Ex-pat Kiwi Justine Hales is celebrating a massive achievement after completing the world’s longest horse race, the Mongol Derby, a race held for charity. Hales, who currently manages the Cavallino Estate pre-training operation for leading Australian trainer Ciaron Maher, tackled the 1000km event that recreates the horse messenger system developed by Genghis Khan in 1224 for the first time and finished a meritorious equal third behind 70-year-old Wyoming native, Robert Long.
The exact course for the race changes every year and is kept secret until shortly before the race begins. The terrain invariably includes mountain passes, green open valleys, wooded hills, river crossings, wetland and floodplains, sandy semi-arid dunes, rolling hills, dry riverbeds and open steppe. Riders are provided with access to 25-27 Mongolian horses, a support team, pre-race training, and access to support stations along the way.
The horses themselves are semi-wild and riders must change horses every 40km at the support stations. Riders typically spend 13 to 14 hours a day in the saddle, with the race lasting around ten days with less than half the racers usually finishing the race in any given year.
It was against that backdrop that Hales took on the unique challenge and although she led at one point, a hoof issue with one of her horses towards the end of the race dropped her back before she eventually finished third. “It was an amazing experience and just great to finish third,” Hales said. “You can’t really explain what the race is like as being out in the vastness of it all is beyond words. “The winner had been training for a year and was dedicated to his cause, just an amazing bloke. “I did have the lead at one stage but my horse stood on a stone and developed a massive stone bruise which had to be taken out.
“He did come right but it cost me time so I ended up camping out with a few of the other riders who I ended up crossing the line with at the finish. “There were a lot of people who dropped out early on, so just to finish was pretty cool, although it still hasn’t sunk in that we rode 1000km.”
Hales reported that she was in good physical condition despite the gruelling conditions that were experienced. “I’m alright actually, with the worst part probably having chapped lips,” she said. “I didn’t get any chafing and my knees held up but it will be interesting to see when I jump on the scales. “I was pretty fit as I had done a lot of work before the event.
“It is different for everyone in what you go through but thankfully the horses were very good and not really like some of the horror stories they like to tell you beforehand. “There were a few hairy moments but I think with the number of horses there are, it was okay.” Hales was adamant that a repeat attempt at the race was out of the question. “No way,” she said. “I’ve done it now and that’s it. “I would come back to Mongolia though as the countryside is absolutely spectacular and every day you seem to be going through a different country. “I would recommend it (the race) to people but I won’t be doing it again.”
Hales had her gall bladder removed just weeks before leaving Australia, making her feat even more meritorious. Originally from Dannevirke, Hales has recently resigned from her role with Maher and Eustace and will take up a position with Rockmount pre-training facility when she returns.