Monday, June 29, 2009

Mongol Horse Derby

Quick response to today's FHOTD, since my short, polite and respectful responses offering another pov seem to be deleted quickly after they are posted (actually this time they seem to be staying up, surprisingly - I suppose it is due to their being so many dissenting opinions being posted already?). Frustrating. What is even more frustrating though, was reading another blog by Cathy with no serious research and the author goading her sheep to attack other individuals. Name-calling included. Read the comments though, particularly the eighties onward, for some logic and actual knowledge of the situation.

First off - I am not saying that I agree with the Mongol Derby. To take sides would require much more research than simply reading one article (written by the Long Riders Guild after the coordinators of the Mongol Derby contacted the LRG for advice - as one can see, the LRG took every bit of twistable information available on the MD website and successfully twisted it) and reading the event website - including, preferably, actually being there during the race to assess it (or at the very least, obtaining first-hand accounts from vets, participants, and other professionals involved at the time and visiting Mongolia itself).

However, there were a couple of glaringinly-incorrect points from Cathy's blog. The quotes in quotations are from Cathy's blog, the writing in blue are from the event website. My comments are in green.

"These horses aren't going to be fit for anything like this"
We're going to look after these horses like they have never been looked after before. With an extensive veterinary and feeding program running over the months leading up to the race and vet support vehicles to charge in for any emergencies, these will be some of the fittest horses in Mongolia.

We're working with a American veterinary NGO based in Mongolia to run a program of care for the horses before, during and after the race. This network of vets will be assisted by Mongolia's head equine vet and a vet with 32 years of experience flying to Mongolia from the UK for the Derby.
Local horse experts and professional equine veterinarians will assist with the initial selection of horses, then a comprehensive inspection and care program will be carried out from the point of selection until after the race has finished.
They will be monitoring the horses welfare during the build-up to the start of the race, during the race itself at each of the Urtuu horse stations and after each leg of the race.

The Mongol Derby is being staged in collaboration with some of Mongolia's most renowned and respected horsemen and equine veterinarians. Their expert knowledge combined with the logistics put in place by The Adventurists will ensure the horses are properly looked after throughout the adventure. The Adventurists ordinarily specialise in adventures with no back-up or marked route but the Derby is a unique beast. It includes an emergency system with fully trained expert medical proffesionals for the riders in addition to the extensive veterinary provisions for the horses before during and after the race and a GPS tracking system so we know what is going on along the whole route.

According to the event coordinators, these horses will be very well prepared physically for the race. Now, I realise that what is said and what actually happens are at times two different things, but there is no evidence to contradict what the coordinators say will happen. None was certainly provided by Cathy on her blog during her trashing of the event.

"you're putting non-equestrians on them who wouldn't even recognize that a horse was injured or ill"
The riders taking part in the first ever Mongol Derby are all a very marvelous bunch and have spent their lives around horses.

This is the toughest horse race in the world and you will need to be physically fit, in good health and have a good level of riding ability to take part in the Mongol Derby. This does not mean that you once went on a half-day pony trek when you were twelve. It means you are confident in your knowledge of horses and your ability to ride long distances across difficult terrain. You have ridden regularly, understand how to handle horses in general and have a strong understanding of horse welfare. It is vital that you understand the risks involved in taking on such a huge adventure. If at the pre-race training session in Mongolia it becomes apparent that your riding ability is not as stated in your application, the organisers reserve the right to withdraw you from the Mongol Derby without notice, for your own safety and that of the horses. You will also need a good understanding of horse welfare as you will be responsible for each horse you ride. We will have vets on hand throughout the race to deal with any incidents, but it's you who will need to be able to recognise and report anything untoward with your steed.

Even a quick look at the team members reveals that the riders participating who have any sort of info on their page are clearly avid, experienced riders, having ridden from a young age. Championship eventers or dressage riders to polo players. They also tell of the prep work they have already done/are doing, from serious survival courses to training on polo horses. All riders seem to be experienced in the adventure/survival/endurance aspect of things as well as with horses.

"It is obvious you intend to treat them as disposable and that WILL NOT be tolerated."
However as organisers of the race The Adventurists require a financial deposit from the riders to ensure they follow the horse welfare guidelines issued to them to protect the horses. It's imperative that the horses' welfare comes above any aspect of competition and the riders understand that even a minor injury means the horse must not be ridden until a vet has been able to inspect and assess the horse. See the FAQ page for answers to some common questions about the Derby.

(from the FAQ page)
Responsible riding, sound knowledge of horse welfare and the pre-race training will hopefully mean the horses are not injured. However, if your horse sustains even a minor injury you will need to get off and walk it to the next Urtuu. You will receive training on how to spot injuries and assess their severity before the race in Mongolia. If your horse gets seriously injured there will be veterinary backup to come to its rescue. You will also have an emergency beacon that will enable our vets to locate you and the horse, should you find yourself in a pickle.

We don't want to mollycoddle you but we do want to ensure that the horses are safe. So we will have two jeeps with vets in following the race from a distance. You won't see them unless it is an emergency and you will be carrying a GPS beacon to summon their help if need be.

Please do your research, and please please please refrain from passing judgement on an event without any prior research, other than reading one article. There just isn't the evidence provided in Cathy's blog that this is an event she has psyched it up to be. This is not to say for sure that this is a race humane to its horses, but all the evidence thus far does support this claim - and no contradictory evidence is provided in Cathy's blog. It seems like a very well-organised event with much thought as to all aspects, with professionals involved at every step. Since this is the first Mongol Derby to be run, it's difficult to predict the outcome of the race and the jeopardy to the horses (who, keep in mind, were born and raised in this area), but everyone seems well prepared. On the other hand, what sounds fantastic on paper might not be successful in reality. Hopefully this group has indeed done the preparation that they seem to have done and this race is a successful one. Only time will tell.


Anonymous said...

I totally agree. As I was reading FHOTD, I couldn't help but think, "has she ever read up on the Mongolian horse races?" They train their horses for longer periods of time than we do our horses because their races are ednurance runs. I would only assume that they would be using horses that have already been conditioned and ready to go. Thanks for the further research into something that at first glance could seem a bit more irresponsible that it actually is.

Equus said...

Thanks, and no worries. I admit my knowledge of Mongolia or of these races is rather limited, however some of the points made in the FHOTD post were just obviously wrong, so I had wanted to correct those. Judging from the ACTUAL knowledge coming out now (from those with experience in Mongolia and with the horses), I have to admit the race does still seem to be humane, but only more in-depth research and the race itself being run, can ultimately determine that.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your blog and what the other anonymous wrote. It's nice to know someone actually wants to research this sort of thing instead of just blowing nonsense like FHOTD.

horsepub said...

regardless of the hyperbole being posted one fact remains indisputable. The organizers are setting a weight limit of 85k for the riders with 10k for tack. That is 209 pounds that these 13h to14h ponies will have to carry and that is the main problem with this race. The other problem is that the Adventurists said that Vet Net would be looking out for the welfare of the horses, but upon good old investigative reporting, something the LRG has done, VET NET DENIES THAT THEY ARE INVOLVED AND ARE OUTRAGED THAT THEIR NAME IS BEING USED. Since that news has gotten out, the Adventurists removed any reference to Vet Net that had been on their website and in their press releases. Plus, the saddle sponsor has pulled their logo off the website and presumably pulled their sponsorship.
These are the reasons for concern. A lack of transparency, the unwillingness to provide details of the care for the horses, other than just saying they will be cared for, and exploiting a culture and its horses so bored rich foreigners can have an adventure.

Equus said...

Hey Horsepub, thanks for the input. Please though, would you mind posting links or such to provide evidence of your comment?

As for the weight limit, I'm not convinced (having never been to Mongolia myself) that these horses cannot carry an adult in the proposed race. Obviously, they do carry adults as part of their daily activities (just for one brief testament: and it is well-known that the build of most ponies allow them to pack more per pound than the average light horse. In addition, is there any evidence that any of the riders are actually 209lbs? When I checked, at the time of writing this blog entry, it seemed most were well below that limit, being fit equestrians themselves.

As far as Vet Net being involved or not, perhaps there was a misunderstanding? Where is the evidence that Vet Net was said to be involved and then denied it? Even if Vet Net is not going to be involved, are there other reputable vets involved in this race? If so, what's the fuss then?

As far as details being provided, quite a few are provided on the site itself and I assume if one were to ask the administrators of the event themselves, they could culture further details.

I am not voting "pro" on this race, that is not what my blog was about. My blog was simply written to voice that the situation was blown out of proportion based on the evidence (or lack thereof) provided thus far (on FHOTD, specifically). I have yet to see evidence accurately depicting any sub-standard care or planning concerning this race, or that the horses will not be sufficiently cared for. On the other hand, if someone is making claims against the race, please post proof!! We are all very curious when it comes to evidence that could prove the race to be either ill-advised or to be well-planned. So far, none of the concerns brought about seem very founded.

horsepub said...

Here is the interview regarding Vet Net and how they were unaware that the the Adventurists claimed that their organization would be handling the vet duties for the race.

Equus said...

Thanks horsepub!!

I'm still not convinced yet that the Mongol Horse Derby is either a good idea nor a bad one (for one, just because Vet Net is not involved does not mean qualified vets are not going to be present), but I suppose only time will tell. What the Adventurists say will happen may or may not occur, and what some predict will happen may or may not happen either. All I can say is that I do hope the welfare of the horses IS a top priority.

Anonymous said...

Hi Equus

It's really refreshing to get a balanced debate about this event, the vitriolic stuff from some quarters does not appear to be on any evidence other than the fact that someone at the LRG has decided they don't like the event.

I agree with you that we will have to wait to see what happens. If (as I hope) all the things the organisers say they are putting in place happen, then I think in september, some people may look as if they have over reacted.

Thanks again, I wish others could be as considered. Sally.

horsepub said...

It's not just the LRG who are against this race. Even though Mongolia was kicked out of the FEI in March for not paying their dues, the FEI is concerned enough to the point that they sent their endurance riding official to London on Friday, the 24th, for a secret meeting with Tom Morgan of the Adventurists. And, another country is getting involved, with connections to Princess Haya of the FEI, to try to take control of this race. Big news coming soon that will demonstrate that the horseworld is coming together to stop this commercial exploitation of the small mongol ponies. Not because someone at the LRG doesn't like this race, but because it is ethically the right thing to do with regards to the welfare and respect for the horse.

Sally James said...

I think this is now all sorted now that the UAE are providing support I suspect they will have far better horse welfare standards than the LRG could ever hope to give their horses and much better than the native Mongolian horses would have ordinarilly. I've looked around the internet and the constant shifting in postion of the LRG guy and have come to the conclusion that the LRG just dont like the idea of someone else organising something interesting. I think ego has got in the way of clear thinking. Sally

horsepub said...

Hey Sally, this has nothing to do with ego and your statement that the LRG doesn't like someone organizing something interesting is way off the mark. You think things are sorted out because Sheik Maktoum of the UAE is helping out? This drug cheater was just handed a 6 month ban from the FEI for doping his endurance horse. His son was also busted for doping his horse. The UAE just sponsored an endurance race in the UK last saturday offering over $300,000 in prize money with anyone crossing the finish line getting some money. And it was an unsanctioned race and didn't follow any FEI protocol. Guess who won the race? That's right, the disgraced and suspended Sheik with his son coming in second. He tells the FEI what to do and is now organizing unsanctioned endurance races for money. That's why he got involved with the Mongol Derby. This is the threat to sanctioned endurance racing and this was a main concern with all of us who reported on and released the news of this world wide. The FEI has no power, money will endanger the welfare of horses in endurance racing, and unless people realize what threat prize money has on these horses, the bad news will continue to come. I wonder how interesting you'll find the Mongol Derby Sally when the reports of dead horses come rolling in.

Sally J said...

Well let's just see what happens shall we. There is a lot of emotion clouding peoples thinking.

I feel that the argument has now completely shifted to the FEI and the UAE - a long way from O'reilly's orgional gripe. I still think that a clever, misguided person may have whipped up a storm to suit his own purpose.

I now notice LRG (or is it just O'Reilly?) is claiming that there are charity commision irregularities - come off it, what has that got to do with horse wellfare??

As for the next Mongoal Derby -I'm not alone in the riding community I am part of in seriously thinking about taking part in a future event. Sorry! Sally

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