Riding out the Pandemic
ForRangers Gaucho Derby 2022
At the time of writing, I am nursing suspected broken ribs that hurt marginally less than my pride - which is severely bruised. The reason for this is that I have, in my usual ill-judged way, taken up riding. While this may seem odd to some of you that know me, there is a good reason for this. I have been at home for some time now, and while initially my wife and children enjoyed the novelty, I am asked to "go climb a mountain" almost daily now.
So, to raise much-needed funds and in keeping with the ForRangers ideal of solidarity, I have decided to combine my three biggest fears - vertigo (as has been well documented), horses, and riding instructors. I have decided to attempt the Gaucho Derby - a 500km self-supported horse race across the mountainous region of Patagonia.
However, it turns out that my lack of natural ability with horses manifests itself into new levels of incompetence as yet unseen in my recent endeavours. As it happens, I am to equestrianism what a jellyfish is to tapestry.
Horses, I have learned, despite being unable to recognise their own (often ridiculous) names, can instantaneously and accurately assess the relative idiocy of the person attempting to drive them. In a display of empathy rarely seen in today's society, they perfectly mimic the skittishness, fear and paranoia that I unconsciously display. The result is an escalation of chaos and drama that can only be achieved with an airdrop of crack cocaine into a mental hospital.
I suspect that if the notable historians of the age had ridden horses more often, our evaluation of the past might be quite different. The disaster of The Charge of Light Brigade at Balaclava was not, I believe, a result of poor communication and generalship by the British, but more likely the consequence of an impromptu equine AGM held by the cavalry mounts before the battle. Similarly, Custer's last stand was probably a prior unilateral decision made in the stables, and I have my suspicions that Apollo 13 was piloted by a Shetland pony. Their capacity for carnage is unequalled in the animal world.
Nonetheless, I have determined to master the art. There are several reasons. Firstly, it's an amazing way to get about the bush and look at the wildlife we are still blessed to be surrounded by. Secondly, I think I look sensational in full-length tasselled chaps (although I was once compared to a badly lacerated foreskin by one observer), so this may be subjective. Most importantly, however, I thoroughly enjoy the break from the daily routine in one's day that a gentle "hack" (as they say in the biz) provides. Not knowing where you might end up, how many body parts you'll still possess on arrival, and ultimately, the exciting gamble on whether you and your steed will arrive at the unplanned finishing point on the same day is the perfect break from the day-in-day-out routine of the age of Covid-19.
Given the life-threatening environment we all now live in, my wife (who is incidentally a competent rider) appears to be ambivalent to my compounding my chances of death. She spends much time texting our life insurance brokers with the "rubbing hands" emoji.
For the past few years, I have been learning the fundamentals of horsemanship. Here are a few pointers for any aspiring horse people out there. Firstly, it turns out that horses, whilst perfectly able to steer without anyone on their back, develop the manoeuvrability of a shopping trolley upon being mounted. The magnetic pull of a thorn bush is seemingly irresistible once astride a horse.
Secondly, I hear the phrase "heels down" ad nauseum. This is the main mantra of the riding instructor, and as I hurtle towards the nearest and thorniest bush clinging to the horse's neck with my ankles, I would give my mother for my heels to be down. Down on the ground, preferably. The trouble is my heels are usually hooked, sloth-like, around my ears whilst I dangle under the horse's neck.
The principles of riding seem to revolve (quite sensibly, given the temperamental nature of this particular mode of transport) around the horse's welfare. Most critical, it seems - and logically - given it separates you from the moving parts and the rapidly disappearing ground beneath, is the horses back. Given that the "rising trot" gives cause for my genitalia to seek asylum in the lower reaches of my chest, this care for the horse's wellbeing requires a degree of selflessness usually found underneath Mother Theresa's wimple. However, given I am expecting to be ferried across one of the world's harshest environments on said back - the horse's welfare must come before my own, and I must do all I can to look after it - even if it comes at the cost of future progeny.
Whilst touching on the subject of my diminishing anatomy, let us discuss the horses. Equestrians seem to use another language to describe each part of the horse's anatomy. Presumably, this is to hide each part's lethality from the novice rider. For example, the mouth full of enormous teeth is called a "muzzle" - which sadly is ironically the one element lacking in its complicated bridle. "Withers", "fetlocks", and "chestnuts" hardly describe the quivering mass of menacing muscle that makes up the horses form. Indeed only the "cannon" gives a fair indication of the consequences of walking around the back of a horse.
The names given by their owners are equally misleading. You are rarely led into a stable where "Black Death" or "Chiropractor" is being saddled up. And without being too picky about the details of my epitaph, I feel that my "being trampled by Buttercup" may not provide the gravitas that I envisage on my headstone.
Anyway, despite my obvious shortcomings in this endeavour, I am fully committed to this venture. Three companions will join me - Charlotte, Simon and Megan, who I hope will bring some expertise to the table regarding controlling these felt-covered torture devices. The subtle difference between riding for a living (as they all do), and hoping to live while riding (as I do), may well be highlighted by our respective paths shown on the mobile tracking devices that will allow you to follow our literal journey into the unknown next March.
I divulged my ambitions to a friend who had completed the Gaucho Derby's sister race - the Mongol Derby. Having seen me ride and trying hard to disguise her alarm at my folly, she placatingly remarked, "Don't worry, navigation is equally important, you know." Now, given that I possess the directional sense of a fruit fly departing a roller coaster into a maze made of shit, she may as well have been telling a man in front of a firing squad not to be alarmed by the startling noise.
Anyway. Sod it. I'm going to do it. Good fortune, patient companions and a bloody-minded determination to make my whining heard has seen me get through the Sahara, Amazon, Mt Manaslu and Everest. I can only hope that my talent for bringing extreme irritation to extreme environments may subdue even God's most obtuse animal - the horse.
Founded by Sam Taylor and Pete Newland, "ForRangers" are a dedicated group of individuals raising money for the welfare of rangers who risk their lives daily to protect Africa's endangered species.
Rather than just tell the story - the For Rangers teams hope that by taking part in some of the hardest, most challenging endurance events on the planet, they can draw attention not only to the plight of Africa's wildlife and the poaching crisis, but importantly, the hardships and dangers the rangers are exposed to in trying to protect our wildlife - and in doing so, raise funds that go directly to rangers' welfare.
Since 2015, For Rangers has been supported by individuals from Kenya, Tanzania, UK, and as far away as New Zealand. So far, the "Running For Rangers" teams have taken part in some of the worlds toughest ultra-marathons, including The Marathon des Sables, The Jungle Ultra in Peru, The Desert Ultra in Namibia and Fire & Ice in Iceland, a 500 km run across the frozen wastelands of the Yukon in the infamous 6633 ultra as well as numerous marathons, half marathons and Tough Mudders. The "Kayaking For Rangers" team completed the Yukon 1000 - a 10-day 1000mile kayak down the Yukon River. The "Riding For Rangers" team endured a similar distance over ten days in the Mongolian Derby. "Climbing For Rangers" have submitted Mt Blanc, 8000m peak Manaslu in the Himalayas, and most recently Mt Everest.
Between them, the team has raised US$1.5 million of monetary and $500,000 in-kind donations towards rangers' welfare. Support has gone variously towards equipment, rations, salaries, health and life insurance, improving living standards and general welfare to over 2,000 rangers in 14 different African countries.
The "Riding ForRangers" team hopes to raise $120,000 to support life and health insurance, emergency rations and welfare support to over 2,000 rangers across Africa. The effects of the Covid-19 pandemic continues 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 -