Genghis Khan rides again!

04 September 2011 - 03:14
By SUTHENTIRA GOVENDER
Craig Egberink riding Annabella, one of his endurance horses, on his farm. Egberink has won the world's longest endurance horse race, in Mongolia Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN
Craig Egberink riding Annabella, one of his endurance horses, on his farm. Egberink has won the world's longest endurance horse race, in Mongolia Picture: JACKIE CLAUSEN

Craig Egberink spent $10 000 to enter the " baddest horse-race on the planet", the Mongol Derby in Mongolia.

And his prize for winning the gruelling 1000km race - beating 22 other riders in the process? A Mongolian horse bridle and a jacket.

"I t was never about the prizes. I did it for the challenge . .. and surviving it," the tough Kwa-Zulu-Natal dairy farmer said this week.

The 10-day annual race through Mongolia's wilderness, held between August 6 and 16, is billed as the "longest, toughest, baddest equine affair on the planet".

According to the race's UK-based organisers, The Adventurists: "The race is dangerous, it's unsupported, and you could die."

At least five of the riders withdrew this year after sustaining injuries, some of which required surgery.

Another South African, Barry Armitage, damaged his right arm and ribs when he fell from his horse.

The riders - who included farmers, polo players and endurance riders - came from the US, Australia, the UK, Canada, Denmark, New Zealand, South Africa and Spain.

"It was pretty hectic ... it was no picnic," said Egberink, who returned to his dairy farm in Underberg in KwaZulu-Natal's Midlands two weeks ago.

The 44-year-old father of three put himself through nine months of training and shed 10kg for the race.

He described the training as a challenge on its own but, he said, not even this had prepared him for what organisers warned would be "no guided tour, or pony club trek".

"There is no marked course, no packed lunches, no shower block. It's just you, your team of horses and 1000km of Mongolian wilderness," The Adventurists website says.

Egberink said he was initially "overwhelmed" at the thought of the extreme adventure, which started near the capital, Ulan Bator.

With only a GPS and race map to guide them, the riders stopped at stations every 40km along the route for fresh horses. They had the pick of 25 semi-wild Mongolian horses on a first come, first served basis.

Egberink said he managed to break away from the other riders early on and rode alone for four days.

"It was just a matter of staying on the horse, not getting thrown off and the horse running away," he said. "A lot of riders got separated from their horses or fell off."

The second day into the race he lost the pack holding his sleeping bag and clothes .

For the remaining eight days, he said, he depended on the generosity of local people.

"I had to rely on them to provide me with a place to sleep, a blanket, and had to eat whatever they were eating, which was mainly steamed pasta of sorts."

The race has been described by The Adventurists as a re-creation of the legendary postal system created by the 13th century Mongol emperor Genghis Khan, whose riders crossed Mongolia to Eastern Europe in about 14 days, changing horses at horse stations along the way.

According to organisers, it is a test of the rider's skill and endurance rather than the horse's speed.

Egberink's family tracked his progress via a satellite tracker on the internet.

After 10 days, he crossed the line just two minutes ahead of a Mongolian rider who had been catching up over the previous days.