In March 2022, co-founder of ForRangers Sam Taylor, along with Charlotte Outram and Simon Kenyon, headed to Patagonia to race in the Gaucho Derby, also known as 'the greatest test of horsemanship and wilderness skills on Earth.'
From the creators of the World's Longest Horse Race, the Mongol Derby, the Gaucho Derby is a ten-day, 500km multi-horse adventure race across the wild Patagonian landscape.
Broken into 40km or less vetting legs, this epic race doesn't just test the athletes' skills on a horse but pushes them to the limit of their navigational skills, ability to handle the wilderness and physical endurance.
One mistake navigating could cost them the race with wilderness skills making all the difference as they camp out most nights. Racing hours are from 8 am to 6 pm, riders will sit out penalties in real-time, and the winner will be the first person to cross the line.
Enjoy the following posts as Sam Taylor relives this incredible adventure.
Gaucho Derby - The Build Up
Words: Sam Taylor
We are now only a month away from the start of the Gaucho Derby. I guess we're ready - although time will tell (or possibly end in my case). I must say, I feel like an equestrian - in so much as I have a torn meniscus, a bulging disc in my spine (sadly the only bulging part of me) and a swollen cheek from swatting away flies. If I'm honest, though, my own gait is more Long John Silver than Dick Turpin.
To my advantage, I have some good drugs and am feeling OK about my body standing up to the task. Although, I'm guessing many festival-goers with a similar dependency on pharmaceuticals have had similar delusions.
I think Simon and Charlotte, my teammates on this stable-driven suicide mission, are equally nervous. Primarily, I believe because of the talking saddle bag they have signed up to do it with, they also have their own reasons.
Simon, an accomplished riding guide in the Mara with Offbeat Safaris, has been in a panic about the weight limit of 85kgs, including your boots and helmet. He has sent pictures of himself surrounded by clients gorging themselves on wine and tasty delicacies while he appears to be eating the remnants of his horse's nose bag. He's done it, though, and while his "stray dog good looks" are testament to a diet of bran, hay and African horse sickness, I doubt many housewives will take up the "Kenyon weight loss regime".
Charlotte is also a highly accomplished horsewoman but is harbouring her own (not unnatural) fears about camping. Her concerns are not without cause. Sleeping between me (who will undoubtedly have unfavourable comparisons with a dead skunk after ten days) and Simon (who looks so hungry, he will probably eat her in his sleep) is not an enviable experience. To save weight, all three of us will share a tent in the Patagonian wilderness (although we will also carry bivvy bags).
Anyway, trepidation aside, we're a month out, and, as horse-lovers say, "This is the final furlong". Given that's where we are, we've been testing our kit. Last week Flick, Charlotte, and I went up the mountain with Riding High - an awesome riding safari outfit that takes riders up onto the magnificent moorlands of Mount Kenya. They are usually a luxury outfit but given we wanted to simulate the wilds of Patagonia, we released Crazy Horse and his packhorse buddies from their regular duties of carrying up the silver and chandeliers and made do with sporks and head torches in our own saddlebags.
There is a vast variance in the etymology of horse naming, something I have dwelt on in the past. Predictably I found my horse was called "Sunbeam", and while she was a special mare, her name was nonetheless a blow to my manhood. Charlotte's horse was called "Split Ring" - presumably either named by a very naïve steam engine enthusiast or by a nostalgic released jailbird.
The ride up was a pretty good simulation for Patagonia, I guess. Periods of baking hot, down to bitterly cold whenever the sun dropped. I had focused on the latter conditions, and as such, the hot sun had caused my genitalia to resemble an exhibit from kindergarten play dough class. However, it quickly cooled off, and I was grateful for my Arcteryx Rho AR bottoms under my trousers, which allowed my groin to resume its still disgusting but more familiar form.
We found a bit of moorland by a waterfall that seemed to be as good a place as any to set up camp, so we unloaded the saddlebags and put up our bivvies. Now, I am quite fond of bivvies. I feel that generally when you are using one, you are at least within the realms of the possibility of death. As such, it looks pretty accommodating to any pursuant rescue party that you have taken the time to pre-pack yourself into a body bag. Charlotte, predictably, was less keen, and so when the horses decided to make a poorly thought outbid for freedom at 3 am, she was out like a shot - alert as anything. Flick was asleep in our tent - the Fjall Raven Abisko 3 - which was by all accounts incredibly warm and looked palatial by comparison.
We staggered around the moorlands looking for the homesick horses. We found they had apparently invited a buffalo to their pyjama party (something that made the return journey a little quicker). We caught the errant nags and settled back into our tents/coffins to sleep. I learned something that night. All night watchmen should be issued bivvy bags.
In the morning, I helped to take off the hobbles. This was no easy task with cold fingers, and according to the ladies, the horses were "a bit wound up". Given I had been staggering around the frosty moorland at 3 am looking for them, my sympathy was a little understated. Still, like an equestrian Christian Grey, I willingly dislocated all of my fingers to free them from their leather bonds.
We had breakfast, as did the horses, and began our descent down the mountain. I helped Dani, our guide put the saddlebags on. Here I learned a valuable lesson. Astride a horse, I have been likened to a talking saddlebag. However, whilst I cannot carry things, I am at least able to (quite loudly) inform companions when I come off. Securing these things does wonder for having all your gear with you at your destination. I did not do this. And so, a little Hansel and Gretel trail followed us down the mountain.
Importantly we made it down, though, and most of our gear tried and tested; we were ready (ish) to get some sticks shoved up our nose and board a plane for Argentina.
To be continued...
The team raised over $60,000 to support life and health insurance, emergency rations and welfare support to over 2000 rangers across Africa. The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic continue to be felt. Rangers have seen jobs lost, resources slashed, and livelihoods destroyed. All the while, they remain steadfast in protecting what is left of our wilderness. They need our help. Please support them.
or if you'd like to support through a 501 C.3: