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Best of HN: New Guinness Ad Features ‘Compton Cowboys’

Screen shot via YouTube Screen shot via YouTube

Guinness has always pushed the advertising envelope with creative commercials, and its latest iteration of the “Made of More” campaign is designed to feature real people enriching the world around themselves. Today, the brewery giant dropped the “Compton Cowboys” campaign, featuring the real urban cowboys of the notorious city of Compton, south Los Angeles.

Compton might be best known according to mainstream media for gang violence and rough neighborhoods, but many individuals growing up in this urban setting are choosing positive alternatives. Especially in the neighborhood of Richland Farms, where many properties even within the city limits are zoned agricultural, residents are carving out tiny ranches where they can keep horses and ride on both the city streets and dirt paths.

Compton is the homeplace of the well-known Compton Junior Posse, a youth riding program and outreach that teaches local youth the ins and outs of horse care and riding, teaching critical life skills like empathy and responsibility while providing an alternative to gang culture and violence.

Guinness also shared a number of more in-depth interviews and conversations with individual “Compton cowboys,” who describe life in the city and the love they have for their horses, many of whom are rescues. The resounding theme is the last line of the 90-second spot shown above: “Did I save the horse? Or did the horse save me?”

These are the same emotions we all feel, whether we’re riding out of an urban ranch or over rolling green hills in the countryside: freedom. A sense of peace. A step away from our everyday reality. All who love horses are united by these feelings, no matter what walks of life we all tread daily.

We salute Guinness for sharing the story of the Compton cowboys. Go riding.

Best of HN: 3 Times Florida Horse Owners Got Creative During Hurricane Irma

Hurricane Irma, a storm of historic proportions, ravaged Florida last weekend before clawing its way north into Georgia, South Carolina and Alabama despite weakening to a tropical storm. Millions across Florida are without power as winds toppled trees and littered roads with debris, with some coastal regions still facing storm surge as well. Prior to making landfall in the Florida Keys, Irma decimated the Caribbean islands of St. Martin, Turks and Caicos, Barbuda, Anguilla and the British Virgin Islands, as well as the north coast of Cuba. Irma caused extensive damage across the Southeast and our thoughts are with all of those affected.

Encouraging reports are coming in from equestrians in Florida, including friends of Horse Nation at the Horse Radio Network based in Ocala who all safely weathered Irma, horses included.

In true equestrian spirit of ingenuity and resilience, these horse owners got creative when it came to keeping their horses safe during this historic storm, and we give them a special Horse Nation salute:

Horses That Help, a non-profit horse program for at-risk and special needs youth, brought eight horses into the concrete block living room after moving out the furniture. Thanks to a quickly-changing forecast, Horses That Help’s evacuation plan didn’t pan out. After 32 hours inside, the horses are turned back outside and made it through the storm A-OK!

When your house is made of poured concrete, it’s the safest place for everyone. Georgia Mott in Okeechobee County, Florida brought her horses into the laundry room. According to Facebook updates, these horses are also turned back outside in great shape now that Irma has passed.

Posted by Georgia Mott on Saturday, September 9, 2017

Sherri Stoy, faced with aged horses that she felt would not have handled the stress of evacuation well, moved her horses into some temporary stalls in her living room, and it looks like everyone was pretty happy despite the weather!

Entered a contest to win some funds to rebuild the barn. Ty so much to everyone who has visited this link and supported…

Posted by Sherri Stoy on Sunday, September 10, 2017

Helping those affected by Irma

The following charities are accepting donations to assist with Irma relief efforts in Florida and the Caribbean. Since this is still a developing crisis, other charities will likely emerge as well as Irma continues to pound the Southeast.

  • UNICEF: in addition to assisting with Harvey relief, UNICEF is also raising funds to assist children in the wake of Irma and ensuring that students can return to school
  • Salvation Army: manning shelters and aiding in cleanup relief
  • GlobalGiving: raising funds to be dispersed to vetted local charities in the Caribbean and the United States so that money gets to where it’s needed most post-Irma

Animal charities:

  • Best Friends: donations will go directly towards helping reunite pets and owners and to support animals turned in at shelters in the aftermath of Irma
  • Brooke USA: raising funds to be channeled directly to US Equestrian Disaster Relief Fund for horses
  • US Equestrian Disaster Relief Fund: donations used exclusively to aid horses and horse owners

Our thoughts are with all affected by Hurricane Irma! Stay safe and go riding.

Tuesday Video from SpectraVet: Sidesaddle Fox Hunting

“It’s such an old tradition, and it should be kept going.” This video from The Countryside Alliance has been making quite a buzz!

The comparisons with Downton Abbey are irresistible — but watch this video and try not to slip back in time to when sidesaddle was not an old tradition but a means of riding for women, a way to keep right up with the men while maintaining the elegance of the times.

Sidesaddle, and especially sidesaddle hunting, is experiencing a resurgence in popularity, whether aided in part perhaps by Downton Abbey or fueled simply by another era of adventurous women who don’t shy away from a challenge while still honoring the past. It’s remarkable to see these ladies, who look like they stepped right out of an old English painting, soaring over hedges that would make many quake in their boots. We’ll let these ladies explain:

An Old Habit – The ladies making hunting side saddle cool again

As the hunting season kicks off, we meet a group of passionate (and fearless) ladies who choose to tackle the largest of hedges from a side saddle. The full feature will be available in My Countryside magazine, out Friday 8th September. Get 20% off a subscription here:

Posted by The Countryside Alliance on Wednesday, September 6, 2017

Hooked on sidesaddle? Here’s more sidesaddle fox hunting coverage from our sister site Horse Nation to keep you reading:

Why SpectraVET?

Reliable. Effective. Affordable.

SpectraVET is committed to providing only the highest-quality products and services to our customers, and to educating the world in the science and art of laser therapy.

We design and manufacture the broadest range of clinically-proven veterinary therapeutic laser products, which are represented and supported worldwide by our network of specialist distributors and authorized service centers.

Small But Mighty? Considerations For Towing Horses With an SUV

Reader Lisa Landis emailed me the following photo with a question: “I want to know the reality of trailering with a small vehicle. I tow with a pickup so when I see this I think these people are crazy.”


Photo by Lisa Landis.

Certainly the vast majority of horse towing is done with pickup trucks — but in reading Lisa’s email, I realized I had seen my fair share of bumper pulls towed by SUVs, and I had never thought too much about it. Having never owned my own truck and trailer, only ever towing with vehicles either owned by my place of employment or family members who presumably did their own research, I scoured the internet, tracked down friends with SUV (or other) towing experience and bugged my local auto dealership for their thoughts.

The million-dollar question: Is towing with an SUV safe?

Answer: It depends.

Towing basics

Vehicles are given a tow rating from the manufacturer, which refers to the maximum weight that a vehicle can tow. This information should be somewhere on the vehicle itself (like that handy chart on the door panel that you never remember to look at until right now), or you can speak to your manufacturer directly. I also found this handy quick chart from How Stuff Works that lists almost every vehicle on the road — as it turns out, my small SUV, the Ford Escape, is rated to tow only 1500 pounds (oddly the same as my husband’s Crown Vic).

When consulting that doorsil sticker, pay attention to a few figures:

  • gross vehicle weight rating, referring to the manufacturer’s recommended maximum total weight of the vehicle when loaded with passengers, cargo, feed sacks, etc
  • gross combined vehicle weight rating, referring to the manufacturer’s recommended maximum total weight of the vehicle when loaded PLUS the trailer, also when loaded
  • gross trailer weight rating, or the manufacturer’s recommended maximum total weight of the trailer

Exceeding these ratings is a good way to overly stress your engine, transmission, brakes and other systems.

Additionally, any towing vehicle should be equipped with a tow package, which includes not only the physical ball hitch for making the connection but also a fortified suspension and brakes, transmission cooling and a power steering package. The trailer brakes need to be properly calibrated to the towing vehicle as well. You may find extended mirrors a necessity as well to be able to see past the end of your trailer.

For towing a bumper pull, the tongue weight of the trailer is recommended to be no more than 10% of the tow rating for trucks and no more than 5% for SUVs, according to the dealership I spoke to. So for an SUV with a tow rating of 5000 pounds, the tongue weight should be no more than 250 pounds.

The old rule of thumb was that a tow vehicle had to be heavier than the trailer and load, but newer trucks and SUVs are being manufactured lighter for fuel efficiency while maintaining the horsepower to tow safely. That said, basic physics suggests that a heavier vehicle will be more likely to control a trailer, and ideally your vehicle is close in weight to your loaded trailer.

Flickr/Roger H. Goun/CC

Flickr/Roger H. Goun/CC

Where SUVs are different from trucks

So far, so good — let’s say we’ve run the numbers and figured out that our mid-size SUV should safely be able to tow our two-horse bumper pull, including both horses, tack, feed for a day and our show trunks as well as the driver and passenger plus our luggage. We’re ready to roll for the show season, right? Technically, yes — but there are a few more considerations as well as after-market installations that might come in handy.

Horses are not “dead weight.” A horse’s center of gravity is much higher than a trailer full of inanimate cargo. Also unlike the inanimate cargo, horses can and will move around somewhat during transport. If you’ve ever experienced a horse suddenly shifting his weight, or perhaps pawing or kicking out while in transit, you know that the trailer that’s been rolling along so quietly behind you can suddenly feel like it has a life and direction of its own. Some professionals in the truck industry recommend keeping the loaded gross trailer weight about 10% or 20% lower than the rating for the vehicle to better handle those stresses of a higher center of gravity and surprise shifts in weight.

The wheelbase matters … maybe. However, there are no industry standards to go by for determining what is a “safe” wheelbase length in relation to the trailer — it’s simply a fact that a longer wheelbase will provide more stability for the trailer. A shorter wheelbase could feasibly lead to the rear axle being pushed down by the trailer tongue and lifting too much weight off the front of the vehicle, leading to a loss of control. It’s worth noting that when I asked my local dealer about wheelbase, he told me that staying within tow rating and tongue wait would generally eliminate the wheelbase length ever coming into play — since there is no industry rule of thumb to go by in this situation, I would recommend speaking to other drivers about their experience.

Both of these factors can combine to form a potentially dangerous situation — it’s possible that even with the right SUV and trailer, I could possibly haul one of my Belgians around town, but that doesn’t mean I necessarily want to. The size of horses and their individual centers of gravity isn’t considered when tow rating and gross vehicle and trailer weights are configured by manufacturers, and having a tow vehicle that’s too light when compared to the trailer load can lead to a loss of control.

The bottom line: towing your bumper-pull horse trailer safely with an SUV is definitely possible, and it may the most economical option for horse owners with only one vehicle. However, we highly recommend doing plenty of research into your specific vehicle and trailer to ensure that you are staying safe on the road. There are enough hazards on the highways for hauling our horses as it is without further compromising their safety with a poor match of vehicle to trailer. Some drivers may simply feel safer in a truck while others find hauling their horse with an SUV to be just fine.

We recommend this article from TransWest, which provides even more in-depth information about selecting the proper tow vehicle.

Do you have an experience to share? Let us know in the comments!

Best of HN: Laura Cheshire is Our New Hero After Wild Bridleless Ride

PC: Grant Peters/Trackside Photography PC: Grant Peters/Trackside Photography

Sure, there are a few places that it’s fun to try riding your horse without a bridle. Places that come to mind immediately, at least for the first few times, include the roundpen or a small, empty arena with all the doors or gates closed.

Places I’d definitely never give this a shot include the track, during a race, on a fit Thoroughbred who’s never given this one a shot before… but that’s exactly what Laura Cheshire had to contend with last Friday at Murwillumbah in Australia when the bridle on her mount Secret Blend fell apart just a few strides into the race.

Downton Abbey GIFs - Find & Share on GIPHY

Watch the 11 horse carefully — the video quality isn’t great as it’s a video of steward’s footage, but you can see what you need to see:

Stewards footage from yesterday.. this song played when I got in my car to drive home and the relief was strong that…

Posted by Laura Cheshire on Saturday, August 26, 2017

Laura’s quick thinking prevented “Exo” from immediately stepping on the bridle or getting tangled in the reins as soon as the bridle broke; Laura reeled the tack up and was able to keep everything around the base of Exo’s neck for the time being. According to her interview with Australia’s Horse Racing Only, fellow jockey Robbie Agnew, mid-race, told Laura he would help guide her and Exo around the turn.

By the turn for home, most of the field seemed to realize that Laura had no bridle, and did a masterful job of steering clear of her to finish the race. Once under the wire, her fellow riders tried to help slow Exo down, but no avail — Laura and Exo were still off and running, and all she could do was tell everyone to get out of the way before there was a wreck.

Pony rider Mozzie Coleman met up with Laura and Exo, still galloping, into the backstretch — but with nothing to grab to catch and slow the horse, there was no way to help. Laura told him to let Exo go, as the horse had started racing the pony.

Breaking Bad GIFs - Find & Share on GIPHY

Laura’s terrifying ride continued all the way around the track for a second lap, with the pair thundering right by the steward who could only watch helplessly. The other horses were still exiting off the track, and fearing a big wreck should Exo attempt to bolt off the track, Laura impulsively asked the horse to turn via neck rein.

Amazingly, he responded.

The pair turned towards the inside rail and headed into the turn for yet another lap, successfully navigating through the horses leaving the track before Mozzie on the escort pony caught up to them again. Still with nothing to grab to help catch the horse, Mozzie simply rode alongside before Laura suggested he ease the pony down, hopefully slowing Exo as well. Just as the Thoroughbred started to slow, a rein broke loose and wrapped itself around the horse’s hind leg, sending him back into a frenzied gallop again.

Doctor Who GIFs - Find & Share on GIPHY

In a stroke of luck, Exo never stepped right on the rein, which would have caught and likely flipped the pair; when the rein came loose Laura again managed to reel it into her hand while also contending with her saddle slipping to the side. Again using the neck rein, Laura managed to turn Exo towards the outside rail, intending to turn him all the way in the other direction to head up the mile chute and hopefully into a dead-end where the horse would stop.

Exo and Laura turned nearly right into the outside fence, and while Laura felt Exo consider jumping the rail, he fortunately decided merely to stop, bouncing lightly off the fence and allowing Laura just enough time to leap off and wrap one of the reins around his nose, keeping him under control. Both horse and rider were uninjured, if perhaps exhausted from this wild ride.

Tv GIFs - Find & Share on GIPHY

Laura, while clearly demonstrating some amazing horsemanship and quick thinking, is humble about the situation. “Ultimately I am in this game because I love horses and not just because I want to win races,” she told Horse Racing Only. “At the end of the day, as much as I tried to look after the horse … the horse looked after me even more. That horse could have done anything he liked for three laps. He could have made bad decisions with bad consequences.

“He could have put both of us through a fence and maybe we wouldn’t have walked away from that… but, instead, he kept me safe.”

Rupaul'S Drag Race GIFs - Find & Share on GIPHY

Laura Cheshire, you’re a woman after our own hearts and an official Horse Nation hero. Best of luck in your future races.

Read Laura’s full account of the incident at Horse Racing Only.

Wylie vs. The Mongol Derby, Powered by SmartPak, Day 9: Leslie Completes!

In August 2017 writer/rider Leslie Wylie will be attempting her most fearsome feat of #YOLO yet: a 620-mile race across Mongolia. Riding 27 semi-wild native horses. Carrying only 11 pounds of gear. Relying on nomads for food, water and shelter. On a mission to help stop deforestation.

To be held Aug. 9-19, the Mongol Derby is widely regarded as the toughest horse race in the world. Inspired by the Genghis Khan’s original “pony express,” there’s no trail or set route, just 25 GPS checkpoints/horse exchange stations to hit over the course of 7-10 days. Keep it here for weekly updates on Leslie’s ride of a lifetime! Click here to read previous stories in the series.

From left: Leslie Wylie, 35, Tennessee, USA; Taylor Dolak, 25, Colorado, USA; Lucy Taylor, 22, NSW, UK / Australia; Amanda Charlton Herbert, 26, Maine, USA; James Lester, 22, Perth, Australia. Photo by Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby.

It’s been an epic nine-day journey for our Leslie Wylie across the wild steppe of Mongolia — and after more than a week of frantic dot-watching on our end and some truly legendary riding on Leslie’s end, she crossed the finish line today at 6:05 p.m. local time, 6:05 a.m. EST. And yes, her now-famous grin was ear-to-ear.

Day 9 Recap

The ninth day of racing saw a big part of the field cross over the finish line, many carrying on the rising Derby tradition of crossing the line in unison with traveling partners and fellow Derbyists. After all — to borrow the phrase from the sport of endurance riding — to finish is to win, and we imagine it’s impossible not to feel some intense camaraderie with your fellow riders after enduring a thousand kilometers on the backs of some pretty wild horses.

We’ll let the photos speak for themselves on Day 9.

Ceri Putnam (30, UK) and Sally Toye (55, UK). Photo by Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby

Bobbie Friend (27, Australia), Emma Manthorpe (30, Australia) and Charlotte Wills (36, UK). Photo by Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby

Rachel Land (38, US) and Margaret Summers (60, US). Photo by Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby

Paul Richards (58, UK) and Cy Lloyd-Jones (41, UK). Photo by Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby

Not pictured but also crossing the finish today were Suzanna Holmquist of Sweden, Victoria Twelves of the UK, Louisa Ball of UK and Liv Wood of Canada. Liv retired due to injuries from a fall earlier in the week but was medically cleared to ride the last few legs today for the adventure, and we’re glad she was able to ride across the finish!

The rest of the field is projected to finish tomorrow on Day 10.

Raise a glass to Leslie Wylie!

We’re so proud of Leslie for accomplishing the Mongol Derby, battling truly adversarial conditions and challenges along the way. She lost her entire kit on Day 3, including her stirrups, but kept smiling and rode right into Derby history by completing her next 40 kilometer leg without any stirrups at all. She got bucked off a wild Mongolian horse on Day 4 and got right back on to complete her next leg.

Her fellow riders, no doubt bolstered themselves by Leslie’s indomitable spirit, helped her along the trail with a donated kit stuffed into a spare sock, and the generous Mongolian people took care of her as well.

Throughout the entire journey, Leslie just kept smiling. If we know Leslie, she awoke every morning looking ahead to the adventure the day would bring her, no matter how wild it might be. We can’t wait until she’s back to share her stories!

Most of us will likely never contest the Mongol Derby. Crossing hundreds of miles on semi-feral horses at the mercy of the elements is certainly not in everyone’s adventure playbook, and that’s OK. While this race is in the books for Leslie and for all of us at EN who were along for the ride, we hope Leslie’s journey will continue to inspire you for a very long time. It certainly will for us.

Go Leslie. Go Eventing.

Wylie vs. The Mongol Derby, Powered by SmartPak, Day 8: Horsing Around

In August 2017 writer/rider Leslie Wylie will be attempting her most fearsome feat of #YOLO yet: a 620-mile race across Mongolia. Riding 27 semi-wild native horses. Carrying only 11 pounds of gear. Relying on nomads for food, water and shelter. On a mission to help stop deforestation.

To be held Aug. 9-19, the Mongol Derby is widely regarded as the toughest horse race in the world. Inspired by the Genghis Khan’s original “pony express,” there’s no trail or set route, just 25 GPS checkpoints/horse exchange stations to hit over the course of 7-10 days. Keep it here for weekly updates from Leslie ride of a lifetime! Click here to read previous stories in the series.

What it feels like to finish! MP RHW GC BW JW complete on Day 8. Leslie is on track to complete tomorrow! Photo by Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby.

The first finishers completed the 2017 Mongol Derby yesterday (in record-setting time!) and more followed suit today with much celebration. Our Leslie Wylie’s “traveling group” is projected to finish tomorrow, one day early, with just three legs left in the 1,000 kilometer journey.

As the sun sets on Day 8 on the steppe, let’s just remember that not only have this lot been riding hard for a full week and then some, they’ve also been dealing with harsh weather conditions, staying in gers hosted by nomadic herdsmen and eating food provided by their gracious hosts. We can only imagine on Day 8 how inviting this lovely lake at the finish line must be:

Read on for the day’s full report.

Day 8 Recap

As Ed Fernon, Barry Armitage and Jakkie Mellet — the top three finishers from yesterday — lounged around victory camp, perhaps sleeping off the celebratory vodka they had knocked back the night prior, the race continued across the steppe for the rest of the field.

Warren Sutton and Will Comiskey (aka “Dingo”) had only the last leg to finish after their overnight at Urtuu 27, and they rolled across the finish line together in what seems to be becoming a new Mongol Derby tradition, taking the tied finish for fourth place around 11:10 a.m. local time, 11:10 p.m. EST last night. This was Will’s second Mongol Derby completion, and he “blessed” his final mount with a bit of mare’s milk:

Warren Sutton reportedly forgot to turn on his tracking device, so the tracking map still shows him as being at Urtuu 27. We are assured that he did, in fact, complete the Mongol Derby.

Later in the afternoon, the joint sixth-place finishers crossed into victory camp, including the first lady riders to complete in 2017: Brooke Wharton, Rebecca Hewitt, Marie Palzer, Jodie Ward and Greg Chant.

The final riders of the day to finish were Roberta McLeod at 5:30 p.m. local time (5:30 a.m. EST today) for 11th place and Jen Cook at 8:18 p.m. local time (8:18 a.m. EST) for 12th. Rebecca Pumphrey turned up at the finish at 9:30 p.m. local time (9:30 a.m. EST) after getting lost in the dark for the last three kilometers.

Rebecca earned herself a three-hour technical penalty that could possibly bump her to lower than 13th depending on when the first riders finish tomorrow. Regardless of final placing, we’re sure she’s happy to be across the finish line. Congratulations to all the day’s finishers!

While the dangers of the Mongol Derby certainly aren’t diminished just by proximity to the finish line — riders can still contend with hazards like marmot holes, unpredictable and semi-wild mounts, spooky things like cars popping right up out of nowhere and the various injuries and illnesses that everyone has been battling from Day 1 — we’re perceiving from our desks on the other side of the world that the focus now is not just on surviving each day on the steppe but on finishing.

Spirits are high among the back pack: high enough that a few riders got into some fun shenanigans along the trail.

BW, or Brooke Wharton, already finished earlier in the day, so this last tweet is a typo that should be LW. If there’s one person we trust to take things to the next level, it’s Leslie. So look out, Lucy and Jimbo. You’ve got LW on your tail now.

Leslie and the rest of her new trail friends have safely made it to Urtuu 25 for the night, giving them three legs to ride tomorrow and on track to finish on Day 9, one day ahead of the Day 10 deadline. We’re sending them all our best thoughts for a safe final day of riding.

Injury and Accident Assessment

In an impressive display of grit and tenacity, some of the Bloodwagon riders — those who retired earlier in the Derby due to injury or illness — are reportedly “itching to ride again.” Medical staff have been dispatched to assess Jane Boxhall, Rick Helson and Liv Wood to see if they can be cleared to ride again, at least giving them the opportunity to ride across the finish line.

We’ll continue to bring you daily updates from the Mongol trail. You can also follow along via Mongol Derby Twitter (Leslie’s call sign is LW) for live updates. Track the riders via GPS here. Go Wylie!

Wylie vs. Mongol Derby, Powered by SmartPak, Day 7: We Have Winners!

In August 2017 writer/rider Leslie Wylie will be attempting her most fearsome feat of #YOLO yet: a 620-mile race across Mongolia. Riding 27 semi-wild native horses. Carrying only 11 pounds of gear. Relying on nomads for food, water and shelter. On a mission to help stop deforestation.

To be held Aug. 9-19, the Mongol Derby is widely regarded as the toughest horse race in the world. Inspired by the Genghis Khan’s original “pony express,” there’s no trail or set route, just 25 GPS checkpoints/horse exchange stations to hit over the course of 7-10 days. Keep it here for updates on Leslie’s ride of a lifetime! Click here to read previous stories in the series.

Ed Fernon and Barry Armitage cross the finish line together. Photo by Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby.

After trading the lead several times not only over the past few days but in the final hour of the race, Barry Armitage of South Africa and Ed Fernon of Australia crossed the line together as co-winners of the 2017 Mongol Derby, with Jakkie Mellet of South Africa just behind them to finish third.

The three riders pushed each other hard and fast throughout the event to separate them significantly from the rest of the field, and the three Southern Hemisphere riders were the only riders to finish today. Another 10 or so riders are in range to potentially finish tomorrow.

Our own Leslie Wylie appears to have had a fast and efficient day on the steppe, making it to Urtuu 21 this evening with just six checkpoints to go before the finish line.

Barry Armitage off and running from the final checkpoint. Photo by Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby.

Day Seven Recap

A distance of 220 kilometers separated the leaders from the rear pack this morning, and the weather quickly turned hot and sunny to create challenging conditions (especially when compared to the cold, blowing rain riders faced on Day 2).

Jakkie Mellet, who had maintained a steady lead for much of the Derby, ran into trouble just beyond Urtuu 25. His horse returned without him, the saddle hanging under the horse’s belly and Jakkie followed soon after on foot; a nearby car had spooked the horse, which then proceeded to dump Jakkie. In the chaos, a stirrup leather snapped, and in a nod to our dear Leslie …

Jakkie wound up making his own stirrup leather out of rope and continuing on, but not before Ed Fernon passed him to take the lead. Jakkie, Ed and Barry battled for the lead over the next few legs with about 20 minutes of traveling time separating them. As race organizers described, over a 1,000 kilometer race that’s essentially photo finish material.

Further drama ensued due to the hot weather when Jakkie picked up a vet penalty at Urtuu 27, meaning that Ed and Barry could continue on while he served two hours. Ed and Barry continued on together through the final leg, ultimately crossing the finish line together to share the win. Jakkie earned a well-fought third place, finishing roughly an hour and a half later. All three riders’ horses passed the final vet check, and all three riders (plus their horses) cooled down in the lake together!

Ed Fernon and Barry Armitage enjoy a well-earned dip with their horses at the finish line. Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby

Leslie appears to be safely checked in to Urtuu 21 for the night. Without any of her gear to help her comfortably handle a night camping in the open on the steppe, this was likely the best decision despite having some riding time still available at the end of the day. As noted by race organizers, self-care along the Derby trail is important.

Which is why we’re glad Leslie appears to have gotten a good breakfast this morning:

No further details are available on the above-mentioned “fending off wolves” incident, but we’re definitely craving more news on that. We’ll report what we learn.

Leslie and the rest of the riders at her urtuu are projected to finish two days from now, and we’ll be there every step of the way cheering our girl home! We’re delighted to see she still has a big smile on her face after seven days of facing what can only be described as myriad challenges on the Derby trail.

Yesterday’s official Derby recap put it this way: “End of Day 1 saw LW in the lead, bunking between urtuus solo. Ballsy. After a series of misfortunes including a couple lost horses, lost kit, and showing true derby grit by riding stirrupless with a sock for a saddle bag, LW may have fallen to the back of the field, but has endeared herself to onlookers as a bonafide derby legend.”

Injury and Accident Assessment

Emma Manthrope had to cope with a horse that pulled up very lame about 13 kilometers out from Urtuu 20. The vet stationed at the urtuu headed out immediately to treat the horse, who reportedly responded well to treatment and is doing fine in the care of a local family.

Mongol Derby organizers noted that injuries in the field involving the horses always take precedence over clearing the riders at checkpoints. We salute the horsemanship of the entire Mongol Derby team and the obvious care they take with the horses!

Most of the other incidents of the day involved Derby vehicles stuck in bogs or running out of fuel — the hazards of such a remote expedition with a fast-moving field!

At the close of Day 7 of racing, the EN team sends our heartiest congratulations to co-winners Barry Armitage and Ed Fernon, as well as third-placed Jakkie Mellet. We’re cheering all of the Mongol Derby competitors home!

We’ll continue to bring you daily updates from the Mongol trail. You can also follow along via Mongol Derby Twitter (Leslie’s call sign is LW) for live updates. Track the riders via GPS here. Go Wylie!

Jakkie Mellet brings his last horse in across the finish line. Photo by Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby.

Jenni Autry and Lorraine Jackson contributed to this report.

Wylie vs. Mongol Derby, Powered by SmartPak, Day 6: One Steppe At a Time

In August 2017 writer/rider Leslie Wylie will be attempting her most fearsome feat of #YOLO yet: a 620-mile race across Mongolia. Riding 27 semi-wild native horses. Carrying only 11 pounds of gear. Relying on nomads for food, water and shelter. On a mission to help stop deforestation.

To be held Aug. 9-19, the Mongol Derby is widely regarded as the toughest horse race in the world. Inspired by the Genghis Khan’s original “pony express,” there’s no trail or set route, just 25 GPS checkpoints/horse exchange stations to hit over the course of 7-10 days. Keep it here for weekly updates from Leslie as she prepares to embark upon the ride of a lifetime! Click here to read all the stories in the series.

Current leader Jakkie Mellet on the steppe. Photo by Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby.

The Mongol Derby is modeled after Genghis Khan’s “pony express” relay system that was used to carry messages across his land. When you think about how many miles Leslie rode on Day 6 — she traveled the distance of four Urtuus, which are spaced roughly 40 kilometers apart, for a total of 160 kilometers or about 99 miles — it’s easy to see how such an express system could be effective.

It’s also a reminder that the Mongols were, and still are, tougher than nails. With more injuries forcing retirement as well as some questionable horsemanship choices, Day 6 proved to be influential.

Day Six Recap

Our Leslie and a pack of fellow riders roared out of Urtuu 14 right on the dot at 7 a.m. local time (7 p.m. EST last night) to start Day 6. We’re happy to report that Leslie’s great attitude and resilient sense of adventure despite losing her kit on Day 3 still appear to be riding high; she’s been described as “in great spirits.”

We’re even happier to report (and so, so grateful to her fellow riders) that Leslie’s been able to assemble a sort of mini-kit (as her original kit has still not been located), consisting of a sock filled with donated odds and ends from other competitors. Since everyone in the race was bound by the 11-pound gear limit, we know that there is very little extra to go around — many thanks to these generous riders!

Leslie is safely checked in at Urtuu 18 for the night, with the field spread from Urtuu 25 back to 16. The frontrunners are expected to complete the Mongol Derby tomorrow on Day 7.

Among the front runners: Jakkie Mellet continues to lead while earning kudos from the field veterinarians for smart riding and good horsemanship. He has incurred one two-hour penalty, which he served today, but is taking good care of his mounts and increasing his lead.

Ed Fernon incurred a stern, official warning and then penalty time for inconsiderate riding. The Mongol Derby takes equine welfare extremely seriously, with every horse undergoing an examination after every 40-kilometer leg. Riders are expected to present their horse to the veterinarian immediately, and every horse has 30 minutes to recover its resting heart rate. This allows the vets to determine if a horse is in metabolic distress and needs additional attention.

Unfortunately, on Day 6 Ed adopted the technique of gallopping his mount all the way to the next Urtuu only to “loiter” outside the station for about half an hour to bring his horse’s heart rate down without veterinary supervision. Ed first received a warning and then a penalty after he repeated the offense. Marie Palzer, who led alongside Ed in the early days of the race, also served six hours of penalty time today for veterinary offenses.

The six riders in the front running pack — Jakkie Mellet, Barry Armitage, Marie Palzer, Ed Fernon, William Comiskey and Warren Sutton — are expected to finish tomorrow. Vodka and airag (the famous Mongol drink of fermented mare’s milk) await them at the finish line.

Jakkie Mellet on the steppe. Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby

Elsewhere on the trail, riders were strongly encouraged to take the bridge over the Kherlen River rather than attempt to ford as water levels were high. Fortunately, everyone made it safely across without incident. Storms moved in and out of the area for the “Adventure pack” (the back half of the field) but again travel appeared to be incident-free.

The family hosting at Urtuu 15 reportedly sent their riders off with packages of dumplings to be eaten on the ride. We love the Derby hospitality!

In other news, we’re trying to find a way to get word to Leslie that we’d like this one brought home for us:

… not so much this one though. He can stay in Mongolia.

Injury and Accident Assessment

We’re sad to report that Liv Wood (OW) has retired after a hard fall on her lower back; yesterday we reported that she was also battling an ankle injury. According to Liv herself via Facebook, she had clean X-rays on both her foot and her back, and she should be cleared to ride after 24 hours. She fully intends to return to the trail after a day’s rest, and she may be the first person in Mongol Derby history to medically retire and then return. All our best to Liv!

Gigi Kay, age 59 from the UK, also retired on Day 6 after cracking two ribs. A late entrant to the Derby, Gigi is an equine veterinarian currently working in Morocco. We’re sending our wishes for a speedy recovery!

One minor injury to report as well:

Jakkie Mellet on the steppe. These beautiful landscapes are too good not to share. Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby

We’ll continue to bring you daily updates from the Mongol trail. You can also follow along via Mongol Derby Twitter (Leslie’s call sign is LW) for live updates. Track the riders via GPS here. Go Wylie!

Wylie vs. Mongol Derby, Powered by SmartPak, Day 5: Steppefamily

In August 2017 writer/rider Leslie Wylie will be attempting her most fearsome feat of #YOLO yet: a 620-mile race across Mongolia. Riding 27 semi-wild native horses. Carrying only 11 pounds of gear. Relying on nomads for food, water and shelter. On a mission to help stop deforestation.

To be held Aug. 9-19, the Mongol Derby is widely regarded as the toughest horse race in the world. Inspired by the Genghis Khan’s original “pony express,” there’s no trail or set route, just 25 GPS checkpoints/horse exchange stations to hit over the course of 7-10 days. Keep it here for weekly updates from Leslie as she prepares to embark upon the ride of a lifetime! Click here to read previous stories in the series.

Leslie (center, in the pink jacket) and some fellow riders with the generous local family who fed them all last night at Urtuu 11. Photo courtesy of Mongol Derby.

Did you miss past updates? Catch up on Day 1, Day 2, Day 3 and Day 4.

Another long-running joke on the EN team prior to Leslie Wylie’s departure for Mongolia was the inevitable comparison to the Hunger Games.

With some noted exceptions (such as, you know, the entire premise of the Hunger Games) the parallels become obvious: a whole world watches virtually, tracking their favorite rider with every ping of the GPS, while the riders themselves simply focus on the task at hand, the idea that thousands of people are watching their every move most likely not on their mind whatsoever.

In reality, however, Mongolia is not the Hunger Games — as the race organizers pointed out today, there is no holographic leaderboard equipped with video updates and realtime movement tracking. They did offer this helpful gem:

All this boils down to is that we at home only know as much as we can see about Leslie’s progress — but considering the logistics of tracking 43 riders, not to mention coordinating veterinary, medical and support teams across a thousand kilometers and orchestrating the wrangling of hundreds of horses, herdsmen and local families to help, we’re always happy for a glimpse of Leslie’s smile on the steppe and to know that she’s still kicking on and riding hard.

We’re SO grateful to the race organizers who personally answer our requests for Leslie updates, taking the time out of what we’re sure is a chaotic day to keep us informed. Many thanks to the hardworking Mongol Derby team.

Day Five Recap

Veterinary violations are likely to change the order of the leading pack in the next day or so, as leader Jakkie Mellet has a two-hour penalty to serve at Urtuu 22, while pace stalker Marie Palzer has racked up eight hours with a third penalty today. Ed Fernon has a clean record and will likely be able to take the lead; all three of these leaders are camped between Urtuus 20 and 21.

Barry Armitage, overnighting between Urtuus 19 and 20, is expected to move into second place tomorrow. But as always, this is the Mongol Derby, and everything can change in an instant.

The running order through the rest of the field remained similar to yesterday, with a few riders in the back half of the pack making huge leaps in their progress. Organizers report that today’s group of horses seemed feistier than usual, and several riders had to make use of their “help” buttons to summon assistance and a carry-forward to the next Urtuu, which earned them penalty hours to serve at Urtuu 22.

Leslie is overnighting with a party of 15 riders at Urtuu 14, all being fed by a generous local family. The cooperation with the local herding communities is critical to the Mongol Derby, and we’re so grateful to all of the families who have donated the use of their horses, helped wrangle wild steeds, housed riders overnight in their gers and taken care of the riders spending the night in the various Urtuus.

Leslie appears to have had a fairly uneventful day (which in Mongolia is a very good thing!) with no exceptionally wild ponies or major incidents to report. She progressed from Urtuu 11 to 14, which is an estimated journey of about 120 kilometers. Not bad for a day’s ride!

All along the route, the “steppefamily” continues to welcome what by now is probably a fairly filthy, stinky, unwashed field of riders for overnight stays. The family at Urtuu 19 was described as “awesome,” and Barry Armitage reported that he is staying with “a lovely family” on the steppe between Urtuus 19 and 20. Our hats are off to the hospitable people of Mongolia!

The spread of the field at the end of Day 5. Leslie’s route is highlighted in red.

Injury and Accident Assessment

A sixth rider has retired from the Derby. Marianne Williams, age 54 from the US, retired with a broken collar bone requiring surgery due to falling in “every marmot hole in Mongolia.”

According to Marianne’s biography, “riding the Mongol Derby (her first horse was a wild mustang) is a natural expression of Marianne’s quest ‘to not go gentle into that good night’ but to slide sideways into her grave — laughing like hell — while clutching one last cold beer in her weather worn hand.” She sounds like our kind of gal, and we wish her all the best in her recovery.

James Lester and Lucy Taylor, both from Australia, had made a pact to ride together; yesterday, Lucy was delayed along the route with an injured horse, which she helped treat alongside the vet, earning her big kudos from race organizers.

As a bit of a joke, James decided to hide at Urtuu 11, leading Lucy to believe that he had broken the pact and gone ahead without her. He popped out to surprise her just as she burst into tears, and she reportedly punched him in response.

To make it up to her, James offered to ride the horse that Lucy had originally selected. A particularly wild mount, it had bucked her off when she first tried to mount, and then proceeded to buck James off as well. He got right back on and they took off together, pact intact and earning some respect from the locals and race organizers for wrangling this particularly wild mount.

Liv Wood, whom readers should remember as one of Leslie’s partners in her 100-mile Texas training ride, is soldiering on with an injured ankle, presumably after a fall she took on the morning of Day 5.

Liv is overnighting at Urtuu 14 alongside Leslie, and we’re confident that these two strong-willed ladies will keep each other’s spirits high going into Day 6!

We’ll continue to bring you daily updates from the Mongol trail. You can also follow along via Mongol Derby Twitter (Leslie’s call sign is LW) for live updates. Track the riders via GPS here. Go Wylie!

Wylie vs. Mongol Derby, Powered by SmartPak: Day 4 Takes A Village

In August 2017 writer/rider Leslie Wylie will be attempting her most fearsome feat of #YOLO yet: a 620-mile race across Mongolia. Riding 27 semi-wild native horses. Carrying only 11 pounds of gear. Relying on nomads for food, water and shelter. On a mission to help stop deforestation.

To be held Aug. 9-19, the Mongol Derby is widely regarded as the toughest horse race in the world. Inspired by the Genghis Khan’s original “pony express,” there’s no trail or set route, just 25 GPS checkpoints/horse exchange stations to hit over the course of 7-10 days. Keep it here for weekly updates from Leslie as she prepares to embark upon the ride of a lifetime! Click here to read previous stories in the series.

Leslie getting some makeshift stirrups … but only after riding 24 miles without! Photo via Mongol Derby.

Did you miss past updates? Catch up on Day 1, Day 2 and Day 3.

Somewhere in the flurry of endless email chains between the EN team, Jenni said something along the lines of “Wylie was a Viking warrior princess in another life.” The moniker stuck, and while the good folks at Derby HQ might be shaking their heads every time one of us retweets with #VikingWarriorPrincess tagged on, you have to admit that it’s a pretty fitting title.

Because, after all, what else do you call a lady who can do this, while smiling?

Oh yes, that was filmed during the now infamous #StirrupGate incident on Day 3. There goes our Leslie, cantering along without her stirrups, grinning from ear to ear, one hand casually holding the reins of her semi-wild Mongolian pony, for 24 miles no less.

Day 4 was perhaps not quite this smooth.

Day 4 Recap

The sun set on Day 3 with riders spread across the map; many overnighted at Urtuus (the official checkpoints with shelter and food) while some camped with local herders or out on the open steppe. Impressively, most of the hobbled horses were still where they ought to have been when the sun came back up, and the majority of the field got off to a fresh, quick start despite working through some aches, pains and minor injuries.

Leslie spent the night in Urtuu 9, and the start of her Day 4 was delayed ever so slightly as the crew helped her work through some issues with her tack. Most notably, the infamous camel stirrups that were donated to her yesterday.

Unfortunately, the camel stirrups didn’t hold up to the rigors of the Derby trail, but the delivery of a spare set of horse stirrups looked like a game-changer for her. However, Leslie’s first horse of the day had other ideas.

Fortunately our tough cookie was soon back on the trail, though still without her kit, which is still being held hostage by a wayward pony.

At the front of the pack, Jakkie Mellet continues to lead thanks to a masterful bit of horsemanship to navigate his semi-feral mount beneath a railway bridge. Marie Palzer and Ed Fernon continue in hot pursuit, and all three are overnighting at Urtuu 16. Barry Armitage is not far behind, camped between Urtuus 15 and 16.

The rest of the field is scattered between Urtuus 11 and 15, with the biggest pack of 17 by far lodged in Urtuu 11. Many riders will be serving penalty time here, including Leslie, as she earned a one-hour penalty after she required assistance to catch her loose horse.

Unfortunately, Leslie also left her raincoat behind at Urtuu 10. Fingers crossed for good weather. So far the forecast looks promising: a high of 25C/77F, followed by a very chilly evening.

Current field with less than 200 km separating leaders from trailing pack at U11. Leslie highlighted in red.

Injury and Accident Assessment

The field grows smaller as more riders retire, and we send our best wishes for a speedy recovery to Clare Salmon, who is being treated for an ankle injury. She and her husband Neil Goldie-Scott retired at Urtuu 7 this morning.

Julia Fisher and Jane Boxhall, both of whom retired earlier in the week, are back on the Derby trail so to speak, riding with Hustler Erik in the bloodwagon.

We always say “it takes a village” in eventing. Behind every horse and rider combination, a slew of individuals come together to keep all the wheels turning in support, from coaches and grooms to family and friends.

And it truly takes a village in Mongolia as well. From our viewpoint here at home, safely ensconced on the couch or in the office watching our little red LW dot eke her way across the steppe, it’s impossible to know what’s truly happening on the ground.

But reports of fellow riders helping each other, waiting for each other at Urtuus so they can ride together as they agreed, and of course the generosity and ingenuity of the local herdsmen are warming our hearts and making us feel like perhaps the steppe isn’t such a lonely place after all.

A big shout-out to Rachel Land, who is looking after our Leslie tonight:

It’s definitely been a challenging day for the Mongol Derby contestants. Here’s to a good night’s rest and another cracking day on the steppe tomorrow.



We’ll continue to bring you daily updates from the Mongol trail. You can also follow along via Mongol Derby Twitter (Leslie’s call sign is LW) for live updates. Track the riders via GPS here. Go Wylie!

Best of HN: Horses in Sunday’s ‘Game of Thrones’ vs. My Horses


Sunday’s episode was full of highs and lows if you’re a horse person. As is fairly typical for Game of Thrones, a show notorious for refusing to sugar-coat most of its death scenes for human and animal alike, it was not a good night to be a horse.

Tragically a lot of horses ran into spears, got limbs chopped off by scimitars and were roasted alive by dragon breath. But prior to their mercifully CGI-designed demises, they did a lot of total badass things as well, because Game of Thrones. (What’s even cooler is that a lot of those horse stunts are in fact done with real horses and real riders — more on that later.)

Yes, I know it’s fictional TV. But that doesn’t stop me from being simultaneously impressed with these horses and totally exasperated by my own.

The Dothraki horde can unleash that raise-the-hair-on-the-back-of-your-neck war cry as they charge into battle.

Okay, obviously GIFs are silent but if you saw this episode you know 100% what I’m talking about.

My horse gets anxious if people raise their voices.

These baller horses are totally cool with a DRAGON flying overhead.

My horse shied at a turkey coming out of a treetop once.

The GoT horses literally run through fire.

My horse doesn’t like it when the ground changes color.


I call it a good day if I can canter across the field on the same lead I actually asked for.

Jamie Lannister’s ill-fated yet tragically beautiful suicide charge across this shallow lake on his trusty white steed who would do anything for him.

One of my draft horses leapt a stream once… taking the cart he was hitched to along for the flight.

Oh, look guys — they DID include my horses. It’s those three, running away with their lead ropes still attached.

“Yeah, we’re just gonna go… okay bye.”

In all seriousness though — I give major kudos to the horse wrangler team and stunt coordinators of Game of Thrones, who time and again raise the bar for what we can expect to see from equine stunts on the screen. Check out this behind the scenes video — fast forward to the 8:30 neighborhood for the horse segment. A lot of those stunts are in fact real, and I’m impressed with the equine actors, stunt riders and the whole production team for putting this many-layered epic scene together.

Go riding.

Wylie vs. Mongol Derby, Powered by SmartPak: No Stirrups on Day 3

In August 2017 writer/rider Leslie Wylie will be attempting her most fearsome feat of #YOLO yet: a 620-mile race across Mongolia. Riding 27 semi-wild native horses. Carrying only 11 pounds of gear. Relying on nomads for food, water and shelter. On a mission to help stop deforestation.

To be held Aug. 9-19, the Mongol Derby is widely regarded as the toughest horse race in the world. Inspired by the Genghis Khan’s original “pony express,” there’s no trail or set route, just 25 GPS checkpoints/horse exchange stations to hit over the course of 7-10 days. Keep it here for weekly updates from Leslie as she prepares to embark upon the ride of a lifetime! Click here to read previous stories in the series.

LW on Day 1. Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby

Did you miss past updates? Catch up on Day 1 and Day 2.

One of the running themes of the Mongol Derby is the unpredictable nature of the horses. As Leslie Wylie detailed earlier this spring, the semi-feral Mongolian horses can range from poky plodders to near-suicidal bolters and everything in between. Mounting and dismounting in particular can be dangerous, as the native horses are prone to taking advantage of that vulnerable moment and can thunder right off to parts unknown without their riders.

Leslie’s pony ditched her today when she dismounted to adjust her tack, galloping away with her kit and vanishing over the horizon, but her spirit remains resilient. She covered about 80 kilometers today, half of that without stirrups, as her original pair are still strapped to the wayward pony, who continues to play cat and mouse with the Mongolian herders.

Day 3 Recap

The day started with decent weather (in comparison to yesterday’s icy, hurricane-like rain) and a noted lack of drama. But just after 1 p.m. local time:

There’s no penalty assessed if a pony gets away from a rider, though obviously the rider loses time in attempting to locate the pony. As the local herders were dispatched to search for Leslie’s pony, she hiked back to Urtuu 8 on foot, and in true gritty Leslie Wylie form took right off on another horse.

Since the Mongol Derby is a BYOS (Bring Your Own Stirrups) event, and her stirrups were still careening around the steppe evading capture, LW rode the next 40 kilometer leg without stirrups. That’s about 24 miles. According to vet Cozy at Urtuu 9, Leslie came in “f—king beaming.” That’s our girl!

Unfortunately, Leslie’s horse has not yet been found. Until he’s located, her kit is gone. She’ll be riding without any of her additional protective layers, sleeping bag and other gear she had stored in her saddle bags. All she has with her is the gear in her backpack. We hope that includes her electrolytes!

Fortunately, Leslie’s tenacity, overall horsemanship and ridiculously good attitude did not go unrewarded.

Rebecca Pumphrey, another lauded horsewomen from Day 2 who traveled briefly with Leslie, also faced an escaped horse in a similar incident when she dismounted for a tack adjustment. In the ensuing chaos, Rebecca also lost her bridle. However, a local family managed to recapture her horse, and she purchased a bridle from them to carry on in the race. That’s some true derby ingenuity.

South African Jakkie Mellet, 41, has taken over the lead, aided in part by early leaders Ed Fernon and Marie Palzer serving penalty time at Urduu 11 for heart-rate violations. Organizers report that Jakkie displayed “cool as a cucumber” horsemanship at his Urtuu changeover and is clearly riding to win. All three are currently camped with herders in gers between Urtuus 11 and 12 with only five kilometers separating the top trio.

Jakkie Mellet. Julian Herbert/Mongol Derby 2017.

Three riders — Barry Armitage, Warren Sutton and Will Comiskey — are staying in Urtuu 11 tonight, though all three will serve time penalties before being allowed to leave in the morning. Another three riders — Ceri Putnam, Sally Toye and Roberta MacLeod — have opted to hobble their horses and camp on the open steppe between Urtuus 9 and 10. Stay tuned to see if the hobbled horses are in fact still in anywhere in sight when the sun rises.

Injury and Accident Assessment

Unfortunately, Day 3 saw two riders retire from the Derby. American Rick Helson, 58, retired at Urtuu 3 and was treated for dehydration and hypothermia; he is now back in Ulaanbaatar after being discharged and is reportedly feeling well. Jane Boxhall, 51 and originally from the UK, retired at Urtuu 4 after a hard fall; fortunately, she too has been discharged and is doing fine. We send these riders our best wishes!

At the moment, the weather forecast for tomorrow looks relatively warm — around 70 degrees Fahrenheit — but also wet. (Naturally, this is all subject to change according to the whims of Mother Mongolia.) Keep your fingers crossed that Leslie’s missing kit turns up so she can enjoy the luxuries of additional layers, sleeping bag and other essentials she’ll need in the coming days.

Keep watching those dots and sending your good thoughts for a safe trip for all, including race crew and organizers, who have done a masterful job so far.

We’ll continue to bring you daily updates from the Mongol trail. You can also follow along via Mongol Derby Twitter (Leslie’s call sign is LW) for live updates. Track the riders via GPS here. Go Wylie!

Jenni Autry contributed to this report.

Best of HN: THIS Is How to Unload Hay

Bucking hay on the hottest day of the summer is a time-honored equestrian tradition… but that doesn’t mean we can’t sneak a peek at this ultimate work saver.

Believe you me — I believe firmly that every horse person should have to put up hay at least once in their lifetime, just to appreciate the struggle. It’s always the same story: somehow, it’s the hottest, most humid day of the summer and you’ve got four or five fully-loaded hay wagons to be packed into the loft. You know you’ll end the day sweaty, stinky, sore and covered in a myriad of tiny little hay cuts with chaff stuff to places you didn’t even know existed… but you’ll be satisfied.

OR. You could be like these folks. We’re not sure if we’re impressed or a little mad… maybe both, in equal parts. THIS, my friends, is how to unload hay.

It’s… it’s just so beautiful. We don’t even care that no one is sweaty or swearing, layered in a fine patina of hay chaff and weariness. This magical delivery is a true thing of beauty.

Go throw hay. And go riding!

Best of HN: The Fastest Wheels In the West – The Incredible Story of Sara Millard

2013: First SASS shoot. Photo by Ozana Photography.

Sara Millard, or as she’s known in certain shooting circles, Colorado Cupcake, and her horse Tazz are certainly not something you’d see every day at a cowboy mounted shooting.

The fast-paced and growing western sport involves a rider on horseback performing a set pattern while also firing a revolver loaded with blanks at balloons (rifles and shotguns are also approved in certain competitions). Competitors typically dress in 19th-century western costume and take aliases to lend a certain old-time Wild West feel to the sport. The best mounted shooters are wickedly fast and deadly accurate.

But Sara doesn’t ride Tazz — he’s a 30-inch tall registered miniature horse. Instead, Colorado Cupcake and Tazz are blazing a wild trail through the west, leading the way in miniature cart shooting. With three World Championship buckles earned so far in Single Action Shooting Society (SASS) competition, it’s pretty clear that Sara and Tazz are a force to be reckoned with.

Colorado Cupcake and Tazz 2017. Photo by SASS Mounted Shooters.

Pioneer Cart driven shooting

“I got started in mounted shooting when my mom and dad started,” Sara confided to Horse Nation. “I started out riding at a young age, but I’ve really only worked with the miniature horses and driving. I’ve always done the shooting from a cart, and that’s only been with Tazz.”

Tazz is a 2006 American Miniature Horse — and has been blind from birth. Sara acquired Tazz when he was ten months old and did most of his training herself, first showing him at miniature horse shows but then moving towards getting involved in the mounted shooting as a driver. “I started using vocal commands to get him to turn right and left, to stand still and to turn the barrel and run for home. I use one hand to drive since I have the pistol in my other hand, and I cross the reins like you would in a training hold on a riding horse.” Tazz has been extensively desensitized to the sound of shooting.

World Championship 2016. Photo by John Millard, aka “Pueblo Pinkerton.”

The Single Action Shooting Society graciously added Pioneer Cart as a class, as no association exists specifically for driven shooters. Anticipating that more miniature horse drivers might want to get involved, however, Sara has started her own club called Wild West Minis, welcoming everyone including riders as well as drivers. “There are stagecoach drivers who have commended me for trying something so unique and so different,” Sara adds.

Some individuals in the mounted shooting world see the miniature and cart as a distraction, but Sara is grateful that by and large most mounted shooters are supportive and want to see Pioneer Cart really take off as a division.

2016. Photo by Dana Scott, aka “Stone Cone Killer.”

“Me and mystery kidney!”

Sara’s a notably upbeat individual with a great sense of humor. A lot of her photos and videos on social media in recent weeks include captions about her “mystery kidney”: first drive with Tazz and mystery kidney, first driven shooting run with mystery kidney, and so on.

Sara’s mystery kidney is the result of her second lifetime kidney transplant: diagnosed with a chronic kidney disorder just one week after she was born, Sara underwent her first surgery at the age of six weeks. This would be followed by 151 more. Sara started dialysis at 14 and received her first donated kidney at 16 from her father. Unfortunately, this kidney had to be removed shortly after.

Years of dialysis combined with various setbacks and complications including a tracheostomy, seizures, the removal of her native kidney, strokes and heart attacks made the chances of a second kidney donation slim. But on Sara’s 31st birthday in December of 2016, Sara was moved to the active kidney transplant waiting list, and in March of this year, Sara got the call she had been waiting for — “mystery kidney” would be possible after all.

Since 2007, Tazz has been by her side — even displaying some remarkable awareness for Sara’s health, despite his own limitations as a blind horse. He’s stayed with her during seizures, even during a particularly scary moment in the competition arena; having Tazz to care for has helped Sara recover faster after setbacks and procedures. The World Championship buckles are really just window dressing for the relationship between this horse and driver.

Lil Bit of Tazz and Colorado Cupcake. Photo by Vicky Millard.

What’s next?

Despite a temporary setback with “mystery kidney,” Sara is looking forward to getting back in the cart with Tazz and developing her Wild West Minis club further. The club has hosted some fun shows in Sara’s native Southern Colorado, so she’s hoping to expand to other states soon to get more mini drivers involved. Most of the SASS events she attends are in New Mexico.

In the meantime, Colorado Cupcake and her miniature horse will continue to remind us every day that anything is possible.

Selfie by Sara Millard

Go Sara, and go driving!

U.S. House Appropriations Committee Lifts Ban on Horse Slaughter

Photo: Flickr/Office of Public Affairs/CC.

The U.S. House Appropriations Committee met today to mark up and vote on the Fiscal Year 2018 Agriculture Appropriations Bill. The passage of this bill for the past decade has included language that effectively outlaws horse slaughter in the United States by blocking funding for the USDA to pay inspectors for horse slaughter facilities, but today’s passage will go without that amendment.

Lucille Roybal-Allard, a Democrat from California, pushed for the inclusion of the renewed ban, but the move was defeated in a 27-25 vote.

Horse slaughter plant inspectors will continue to be unfunded through September 30 of this year; it remains to be seen whether US slaughter facilities will move to reopen after that date.

While slaughter is currently outlawed by default in the US through the lack of inspector funding, horses still fall into the so-called “slaughter pipeline” and are shipped to Mexico or Canada (as well as shipped overseas less commonly) with meat typically sold to European markets. Many supporters of U.S. horse slaughter argue that re-legalizing slaughter in this country would reduce the suffering of animals being shipped over the border; opponents to slaughter argue that there is no such things as “humane horse slaughter” regardless of where the animal is taken.

Horse slaughter has been a contentious issue in the horse world and the political world for years, with strong arguments to be made on both sides for the health of the industry. Regardless of whether you are for or against horse slaughter, this development will certainly have far-reaching effects in the horse industry in the coming year.

[House panel lifts ban on slaughtering horses for meat]

Best of HN: The Idea of Order – Sensible Cars

Presented by:

Medium duty trucks: because who wants to drive one of those littler roller-skate cars anyhow? I would also argue that having a truck that could likely pull your entire house off its foundation is hugely sensible since you never know what sort of trailer you may want to haul (The Husband loves this sort of logic). Wouldn’t want to be caught under powered.

Go Riding!

Morgane Schmidt Gabriel is a 33-year-old teacher/artist/dressage trainer/show announcer/ who still hasn’t quite decided what she wants to be when she grows up. A native Floridian, she now lives in Reno, NV, where she’s been able to confirm her suspicion that snow is utterly worthless. Though she has run the gamut of equestrian disciplines, her favorite is dressage. She was recently able to complete her USDF bronze and silver medals and is currently working on her gold. Generally speaking her life is largely ruled by Woody, a 14.2 hand beastly quarter horse, Willie, a now beastly 7-year-old Dutch gelding, and Stormy, her friend’s nearly all white paint gelding with a penchant for finding every mud hole and pee spot in existence. Visit her website at

SmartPak: Ask a Non-Rider, Dressage Part 2

After watching a few weeks’ worth of the latest interpretation of SmartPak‘s Ask a Non-Rider series, I think I can safely say that this is one of my favorites. Yes, I laugh at “If Horses Were People” and the early version of “Ask a Non-Rider,” but listening to the non-horsey SmartPakers get free rein (pun intended) to narrate a riding video is just golden.

The dream team of Ty, Brandan and Tony are back to take on the dressage video — we first saw them narrate a comical “oh crap” jumping moment a few weeks back, but their take on dressage might just take the cake.

As riders, we may forget sometimes how much our lives are enriched by our relationships with non-riders, even if they’re based entirely on comedy. SmartPak, thank you for reminding us how much fun it is to foster these relationships.

Also, we’d definitely like to hire all three of these guys as announcers for our next show. That would definitely add a whole new element to the day.

Go SmartPak! Don’t forget to check out their Fourth of July Sale, taking place as we speak! 15% off plus free shipping on all orders over $75 with promo code July17. Shop now!

Wednesday Video from Kentucky Performance Products: Ultimate Drill Team

The Household Cavalry Mounted Regiment is perhaps one of the most high-profile mounted units in the world, primarily used now for ceremonial purposes. The famous twice-daily ceremony of the Horse Guard is perhaps the best-known example, but the traveling musical ride is also a banner event wherever it’s performed.

When viewed from above via time lapse, it really sinks in just how masterful the Mounted Regiment is for this ultimate drill team performance:

The musical ride is typically performed as a special event at horse shows, agricultural fairs and major British events (such as this display at Olympia in 2015). This particular performance shown above was held during an Open Day, in which the public is welcomed to Combermere Barracks to watch the regiment’s equestrian skills on display.

The Household Cavalry also has front-line combat duties in an unmounted capacity, and most members of the Mounted Regiment will serve on both units. Very cool!

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Friday Video from World Equestrian Brands: Check Your Saddle Tree

How much do you think about your saddle when you tack up for a ride? Perhaps you get it professionally reflocked and fitted to your horse’s changing shape every few months, or perhaps it’s been much longer since another set of trained eyes and hands took a look and feel at that critical piece of tack you use every day.

This video shows how important it is to not only maintain your tack’s condition but to examine its overall structure, which should be a part of every saddle fitting. Luke McConnell, a UK Society of Master Saddlers qualified saddle fitter, shows us a saddle with an attempt at repairing a broken tree.

Yikes! We can only imagine how that would feel to the horse. Keep a close eye on your tack, and don’t forget to have a professional look over your saddles.

Best of HN: The One-Eyed $500 TB Carries Rider to USDF Gold Medal

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In September of 2014, we first introduced Horse Nation readers to Bugsy, a one-eyed Thoroughbred that set adult amateur Elizabeth O’Connor back all of $500. At the time of purchase, he was just two years old, underweight, gangly, awkward and unbroke — and of course, only had one eye. The pair accomplished what many would have thought impossible, with O’Connor achieving her USDF Bronze and Silver Rider Medals, all with Bugsy. We were thrilled to learn of the partnership’s latest accomplishment after a roller coaster year. Elizabeth O’Connor tells the story in her own words.

I have discovered that we often limit both ourselves and our horses. When you believe in your horse, your horse will believe in you. In September of 2014, my one-eyed Thoroughbred that I paid $500 for as a two year old went down the centerline at I-1. Besides his first thirty days under saddle, where they did walk trot only, I had done all of his training all the way through the I-1 .

We had already earned our USDF Bronze medal in 2011 and our Silver in 2014. No one thought that he would ever make it that far. I had decided that he didn’t owe me anything but that we would keep going until he said he wasn’t in the game anymore. By October we had earned our first score toward our Gold medal. By May of 2015 we were halfway to our Gold!! Let me tell you, horses will keep you humble, Grand Prix will have you questioning if you need to take up golf. I decided we didn’t have anything to lose and there was no point in showing at I-1 or I-2 since we had our two scores that are required for the Gold medal. So we jumped in, feet first. Our scores were beyond humbling, but my trainer, Marija Trieschman reminded me that it was an accomplishment simply to be at Grand Prix.

Life is unpredictable: we lost a beloved dog to osteosarcoma in less than four months; we trained and regrouped, gave Grand Prix another go and received some respectable scores for a one-eyed $500 Thoroughbred. I rode and trained despite injuring my knee, which would require surgery; in September we rode a 61+ test! But our last show before my surgery in November, Bugsy was was horrible: everyone told me he had heard that I was going to retire him from showing after this show, whether or not we had gotten our last score and he wasn’t ready to retire. It was a horrible way to end the show season. Then I realized that I had been chasing a score, that it wasn’t fun anymore, that all I could see was that last score. It would’ve almost been better if I hadn’t gotten a score at Grand Prix, because it was so close, but so far away.

Life threw another curve ball — but a good one. Right before Christmas, my husband and I discovered that we finally had a little one on the way. Now what?! Bugsy was 18 and would be 19 in March. How many more seasons would we have at the top of the sport? How fair would it be to expect him to go much longer at this level? We had been trying to have a baby for several years.

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I decided I would play it by ear. I continued riding through morning sickness and a rapidly changing body. I had told my husband that for Christmas I wanted horse show expenses (one away show and two one day shows). We went to Williamston, NC for a two day away show. I went left instead of right, and there went 2% off the score (FEI First Error: 2% off the total score, Second Error: Elimination). Bugsy was tense and behind my leg. Oh well — I was riding 19 weeks pregnant at Grand Prix. We went back out the next day and still not a 60. That was a LONG ride home to Maryland.

We gave it another go the second weekend in April. I realized that at this point that two days of showing back to back (I drive back and forth to save on stabling, hotel and food cost) was too much. I scratched one of the rides. I decide to have the ride videotaped. It was a good test for Bugsy; he tried. However, we fell short of the 60% — way short — so short that we hadn’t been that short since we had first tried Grand Prix in 2015.

Almost panicked, I decided to enter several more shows. I scratched one after feeling unwell (the little one was more important); the next, Bugsy felt like he had no energy at all and our score fell short. We had just two more shows left.

The morning of the next show, I had the whole “why do I do this again?” thought, but got up and drove the hour up to the barn, hooked up and drove the other hour and a half to the showgrounds. (My trainer, as well as my friend and her husband were already up there, so I wasn’t going alone per se.) Bugs was a bit full of himself when I had gotten to the barn, and when I gave him a bath, and when I loaded him up on the trailer, so I didn’t know what my 19 year old Grand Prix horse was going to do when I tacked him up.

I got on and he was jigging and tossing his head nervously. I had him passage the entire lap around the arena. After that I walked him on a loose rein, but I could tell he was amped. I decided to drop the curb chain to two and decided that he was either going to bulldoze through my pregnant butt or it would work to calm him down (like a typical Thoroughbred, sometimes less is more). My trainer went right in front of me with her I-2 horse and she went early, so I decided it’s now or never: we can’t fix this in the warm up.

We went early. Halfway through the test I thought to myself: “Man, you’re owning this test and you’re in your third trimester tomorrow and not even out of breath!” I looked to my trainer, standing on the rail and she smiled and gave me a thumbs up as I came around the corner. I smiled back: this is still my best memory from the test. I KNEW this was our best Grand Prix test EVER! I walked out of the ring patting my dance partner of 17 years with a big smile on my face.

Fifteen minutes later, my head was buried on my trainer’s shoulder and we were both crying: 61.3%! The fairytale was complete! From gangly underweight unbroken one eyed $500.00 two-year-old to every single score earned for USDF Bronze, Silver and Gold.

So for all of you out there who don’t have a lot of money, or a fancy dressage horse: hard work means more than talent. Aim for the moon, for if you miss, you will still be among the stars.

Go riding.

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Waltzing Matilda Breathes New Life Into Leather

An old saddle finds a second life. Photo courtesy of Waltzing Matilda.

And that’s exactly the way it should be. Waltzing Matilda is the dream brought to life of artisan, designer and craftsman Mike Balitsaris, celebrating the beauty and process of truly handmade pieces that tell a story. That’s not just fancy wording for marketing — Balitsaris showed me individual pieces, letting me feel each one. After all, leather is a tactile experience: for those of us used to holding reins, pulling on boots or running our hands over a saddle, leather is very much about feel.

Balitsaris traces his love for hand crafting leather goods to a experience while he was in college. “I went to Greece and I bought a pair of leather sandals, and I wore them all through Europe that summer. When I got back to school, some friends of mine wanted me to make them a pair, so I made two or three. I went back to Greece twenty years later and no one is making those sandals like they used to. It breaks your heart to see the ‘dumbing down’ of arts and crafts.”

Repurposed Navajo-pattern blanket. Photo courtesy of Waltzing Matilda.

Not only is Balitsaris still making things the old-fashioned way — that is, by hand, with attention to detail and the individual look of a particular piece of leather — his original pieces repurpose old leather goods, telling their story in a new way. He pointed out a bag that was part of an old Navajo-pattern saddle blanket and an old pair of chaps, and one of his most unique showcase originals was a bag made from ammunition cans from World War II.

“The only new commercial thing I use is a Riri zipper — it’s the best zipper in the world. I know how annoying it is to have something nice and the zipper doesn’t work!”

Waltzing Matilda’s line is twofold: original pieces of repurposed leather and fixed products of Balitsaris’ design. All products are hand cut and hand stitched, such as the Aspen tote: “These totes are all the same pattern with the same dimensions, but we still hand cut the leather. The rings for the handles are all forged by hand in bronze — I couldn’t find anything with the vintage look and the weight that I liked, so even though these cost a bit to make, they really make a difference.”

Waltzing Matilda produces out of three microfactories in Wayne, Pennsylvania, Brewer, Maine or Geneva, New York. “We can keep people in work in these towns that would otherwise have to go do something not quite as artistic.”

Waltzing Matilda’s logo and slogan. Photo courtesy of Waltzing Matilda.

Balitsaris’ favorite aspect of his work remains the original pieces made from repurposed leather: “I love the patina of old chaps. A lot of these pieces are different scraps of different things, whether they were saddles or chaps or just scrap leather from a shoe factory.

“I had someone come in with a saddle that had belonged to the grandfather — we ended up talking about what it meant to the grandfather, and how everyone in the family was fighting over it, and we talked into cutting up the saddle and making something out of it for every person in the family to have their own keepsake. I love commission work, when people give me the rein to just create.”

Photo courtesy of Waltzing Matilda

Whether Waltzing Matilda designs an original piece or produces a fixed product, consumers can know that their bag, wallet, sandals or tote represents hours of skilled craftsmanship and handiwork. In a world where almost everything is increasingly machine- and mass-produced, it’s comforting to find a corner of the market that can truly breathe life back into old leather, letting your favorite piece of tack or a beloved but worn-out pair of boots tell their story all over again.

“If I had to characterize this as a brand,” Balitsaris described, “it’s stories.”

Check out the full Waltzing Matilda line of fixed products and get more information about how to commission your own work by visiting the website.

Best of HN: The Idea of Order: ‘I Love You!’

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ideaoforderHN graphic NEW2016

I’m fairly certain my horses know they own me (The Husband certainly does). What I’m unsure of is just how totally insane this makes me. At least I can take solace in the fact that I’m not alone in Crazy Town.

Go Riding!

Morgane Schmidt Gabriel is a 33-year-old teacher/artist/dressage trainer/show announcer/ who still hasn’t quite decided what she wants to be when she grows up. A native Floridian, she now lives in Reno, NV, where she’s been able to confirm her suspicion that snow is utterly worthless. Though she has run the gamut of equestrian disciplines, her favorite is dressage. She was recently able to complete her USDF bronze and silver medals and is currently working on her gold. Generally speaking her life is largely ruled by Woody, a 14.2 hand beastly quarter horse, Willie, a now beastly 7-year-old Dutch gelding, and Stormy, her friend’s nearly all white paint gelding with a penchant for finding every mud hole and pee spot in existence. Visit her website at