Most people know me as a cheesemaker, sheep and goat farmer and keeper of very large dogs. But my first true love was and always will be horses. I’ve been accepted as a competitor in the 2023 Mongol Derby, which begins August 2nd. It’s the longest horse race in the world. It’s kind of like the Mt Everest of horseback riding. It’s a 1,000 kilometer multi-horse race across the steppes of Mongolia. It loosely recreates Ghengis Khan’s 13th century postal route. For 8 to 10 days in August 2023 I’ll be riding 30 different Mongolian horses about 25 miles each and staying with herding families who also milk animals and do amazing things with dairy. (Did you know that they milk 7 different species of animals in Mongolia? (sheep, goats, horses, camels, yaks, reindeer, and cows!) I cannot express how excited I am to meet fellow livestock keepers and dairy producers and learn about their animal husbandry techniques and try their fermented dairy products. I’ll be carrying only about 11 lbs of gear and using a GPS to navigate to the next horse station out on the Mongolian steppe self-navigating around bogs, over mountains, crossing rivers, arid dunes, forests and wide-open steppe.
I feel called to do this race for many reasons. I want to challenge myself to do something that seems insurmountable and test my own grit. Farming in Maine the past 16 years has tested all aspects of my abilities both physically and mentally and perseverance and endurance are qualities I have honed over the years. I feel like in a way my whole life has been leading up to this adventure. I want to connect with the herders, meet other riders from around the world and improve my riding skills. I also want to draw attention to farmer mental health and mental health in general. I think one of the biggest stressors of farming is that farmers don’t feel they are able to take vacations, especially dairy farms and sometime it feels like they are trapped under the responsibility of endless farm and financial crisis. I want to inspire others to follow their passions, even if it seems crazy or impossible and to draw attention to how precious life is and that the only way to grow is to do things that are challenging and uncomfortable. Most people’s lives are marked by huge life milestones of weddings and babies, please think of this expedition as my version of the same, I ask my community to join in my journey and help me make it to the finish line.
A little more background…
In 2021 another young cheesemaker, Jenny MacKensie took her life at the farm I apprenticed at and loved dearly and I ended up taking on their herd of goats and 2 Great Pyrenees livestock guardian dogs as the farm needed to be sold quickly. This was in addition to my herd of goats and sheep and 6 other dogs! It was the right decision in a difficult situation and I was very glad I could help my mentor out in a time of great need. Jenny’s death really impacted me, it made me think a lot about life, about dairy farming, and really looking at what our purpose on this earth is and how to spend the short time we have here. I’ve been thinking a lot about being in my 40’s and how instead of nurturing a family I spent my 30s growing a small farm business at the expense of most everything else in life. Over the past year and a half, I started to spend more time with my horses and going to horsemanship clinics and meeting other equestrians and reading everything I could find on a plethora of horse related topics. During one of these clinics last year, I had an awakening that my true purpose is working with horses. I started to really feel the capacity horses have for healing and soon learned that if you want to work on your horsemanship you must first work on yourself. I started going to therapy, and learning about polyvagal theory, and changed a lot of my daily habits and my whole outlook on life. Well one thing led to another and as I researched where my place should be in the equine world I found out about the Mongol Derby and I knew instantly that riding the Mongol Derby would be part of my equestrian journey.
Click here to learn more about the Mongol Derby: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pFUb6YpbWx4https://youtu.be/pFUb6YpbWx4https://youtu.be/pFUb6YpbWx4
I enrolled in Mongolian language lessons as soon as I was accepted into the derby in July. I’m also finally putting my anthropology degree to good use and reading all I can about Mongolian culture. I’m learning everything I can about endurance riding. I rode in my first 30 mile race in July, a second one in October and am preparing for a 75 mile race in April and a 100 mile race in May. I’ve been working on mental preparation, fitness, balance, and endurance riding with a trainer in Oregon named Stevie Delahunt who’s specialty is training for these long distance races and I spent the bulk of November in Idaho working on my horsemanship skills with Martin Black. I’m running, riding, and working on my core as much as I can. And this winter in addition to running, riding, and core workouts will be swimming and cross-country skiing. In fact, in order to focus on my training I’m taking the year off of milking my sheep and goats and only buying in milk from other nearby farms for cheesemaking in 2023.
A major component of riding the Mongol Derby is fundraising, not only for yourself, but for dedicated organizations that are doing their part to make the world a better place.
The official fundraiser of the Mongol Derby that all the riders fundraise for is a Mongolian nonprofit called Steppe and Hoof. They support Mongolian herders with veterinary care for their animals and their ultimate goal is to support and protect the herding culture and keep it thriving.
You can donate to Steppe and Hoof Here:
The other organization that I am fundraising for is BraveHearts, which is a therapeutic horseback riding center in Illinois that offers equine-assisted services and therapies for both children and adults, in both recreational and medical services. What really caught my attention about BraveHearts, is their Veterans Program, which is the largest veteran equine-assisted services program in the nation. BraveHearts runs a program called Trail to Zero, in which they ride through cities, including New York City, bringing awareness to the staggering suicide rate amongst veterans. The programs available at BraveHearts show how the healing power of the horse can be a factor in aiding mental health issues and that is why I have chosen this organization to fundraise for.
You can donate to BraveHearts here:
I’m going to need a lot of help getting to Mongolia this summer. I need help with the entry fee, plane tickets, lodging before and after the race, and lightweight gear that will protect me out on the steppe. My goal is to fundraise $20K for myself and $100k for BraveHearts and $20,000 for Steppe and Hoof. After the Derby my goal is to continue my horsemanship journey. I plan to continue to develop my riding skills, and use my talents and resources to help others by teaching riding lessons to people who have never experienced horses and employing the healing power of horses. I also want to delve into the world of equine therapy, ultimately making a difference in the lives of at risk youth and adults.