Journey to the Mongol Derby: Mental Preparation & Growth throughout COVID

Photo © The Adventurists via flickr


Although this journey has been tailored to prepare me specifically for the Mongol Derby, it has inadvertently prepared me to become a more well-rounded equestrian and woman. 

Growing up in the Hunter/Jumpers, I spent years competing against riders more fortunate than me. It was easy to get wrapped up in the A-circuit pretentiousness and lose track of what attracted me to the sport. Although I now only compete minimally (mainly due to financial constraints), taking a step back from the show ring has allowed me to rediscover my passion for all things horse, appreciating the process from hoof to jump, all the while enjoying each ride and acknowledging each little “win.”

Photo © ESI

I ride horses because I love the feeling of strength and power underneath me, and the reward of creating a special bond by learning each quirk and strength. Riding for miles-on-end during my travels and endurance rides has only invigorated this passion. With the wind whipping through my helmet, and the cadence of each horse’s breath, I am not only blown away by these animals and what they are capable of but also surprised by my own strength and capability. 

In April 2020, COVID-19 became a global pandemic and a serious threat to the Derby. The Equestrianists called each participant one by one to give us the expected news: the 2020 Mongol Derby was being postponed to Summer 2021. My heart sank. Since 2018 my almost every thought, dream, discussion, and nightmare revolved around this race. Every cell and breath had been dedicated to my physical and mental preparation. Flash forward to June 2021, Derby participants yet again received disappointing, albeit expected news; the 2021 Derby was being postponed another year.

Photo © The Adventurists via flickr

Although COVID-19 and the Derby postponements weren’t in my preparation plans, I never thought an additional two years would allow me to build so much more physical (and mental) stamina. Whether it was my endurance experiences, stress from COVID cancellations, maturity and wisdom gained from age, or a combination of all, I have become a more resilient person and equestrian. There’s not much I can do to mentally prepare for the uncertainty of the Derby other than accept the fact that I will at some point get to Mongolia, be scared and in pain, wet and miserable, and hot and thirsty. There is no luxury included in this trip, just me and my horses bolting off into the unknown. The most competitive riders tend to be their own worst critics; perfectionists always strive for success. I’m no different. I now actively remind myself that each ride is a blessing and learning experience; all that matters is that we grow from our mistakes, move on, and enjoy the ride. How lucky are we to have a bond with these magnificent animals?

As the average type-A competitive equestrian, I can easily get swept away by perceived failures, whether training at home or competing at a show. After traveling on horseback and completing these endurance races, I have gained respect and belief in myself. If I am physically able to gallop across the desert for a week straight or post the extended trot in a 75-mile race for 14-hours, I can fight off the negative feelings of inadequacy in the show ring. Being a competitive “ring rider” does not make someone a good equestrian. Commitment to preparation, eagerness to learn, diversity in experiences, and the sincere appreciation and enjoyment of the animal and sport are qualities that make you a good, well-rounded equestrian. After the past few years of my journey to the Derby, including some very tough/painful races and my fair share of bad rounds in the show ring, I am growing to accept the fact that everyone is allowed to have a bad day (or ride) – one bad experience does not dictate all those to come.

Photo © The Adventurists via flickr

Even after all that I have learned and how much I have grown throughout this journey, my biggest challenge will be accepting that I may not complete the Derby. Out of 200+ applicants, only ~40 are accepted. Less than half of the competitors even cross the finish line. Injuries, sickness, and exhaustion all contribute to the completion statistics. Some of this is out of our hands, but even so, accepting a stroke of bad luck after years of preparation and thousands of dollars spent will be a hard pill to swallow. I am honored to have been accepted and will be grateful for any experience I have in the Derby. I did sign-up for this after all…

I’m eternally grateful for all the adventurous, supportive, and generous people I have met along this journey. Endurance riding, or endurance sports in general, attracts a special breed of people. They have opened my eyes to new horizons and have forever made their mark on my life. 

Hopefully this July, and for the following 10 days, it’ll be my horses and me welcoming the wild, and never looking back.

Bianca is a Hunter/Jumper rider with Mike Edrick Stables in Agoura Hills, CA. At 32 years old, she has spent her life combining her passion for travel and horses and is currently navigating the trials and tribulations of the Amateur Equestrian. To follow her journey to and in the Mongol Derby, check out her Instagram page listed below. You can also live-track her progress through the Derby via her satellite tracker by navigating to the Derby website (beginning July 23, 2022). Follow her on Instagram @BFG_MongolDerby2020

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