The first Gaucho Derby began with a fast valley ride for some. Other riders took what they believed was a short cut through the mountains, only to have to turn back and lose any hopes of an early lead when they met unpassable terrain. Temperatures were hot, with riders wondering why they’d bothered packing so many cold weather clothes, luring many into a false sense of security as to what was to come.
Over the next few days, navigation remained a key part of the race. Riders traversed some breathtaking, but “pretty gnarly” countryside, with trails through passes, river valleys, dense forests, and bogs presenting challenges – all whilst individual riders tried to chivvy along a packhorse and keep their own horse on an even keel.
Then came the storm! Drama unveiled as the race headed through the mountains and a ferocious snow storm swept in. Local Gauchos helped guide riders to safe passage and an emergency shelter was created in a forest, with some riders (most to re-join the race later) air lifted out as a precaution.
With further bad weather forecast, the race was reset on day six, with riders carrying forward their accumulated times from the previous stages, before the storm hit. Some faster riding, without pack horses, ensued and in the end, it was Marie Griffis (a 2016 Mongol Derby veteran who runs an annual equestrian trip into the US mountains back home in Montana) who crossed the line first, having “weathered the storm well” and ridden confidently ever since.
“It was like a dream, as we crossed the river to the final vet check and finish line all I could think of was there’s no way I’m getting my feet wet again!”
Marie was full of praise for the horses, and the cooks: “The horses were the best bit! They were such athletes, ripping through the countryside on them was thrilling. They were really well cared for and highly trained. Plus Andy and Luly, who own them, were the best! The cooks we had, I have great respect for them.”
And it seemed, for her at least, the snowstorm wasn’t the hardest part of the race. “The forest (was the toughest part), bashing through it… as it was on an incline, with bogs literally everywhere. I had a dead tree fall on me en route to (checkpoint) three!”
An amazing effort to triumph in such a challenging race! Despite some adverse weather, the inaugural Gaucho Derby was a resounding success and will be back next year for equestrian thrill-seekers.
If you believe you have what it takes to ride in next year’s Gaucho Derby, visit www.theadventurists.com/adventures/gaucho-derby for more details.