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The Gaucho Derby

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2020 Mongol Derby: the greatest test of horsemanship and survival skill on earth

Horse racing re-invented

Imagine yourself thundering deep into the wilds of Patagonia on horseback. You’ve got your steed and, in some sections, a pack horse. You’re navigating across some of the wildest terrain on Earth attempting to win one of the toughest and most unusual equine challenges in history.

After running the Mongol Derby for a decade we knew it was time to grow the new sport of ultra-endurance horse racing we had created. So we went in search of the next world beating adventure. We’ve not replicated The Mongol Derby with new scenery but designed a new race from the ground up – based on the landscape, culture, history and horses of Patagonia and the Gauchos. This is the greatest test of horsemanship and wilderness skills on Earth. This is the pioneers Gaucho Derby....

March 23 2020

Claire King comes second in the ultra-endurance multi-horse race - The Gaucho Derby

Hunting helps British women conquer the Gaucho Derby

March 18 2020

Canadian Claims Third Place in inaugural Gaucho Derby

Gaucho Derby Race Day 9

Photographer: Richard Dunwoody
TheAdventurists.com - Full Story

March 14 2020 And just like that, we are at the end of the penultimate day of racing here in Patagonia. The riders are stopped tonight either at a rustic yet scenic puesto at VS8 or camped part way between VS8 and the finish line. Slow going on the trail between VS7 at La Maipu and the finish line put the brakes on the riders who thought they may finish today, but expecting the unexpected has become the touchstone of this race, with most choosing to see the glass half full. Clare (CK) sent in a message relatively early in the evening indicating her decision to stay at VS8, saying “Beautiful spot and will enjoy a final night in the wilderness!” Good choice. All riders will be finished tomorrow regardless of where they stayed last night. Why? Because tomorrow is Day 10 and the race is officially over and because we said so...

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Gaucho Derby Race Day 7

Photographer: Anya Campbell
TheAdventurists.com - Full Story

March 12 2020

With weather once again looking a bit grim at the higher elevations, Day 7’s course was reset to avoid the high country and instead include a scenic circular route down the Tucu Tucu valley from VS5, back along Arroyo Potrancas and Laguna Govido. The riders made the return trip in times ranging from between 6.5 to 9.5 hours with most commenting on, yet again, the incredible scenery. If nothing else, these riders will go home with some indelible images imprinted in their memory banks.

The scenery will continue to improve (is that even possible?) as the riders transfer from VS5 to La Maipu on March 12 to begin their final push towards the finish line at Estancia La Quinta (near El Chalten) on March 13. Mount Fitz Roy sits just above El Chalten, making for some iconic photo ops – will the riders take that opportunity or blast on by, finish line in their sights, hot shower on their minds?...

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Gaucho Derby Race Day 6

Photographer: Anya Campbell
TheAdventurists.com - Full Story

March 11 2020

After the extreme weather events of the last few days, racing got underway again today shortly after 9am as the riders, equipped with dry kit, packed up their woolies and mounted some fast horses for their trip between VS3 – VS5. This the first time since the beginning of the race that the riders have been without a packhorse, yet it was reminiscent of Day 1 when many riders set a blistering pace to VS1 (with a packhorse in tow, not an easy feat by any stretch of the imagination.)

CP and ZH led the pack and were minutes apart into VS4 having made the leg in approximately one hour flat. The vet check took a mere six minutes and four minutes respectively for these two, and as they did not have a change of horses, they were flying once again to VS5 with the rest of the pack on their tails. By the end of the day, most riders were into VS5 having made the day’s journey in well under five hours...

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Gaucho Derby Race Day 2

Richard Dunwoody photo
March 7 2020

Holy moly, what a day that was. Anyone watching the dots would have noticed that the tracking between VS1 & VS2 resembled some madman’s abstract Sharpie art project with riders’ tracks circling around mountains, reversing directions, and laying down tracks over and over and over again. Did we mention this race would be largely about navigation? It’s all fun and games until you are actually lost in the mountains. To be fair, the riders are traversing some pretty gnarly countryside, with trails through passes, river valleys, dense forests, and bogs – yes, bogs – while trying to chivvy along a reluctant packhorse and keep their own horse on an even keel. Not an easy task by any means and that hard and fast first leg may have given some the impression that this race would be easier than they thought. By mid-afternoon, riders were calling 1-800-HelpMeGaucho seeking assistance with reluctant horses and wayward packhorses, but even the gauchos weren’t immune to the seductive charms of the bogs with one gaucho taking an unscheduled bog-bath enroute to VS3. So in other words, Day 2 has been quite a bit slower. The weather has played its part, delivering on its reputation as a fickle beast, turning colder and wetter with possible snow in the higher elevations...

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Gaucho Derby Race Day 1

Richard Dunwoody photo
March 6 2020

It was fast and furious from the start line this morning as the Pioneers began their epic trek across 500 km of Patagonia. A number of riders, including Zsofia (ZH), Roberta (RM), Annie (AA) and Warren (WS) hit the gas pedal on the way to vet station 1 (VS1) topping out at over 25km/hr with a pack horse alongside. Other riders chose a more moderate pace, adopting the “it’s a marathon, not a sprint” type of mentality which can often yield great results, ensuring there’s something left in the tank to finish the race. After all, it’s a long old haul to the finish line just a stone’s throw from El Chalten. A few riders – Shirley (SH), Nichole (NM) – chose an alternate route around some hilly topography; a plucky gamble which could have put them towards the front had it not been for that awkward impassable boggy canyon floor which forced a detour back towards where they had originated. 100 points to them for giving it a go. (No, the points don’t count.) While we’re at it, let’s give extra pretend points to Julie (JY) who hit the deck not far out of the start camp when her bridle parted ways with her horse and her horse parted ways with its human. The horse then bolted back to the start line for Derby Start Take Two. Don’t count Julie out just yet; a firefighter by trade and a Mongol Derby veteran, she’s as tough as they come and will be back in the thick of it in no time...

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Gaucho Derby Training Day 3

Anya Campbell photo
March 5 2020

The sun beat down on the Patagonian steppe today, giving the riders a taste of the kind of weather extremes they might expect over the course of the race, but that didn’t detract from the enjoyment they derived from their first navigation ride. Each rider practised entering coordinates into their GPS units and then charted their course to a set point a few kilometers away where vet teams awaited their arrival. Easy enough when the stakes are low: event managers, vet teams, and medics were on hand to shepherd any wayward riders back on course should they veer too far towards Chile or Antarctica, but will they be able to manage this well once set free on the racecourse proper tomorrow morning at 10am? We won’t have to wait too long to find out, as it’s only a few hours until the start gun fires...

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Gaucho Derby Training Day 2

Richard Dunwoody photo
March 4 2020

When was the last time you slept in a sheep shed? While that’s an ordinary experience for the more eclectic of us, last night the Gaucho Derby Pioneers joined the club and added “rustic camping” to their already impressive adventure resumes – as if trail blazing for future gaucho apprentices isn’t enough to satisfy their thirst for all things wild and woolly. Last night was many things woolly: a nice asado of mutton, a bed in a sheep-shearing shed (with the Pioneers tucking themselves into stalls, staking out their individual “hotel rooms”), and the lingering aroma of sheep from days gone by lulling them into a well-earned slumber post-Malbec consumption...

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Gaucho Derby Training Day 1

March 3 2020

~ Sometimes the bravest thing you can do is just show up ~

After months of preparation and thousands of hours and countless miles of training, 23 riders gathered in the Kosten Aike Hotel training room in beautiful downtown El Calafate for their first taste of Gaucho Derby training. Today was about the basics: where exactly is this race? What will the next three training days be like? Where is the start line and how do we get there? A fair question, as start camp, situated some 500+ kilometres north of El Calafate, is so remote that only the locals really know where they are going. Erik, our intrepid event manager extraordinaire, ventured out to start camp a few days ago on a short recce only to have his driver’s vehicle sidelined by two flat tires some 100km from nowhere. Did we mention that this is one of the world’s toughest horse races? It’s also one of the world’s most remote. And getting to start camp is a journey peppered with some of the world’s most brutal, tire-trashing roads. Ah, but the scenery makes it all worthwhile..

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How to Follow the Gaucho Derby

March 2 2020

For the first time the World’s toughest horse race heads to Patagonia. 24 international riders will compete against each-other and the terrain to be crowned the 2020 Gaucho Derby champion.

Here’s how you can follow the action.

The Gaucho Derby Tracking Map

Live minute by minute updates of all the riders as they take on everything the wild Argentinian landscape can throw at them...

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This Ain't Mogolia, Fool

February 29 2020

The Gaucho Derby and the Mongol Derby share many similarities. Both adventures test the riders’ suffer-ability, resilience, and talent for MacGyvering tack out of roadside refuse; they both celebrate distinct and venerable cultures; and they both have horses (clearly). But they differ in significant ways, not the least of which is the geographic setting and inherent differences in the race structures.

LESSON TWO: This Ain’t Mongolia, Fool

First, it’s all about the horses. We all know that Mongolia’s horses are fast and fiery, but what about the Patagonian steeds? What can the Gaucho Derby Pioneers expect when they hit training camp on March 3? Our trusty Gaucho Derby vet Sarah happily traipsed around the Patagonian countryside earlier this year helping select 200+ horses who will star in Gaucho Derby 2020. Similar to the Mongol Derby criteria, the Gaucho Derby only accepts horses over five years old. These Patagonian beauties are sturdy, mountain-savvy, and sure-footed. They’ll get you where you’re going, especially if you happen to be crossing numerous mountain passes enroute to the finish line...

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The Derby Goes South

February 5 2020

Who hasn’t dreamed of hitting the saddle for ten days across the wilds of Patagonia, eye-watering wind ripping through your hair, sleeping under the stars in a woolly poncho, and dining on meat washed down with Malbec decanted from somebody’s boot?

Only a fool. Here at Adventurists HQ we’ve been scouring the globe to find the perfect companion to the legendary Mongol Derby. And so we decided to unleash some Patagonian pandemonium in the land of the Gaucho.

The inaugural edition of the Gaucho Derby kicks off March 5, 2020 for ten days of glorious racing à la Mongol Derby style, only with more wine and less vodka...

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Race format

A 10 day 500km multi-horse adventure race.

The mind bending terrain in Patagonia makes this a race quite unlike anything else on the planet. It won’t just test your skill on a horse, but push you to the limit of your navigation skills, your ability to handle the wilderness and your physical endurance.

The Gaucho Derby is a multi horse race, but not in the same way the Mongol Derby. The race is broken down into 40km legs but you won’t be changing horse at every section. The high mountains are a test of skill not flat out speed so the horses won’t run out of steam. The flatter pampas sections will see you turning up the MPH to eat up the miles. For these sections you will be swapping to fresh horses regularly.

You’ll be riding large sections with a pack horse. As well as looking after and guiding your second steed you’ll have to switch mount mid leg to ensure the health of both animals by minimising the work.

The support

This might be some of the most remote terrain around but that doesn’t mean we won’t be monitoring the horses welfare at every stage. There’ll be vet checks every 40km as well as race marshals, emergency and roaming vets to ensure that no rider puts their own competitiveness before the welfare of the animals. We would rather nobody wins than someone wins by pushing too hard. Riders seen making bad decisions, riding too fast across difficult terrain or not presenting horses in great condition will get penalties or be disqualified. Full rules will be available to riders as we are developing them with our vet team now.

Riders will be tracked by satellite and we have a world class remote medical support team monitoring rider health and responding to emergencies.

A pack horse?

Gauchos considering a long journey in Patagonia often do so with the help of a trusty pack horse. This makes riding, well, different. You always have a fresh horse with you and can carry a bit more stuff with you. But you now have two horses to look after. Much of the time, if you handle the horses well, the pack horse can run free but in some sections you’ll need to lead adding a complication to the whole proceedings.

It’s not the fastest way to travel on flat open country but it starts to make serious sense on long mountainous regions. The Gaucho Derby won’t be all taken on with 2 horses but key sections will be. It means we can reduce the strain on the beasts carrying you over the slower more technical sections.

Meet the crew

Putting together this sort of thing is no small job. We’ve got an awesome crew pulling together the various strands of equine adventure from vets and medics to camp managers and drivers.

This is the work of a small army of people. Many of them come from years of experience on the Mongol Derby.