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Friday Odd-Spot: Genghis Khan Route Retraced
On Wednesday morning, 47 riders from around the world saddled up half-wild horses and set out on what the Guinness Book of World Records has described as the longest equestrian race on Earth, reports news.nationalgeographic.com. The race is the Mongol Derby, run over a 621-mile circuit (1,000 km) of Mongolian steppe in less than ten days. Fewer than half of the riders are expected to make it across the finish line, and every rider will fall off multiple times during the course of the race, says Katy Willings, the race chief and a former Mongol Derby competitor. The race route is modelled on the horse relay postal system created under Genghis Khan in 1224, which was instrumental in the expansion of the Mongolian Empire. Guided by a local escort, specially appointed postal riders would gallop more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) to a morin urtuu, or horse relay station, where another escort would be waiting with a fresh horse. The course is reported to change about 25 percent from year to year, with one of the main challenges ensuring there are enough reliable water sources along the route. Prospective competitors must submit a written application and are interviewed by phone. There is also a US$13,000 entry fee, which covers the cost of the horses, medical and veterinary support, GPS and tracking devices for each rider, interpreters, vehicles, and pre-race training. "It is much more a mental challenge than it is a physical one," says Willings. "I think anyone can cope with anything for a weekend, but over ten days, you get buffeted by good and bad fortune a lot." Despite their diminutive size, today's Mongol horses are the same breed ridden by Genghis Khan's conquering warriors – able to run long distances and withstand a wide range of temperatures, from -40 to 90 degrees Fahrenheit (-40 to 30 degrees Celsius).