Sophia Mangalee: Day 6 of the Derby

Fellow Mongol Derby rider, Sophia Mangalee, kept up a blog of her experiences during the Mongol Derby 2011 – it makes for a great read! Here’s her account of Day 6. You can find the original entries here.

The calm before the storm

Day 6 Mongol Derby 2011Day six dawned glorious. After the preceding day’s rain, the valley was fresh, the river was clear and the sun was strong.

The path to the next station took us between the river and the mountains. My mount was a strawberry roan gelding, feminine and tiny. The bit hung so low in his mouth I was sure he’d just spit it right back out at me. But he was quick and had a lovely canter and carried me well.

The morning was uneventful – the calm before the storm so to speak. We arrived at horse station fifteen in fine spirits. Except for Regina, who was puking over the bank and Frederique, who was avoiding the food like the plague. I had bounced back from the day before with no residual effects. The worse thing to happen to me was my camelback had sprung a leak and was turning my saddle wet and my bum into a wrinkled prune.

The horses at horse station fifteen were fat and squirrely.

“The horses are a bit hard to saddle here, but they are fine once you get on,” Maggie said to me over my shoulder. Hmmm, I think I’ve heard that once before.

I selected a brilliant red gelding with white hairs where the back cinch would go. The Mongolians use horse hair girths and they would leave their mark on the bellies of horses that were frequently ridden. It was something I always kept an eye out for, and in this bunch I felt I had selected well. The smiling Mongolian boy agreed with me, swung aboard and showed me how swell my little red horse was.

Kevin’s horse on the other hand was a cow. He looked it – an enormous (relatively speaking) black and white…cow. And he was petrified of the saddle, of the bags, and quite frankly, of Kevin.

Over the mountain pass

Once aboard, Kevin and I had no choice but to set off up the broad valley according to Shatra’s directions, “Go up to the valley to that mountain, then get on the dirt track and stay on it over the mountain pass.”

Sophia Day 6 Mongol Derby 2011That’s like saying turn left at the big oak tree.

The others weren’t far behind and quickly caught up. That’s when the excitement began.

Olivia’s horse bolted past us and as Kevin and I watched her dark form take off up the valley, it suddenly veered left and there were now two dark forms with one rapidly disappearing in the distance. The other was trudging back towards us.

Oh dear.

“He wouldn’t stop so I tried to turn him and my saddle slipped,” Olivia said when we finally reached her. “I’m ok, my gps said my top speed was 52 km per hour.”

If my math is correct that makes her top speed 30 mph. Well done!

A Mongolian appeared from somewhere on a motorcycle to help and Olivia climbed aboard and set off after her horse. The rest of us continued to ride up the valley where we finally rejoined her and the wayward horse who now had no stirrups but was otherwise in excellent condition after his 4 km blowout.

As we gathered in a group to contemplate our next move, I glanced at Frederique and was shocked to see her white as a ghost and looking decidedly unwell.


“Olivia, you have to take Frederique back with you to the horse station. She cannot continue on. Just look at her, she’s about to pass out,” I said.

Frederique slowly swung her leg over her horse and then doubled over on the ground. Medic!

With impeccable timing, the Mongol Derby Jeep showed up from our recent horse station with Shatra.

“What do you want to do?” asked Kevin.

Mongol Derby 2011“Not much we can do, I figure. Continue on?”

And with that he and I slowly headed away from the group. The Pattersons joined us, then Jason caught up and as we made our way into the foothills Regina as well.

Nearly an hour later Olivia and Tyga also were able to catch us. And finally – Richard. Chivalrous Sir Richard, who would not leave Frederique until she was bundled into the Jeep and properly looked after. He was truly our guardian angel.

The dirt track steadily climbed, then began to switchback on itself. It was beautiful. We reached the top at 7,195 feet. A perfect prayer pile was on the top.

It was what I had been waiting for. I swung my camelback around, reached into its depths and pulled it out. I would never have risked it in my saddle bags. Ten years, 8,000 miles and here we were.


I fingered the clay for just a moment. The white ribbon was now a shade of gray, the clay cracked in places. You could still see the knife marks where I cut the edges with the innocence of young love. I tossed it into the rock pile and it shattered into pieces, falling amongst the weather beaten rocks and blue swaths of cloth.

Goodbye, Z. It was the highest mountain I could find for you. You died on one, may you live free in spirit on another.

With my vision blurred, but my heart light we continued down the other side of the mountain. My most important task in Mongolia now complete, a promise kept.

The descent was quick and as we reached the flattening valley, I stopped my horse to retighten my girth. My saddle was quickly making its way up to his ears and knowing we would pick up speed on the flat, it was the prudent thing to reset the saddle.

Day 6Four people were in front of me walking on, but others were behind me stopped for a moment. It seemed a good time to dismount. I gave the saddle a shove. Not quite right, gave it another shove and it settled in behind his rounded withers. I reached behind his elbow and pulled the girth tight. There we are.

I gathered the soft rope reins in my left hand – the pony still had his head down grazing and I lifted my left foot for the stirrup. Balancing, I hopped a little on my right foot, shifted my weight into the left stirrup and prepared to swing back aboard.

It was like stepping onto ground that gives way beneath you, the stirrup was there, and then it wasn’t. The horse was there, and then he wasn’t.

Loose horse

When the saddle slid under his belly, the horse bolted forward. I hung onto the reins, feeling the dirt and rocks scrape across my back as he dragged me. With a sigh, I opened my hand.

“Loose horse!” Jason shouted.


I popped back to my feet and watched in grim horror as my horse galloped down the hill. Bits and pieces of the saddle were flying into the air as he kicked and bucked. The saddlebags ripped open, my sleeping bag bounced off him, the stirrups ripped off. Something else came flying back and then finally he just ran.

“There’s something here,” said Owen.

“And over here,” said Kevin.

“Something here too,” said Jason as I trudged up behind them and gathered my scattered gear.

My camera! Thank you, God! My most treasured piece of gear – there it was lying in the dirt! Life was looking good.

Long walkI shrugged my sleeping bag and saddlebags across my back, flung my stirrups over my shoulder and began to walk. We were 8.5 km from horse station sixteen, about five miles.

My horse had disappeared over the nearest hill and even though my comrades raced to catch sight of him, he was gone.

Nice to have friends

“Don’t wait for me, there’s nothing you can do!” I shouted to the others. The Pattersons, Regina and Tyga trotted off.

Wonderful Sir Richard, sweet Olivia and kind Kevin remained.

“Go on guys.”

“We aren’t leaving you.”

I smiled sheepishly. It was nice to have friends.

What they didn’t know is that not ten minutes before I had been thinking to myself how fabulously well things were going and how I couldn’t wait to break away from the pack and ride in a smaller group. Be careful what you wish for – it might just come true.

The Jeep came to pick me up right outside horse station sixteen and Maggie, the Jeep driver and the boy that had been smiling and riding the horse before – all set out to find him.

Five and a half hours later I returned to the horse station dejected. We went over the mountain pass twice, searched the river valley and herds of hundreds of horses and my red firecracker wasn’t amongst them. Most unpleasant was returning to the family that owned him and in an embarrassing version of charades try to explain to the grizzled old man what had happened and how this dreadful American had lost one of their prized horses.

My only relief was seeing Frederique and Ronald! Frederique spent the afternoon hooked to an IV, recovering from whatever mystery illness befell her and Ronald had waited for her. Dinner was pasta and tomato sauce supplied by the vets. Seemed the host family didn’t think much of me and I wasn’t offered any dinner. Or maybe they just didn’t want to come out in the rain. Either way, dinner never tasted so good.


2 Responses to “Sophia Mangalee: Day 6 of the Derby”

  1. Elke Petra Palm December 26, 2011 12:58 am #

    Hi Sophia,
    it is so exciting to read your report about your trip!!!!!
    How amazing!!!

    Can’t seem to find your next page for Day 7 and so on.
    Could you please help me out.

    Hope this email finds you well and happy!!!
    Elke Petra Palm

  2. Elke Petra Palm December 26, 2011 12:59 am #

    Hi Sophia,

    also, I ‘d love to get in touch with you at your convenience,
    please email me.

    Elke Petra Palm

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