A POWYS mum has described the experience of completing a 1,000 kilometre endurance horse race in Asia as “everything I could have hoped for and more”.

Zoe Geddes, from Llanidloes, competed in the Mongol Derby in August – described as the longest and toughest horse race on earth.

The race involves traversing 1,000km (621 miles) of untamed Asian wilderness, in which riders must compete using up to 30 different horses.

Mum-of-two Zoe, 28, had ambitions of becoming the first British winner and actually led the 10-day race at one stage, eventually finishing a credible 8th out of a field of 48 starters.

In “absolutely crazy weather” where it could rain, snow and then be sunny and hot all in one day, Zoe said she had got what she wanted from the race – an authentic Mongolian experience.

County Times:  Zoe Geddes finished the Mongol Derby in 8th place, the highest placed Brit Zoe Geddes finished the Mongol Derby in 8th place, the highest placed Brit (Image: Shari Thompson)

“One day it would be a downpour and gale force winds, then the next day it was 35 degrees and hot with no wind,” said Zoe, a self-employed horse breeder, who moved around Powys growing up but now lives in Lydbury North, near Bishop’s Castle.

“The rain in Mongolia is biblical, it doesn’t stop all day. The weather was so extreme. So many people pulled out due to dehydration or hypothermia. Less than half the field finished.”

The race was first organised in 2009 and traces the steps of the Mongolian postal message system, eastablished by legendary Mongol Empire leader Genghis Khan in 1224 – whose mighty horse messenger system connected half the planet.

For the last decade, race chiefs have been rebuilding this ancient network to stage the world’s greatest equine adventure race.

The Mongolian horses used are semi-feral and well suited to the extreme and varied terrain. The race covers high passes, deep valleys, wooded hills, rivers, wetland, sandy dunes, rolling hills and the vast expanse of the Mongolian steppe.

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To complete the race is itself seen as a massive accomplishment, with many taking on specialist training. So Zoe, who was a wildcard entry, was delighted with a top-10 finish – especially as she suffered a fractured back in the lead-up to the race!

That was back in May 2020, ahead of last August’s race. However, 2021’s event was postponed due to the need for the Steppe’s nomadic families to receive their Covid-19 vaccinations. Although there was a 12-month delay, Zoe said it actually allowed her to prepare better for 2022.

The exact course changes every year and is kept secret until shortly before the race begins.

The entry fee – riders must raise more than £11,000 to compete – covers up to around 30 Mongolian horses per person, a support team, pre-race training and access to the support stations along the way, as well as fundraising for charities.

The race is a brutal test for competitors – the percentage of finishers can testify to that – but Zoe insists the perception that the horses are mistreated is a mistaken one.

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Riders must change horses every 40km at the support stations. Regular vet checks will monitor the condition of the horses and the vets may impose time penalties if riders push their horses too hard.

Zoe said: “I’ve had quite a lot of backlash about the race being really cruel. People mistakenly believe you’re riding one horse but it’s 3 or 4 throughout the day.

“They have so many vets that make sure you have a heart rate lower than 56, the horses have to be hydrated so it stops people from thrashing them.

“You turn up to a herder’s camp each morning and he’ll round up a bunch of horses and you choose the one you want. I used around 30 in the whole race.”

While Mongolia is a barren, beautiful wilderness that remains largely untouched and uninfluenced by the modern-day world, this means it can still be a dangerous place for women, especially those unaccompanied. But Zoe insists striking out on her own and leaving the designated camps at night was one of the best choices she made.

“I spent a few nights camping out on the Steppe. You normally spend each night in a race camp but you can go off and ride/camp on your own and that’s the way to get ahead of the race,” she added.

“It can be a dangerous country for women so I was a bit nervous.

“I found some locals and asked if I could stay with them. I stayed with this huge family living in a yurt. The food was shocking; bits of goat, bits of horse, bits of sheep, then boiled, with loads of noodles, which you’d eat every day. But I was so grateful to them.

“They took me in and washed my hands, gave me one of their beds; in the night they were putting more blankets on me as they didn’t have a fire and it was freezing.

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“The next morning they couldn’t afford to give me any breakfast but gave me dried cheese curds and presented me with this massive Mongolian robe, called a deel. It’s really lovely and intricate and normally saved for ceremonial purposes. I tried to give it back but they insisted I keep it.

“I had been really nervous because an interpreter warned me about the area being notorious for thieves. But they were the poorest, most giving family, so I got a proper Mongolian experience.

“It’s amazing that there are people who still live in these tents and they farm bits of land with their animals.

“I went off on my own and that was sort of why I got into the top 10, I wish I’d done it sooner. It was everything I could have hoped for and more.”

Now her adventure is over, Zoe says she wants to take on the Gaucho Derby, a sister event that takes place in the Patagonia region of South America.