A sector of the Equestrian world, and many members of our Arabian community, have been recently engrossed with the progress of the annual Mongol Derby. More exciting still has been the participation of one of our own, Heather “Flash” Accardo, an avid Arabian horse lover and Endurance rider. The Derby covers 1000km through the wilds of the Mongolian Steppe. Raced on semi-feral Mongolian horses, it is hailed as the World’s longest horse race. The terrain is varied from mountain ranges to plains, and includes river crossings and a variety of challenges.
Flash shares, “The Mongol Derby was exactly as I had envisioned it. Tough as hell, but an epic adventure that is almost impossible to accurately describe unless you’ve been to this vast and majestic land. Following the route of Genghis Khan, riding semi-feral Mongolian horses, experiencing the hospitality of nomadic herders and making friendships with the crew and riders from all over the world, has given me memories that will last a lifetime.”
The Mongol Derby emulates the route taken by Genghis Khan’s horse messenger system, created in 1224. The distance is broken down into phases, or legs, with checkpoints and vet points throughout.
“For the 2018 Derby, 29 legs made up 1000 km race. A new horse is chosen at each urtuu, or station, which is supplied by the local herders. All horses have been extensively vet checked prior to the race,” Flash explains. “I was able to ride nine very different Mongolian horses until I was forced to retire with a fractured clavicle on day three. Start day of the race was actually delayed due to a tracking satellite malfunction. This gave us four days at the starting line where we lived in gers (nomadic housing), learned how to ride the Mongolian horses the Mongolian way, and quickly figured out how to navigate by GPS. Each day of this journey brought experiences one questions actually happened when looking back, from riding a bolting horse down a mountain, chasing down a runaway horse across the steppe by motorcycle, and riding out a fierce hailstorm.”
A keen Endurance rider from Louisiana, Flash compares the Mongolian horses to her vast experience with the Arabian horse. “These Mongolian horses are tough as nails and remind me of Arabians horses with their no quit attitude and grit for days. They are considered a national treasure just as we treasure our Arabians. I really don’t know of any other horse that could compare. I compete in Endurance, and the Mongolian horses can stand up to my Arabians any day. At 35 to 40 km for each leg, they trot, canter and sometimes bolt the entire way and then pulse down to 54 bpm in record time. It’s important to remember that for many months of the year they run wild across the Steppe. They are only caught and ridden when needed. It is the Mongolian way to keep them semi-feral.”
A grueling distance over challenging terrain, in an unfamiliar climate, on semi-wild horses - the race is certainly not for everyone, and not even for many. Rigorous preparation is paramount, most of which Flash completed using Arabian horses.
“I spent an entire year leading up to the Derby preparing by riding not only my own Arabians, but catch riding for friends in local Endurance rides.” She recounts. “My own horses include my eight-year-old Egyptian Arabian gelding out of Thee Desperado, my six-year-old Polish Arabian gelding from Boisvert Farms, my four-year-old Polish Arabian mare recently acquired from Wendye Gardiner (a well-respected Arabian trainer from Texas) and a two-year-old National Show Horse.”
“One highlight of my preparation was competing on AO Breeze+++//, who is a Multi-National Champion Arabian stallion (owned by Ryan and Morgan Moore) and successfully completing his first 50 mile Endurance ride. A very cold wet 50 mile ride on Jody Buttram’s Arabian and a fun HOT 25 mile ride on Amy Middleton’s Half-Arabian are a couple more experiences that gave me different personalities to work with.”
“Training on Arabian horses was instrumental in helping me prepare for this race. Riding a very fit Arabian is comparable to a Mongolian horse. There are some very intense situations out on the Steppe. Much like Arabians, the Mongolian horses are super smart, always thinking and very, very athletic.”
Having tackled this daunting Derby, it is hard to imagine what could top this for Flash. She shares her aims going forward. “I have quite a few goals coming up in the next couple of years. First and foremost on my mind right now is heading back to Mongolia to finish the race. It is quite expensive, but I have had a couple of possible offers for sponsorship for next time. One of the things that I love is that we raise money for charity. My charity this year was Heroes and Horses,which is based out of Montana. They work with veterans returning from war who have either PTSD or some type of physical injury and help integrate them back in society.
“I’m also signed up for a Mounted Archery clinic in September. Not sure how much archery I’ll be able to do with a broken clavicle, but I plan to go and learn and have a blast with my Arabian even if I just ride around watching everyone else. Next up is an ultra=marathon in February, 2019. I try to do at least one ultra a year and have a tentative hundred miler planned then. Another goal is one I am very, very excited about. I have a clinic with Heather Reynolds in March. She is a very experienced and talented Endurance rider and actually won Tevis this year. And my final near future goal is riding Tevis myself with one of my own Arabians. Tevis is a 100-mile endurance ride in the Sierra Mountains in California. It is considered the oldest and toughest 100-mile endurance ride of all. With an Arabian horse, anything is possible!”
Flash is undoubtedly a brave and a gifted horsewoman. Her love of Arabian horses and the sport she has chosen to pursue alongside them has taken her across the globe and provided her with experiences of which many can only dream. We are sure there will be much more excitement to come as she continues her adventures with Arabian horses, and beyond. Good luck and speedy recovery, Flash!