A young Englishwoman takes on the world’s longest and most difficult horse race.
In 2013, Prior-Palmer came across a photograph of the Mongol Derby: “long-maned ponies streaming over green steppes, space poured wild and free—in Mongolia.” The deadline was fast approaching, and the race’s organizer gave her a discount to help defray the costly entry fee. The Derby, a “truly peculiar invention,” is a seven-day, 1,000-kilometer race on 25 wild Mongolian ponies, descendants, writes the author, of “Genghis Khan’s famed Takhi horses, the ones that shouldered his empire’s postal system from the thirteenth century onwards.” Every 40 kilometers, at stations called urtuus, tired horses are replaced with new ones; riders rest, eat, and use the toilets (holes in the ground). Each of the competitors has a rough map of the course, a not-always-reliable GPS device, and “nylon endurance saddles.” In this feisty and exhilarating debut memoir, Prior-Palmer smoothly recounts what happened over her momentous week in August. Right at the start, she fell behind: “Where to go? I was hoping to follow someone….I can see only sun.” Over the next seven days, she fought aching bruises, torrential rain, brutal heat, and a rough fall. She continuously scoured the vast horizon for “hamster cities,” the holes of which could seriously injure a horse, and she dodged herds of nibbling goats while the horses dealt with Mongolian families’ nipping dogs. The author personalizes the horses with names: Brolly, Dunwoody and “7.” As she raced, carrying a copy of Shakespeare’s The Tempest, she channeled her Aunt Lucinda, “my go-to ahead of any equestrian event,” to help her get through each arduous day. After the apparent winner was penalized for overheating her horse, the author, who was second, was declared the winner—the youngest ever and the first woman.
Although the narrative occasionally veers off course, horse lovers will adore this inspiring and spirited memoir.