!) but by the end was flying along!! This is not the first tough challenge she has undertaken, and, I suspect not the last!
Style personified, our dressage rider Kai was a quiet, steady rock on the ride. It was a lot of fun to watch as she rocked out to rock and roll ( or Debussey!) cantering along! Oh and yes, we ALL want to look like Kai when she rides ... I'm still waiting to see what her dressage teacher says when she comes in standing the gallop like a Mongolian!
Joining us at the last minute ( quite literally!) Katharina was a great riding partner...although we never quite got in the "race" that we kept promising each other as we went along!! Spoiled on Grey Wolf ( he has a tremendous amble!) she got to walk a lot of the way while the rest of us endured the "jog" but hem more than made up for it with his...ahem.."enthusiastic" gallops!
He came to Mongolia with a dream to set off on an epic horse trek - despite having only ridden 3 times previously in his life. What a natural rider! He mastered the canter with great eagerness...the jog however...well, there's always next year!! Excellent job Stephen...not bad for a first long ride...700+ kms!
Yup, that's me. Riding "Aleg Sander" my crazy horse for most of the ride. I somehow managed to make another Gobi Gallop without sitting in the car...despite illness, lack of sleep, an unschedule house move 2 days prior to heading out, and two close and unexpected encounters with the ground. Maybe I was just having too much fun to take a break!
I could tell you about Steven white knuckling it for 3 days with an open wound on the inside of his thigh before he admitted to any discomfort while riding, or Soyolbold strapping his deel to his leg to avoid the dreaded flapping of material that would scare the horses and always, always being there to help Baagii, or Gale being the gentle observant one to not only make sure that she and her horse were on the same page before setting off, but also to notice that one little kid ( baby goat...) was eating ONLY the flowers...and not the stems! I could tell you about Chad and his VERY BRIGHT red raincoat and predilection for collecting feathers for his cap (literally!) which earned him the honorary Mongolian name "Red Feather". Or maybe I should tell you about Ann and her incredible locking knees which, though troublesome, never ever stopped her from climbing back up and carrying on, or Katharina who almost didn't come into the hot springs but slept each night with her metal water bottle full of hot water ( good idea by the way -I think I'll be doing that on future rides!), or Kai who actually does know bad words....although it is crazy when she uses them..and who bent her life in half so that she could join us for almost all of the trip and wouldn't let me call her boss to tell her we had kidnapped her so she could stay to the end. Should I tell you of forged friendships and respect for differing opinions and the bridging of cultures as Saraa, Baagii and crew, despite going through a very difficult time themselves after a very sad death in the family just a few days prior to leaving, took care of us all and showed in their gentle, considerate way what Mongolian culture was all about and how closely related Mongolians are to their land?
Their beautiful land..... we all agreed it was so striking and vast and glorious that it hurt our eyes to look at it after a while. Riding for mile upon mile in blissful quiet, we all experienced Mongolia on our own terms. Riding past rivers, through gorgeous rock formations, remnants of volcanoes, past wells, over hills and across vast expanses of Mongolian steppe..the stuff of legend. We had days of rain, days (and days!!) of gopher holes, horses falling through solid looking ground, riders tumbling off as a result - including our guide..AND...some days of glorious free galloping, scenery so breathtaking that people were moved to tears. There were waterfalls, rivers, remote monasteries, mucky, murky bog, miles of scrub and desert, amazing 360 vistas from rolling hill tops, fears that we would not be able to remember the glory of the sights, hours and hours and hours of being the only people in the picture, lots of close encounters with free range horses, and meetings with amazed locals who couldn't believe that we were heading for 700 kilometres. And all of it wrapped in the memory of the smell of crushed sage beneath the horses hooves and the taste of freshly plucked lambs quarters ...
Or should I talk about the amazing welcome home party put on by our gorgeous Ronel? We had children from the Peak, locals, musicians, generous sponsors from ING bank and a dedicated crew of women from the International Equestrian Club of Outer Mongolia all show up to welcome us home with the traditional greeting of milk in a silver cup, champagne ( not so traditional!) songs, dancing and a feast fit for a king. It was so wonderful after 10 days of grunge and grime, to stop, have a shower at a local spa and then get to enjoy a party like that! We also had some surprises for the participants and of course, the Mongolian "comfort" saddle to auction off.
And what about our encounter with the Takhi ( Przwalski horses for some of you), the last wild horses on the planet? They differ from horses by 2 chromosomes and, all ...yes ALL of the horses in the world descend from them! We got to walk up to within a few feet of a herd, and meet the American volunteer scientists who were tracking them and who were able to give us so much incredible information not only about the horses ( Takhi!) but the group they were tracking in Particular! And we got to see them run and play and nip at each other! Oh, and the birds! The incredible range of birds - ruddy shell ducks , eagles, kites... more kites than a toy store!! ( small joke - sorry!) , vultures, cranes... the list goes on and on.
Mostly I think the pictures tell the stories. Suffice it to say that every day on our amazing Mongolian mounts we covered at least 60kms and sometimes as much as 85 kilometres...which means that we did an endurance ride EVERY DAY for 10 days in a row. AND everyone rode in the wooden Mongolian saddle - some more than others but everyone rode it!! This is one of the longest charity rides in the world, one of the most difficult and certainly one of the most beautiful. I am so lucky that I get to do it every year!
And so, here is a photo gallery - not in any particular order except what I thought made sense. Apologies to those of you who were on the ride...chronological order is not really my thing! Here is a glimpse of my memory of the ride...keeping in mind that I didn't have my camera with me for vast portions of the ride and so some of these photos were taken by Gale, some by Bayaraa and some by me. Later, when I get access to everyone else's photos I'm sure I will be updating this gallery so that it reflects the entirety ( inasmuch as is possible!) of this epic trip.
Many thanks to everyone who has supported the trip and the riders. Thanks to our crew and guides and drivers. Thanks to you for taking the time to read this... I expect to see you all out there either at the ride or at the welcome back party ...which will be in UB ...next year!
See you then! In the meantime, enjoy the photos!!