CHEEKTOWAGA – Town of Cheektowaga resident Claire Taberski has accepted an international invitation to compete as one of forty equestrians in the Mongol Derby, a 650-mile race across the Mongolian Steppe in northeastern China.
The journey is billed as “the longest and toughest horse race in the world” and takes nearly ten days to complete as competitors self-navigate an unmarked route once used as Genghis Khan’s thirteenth-century messenger system.
“The Derby is about endurance,” said Ms. Taberski. “It isn’t about being the fastest and pushing each animal to its limits. Riders can only ride during daylight hours, and we have to deliver our horses to each station in great health, or we can be penalized. It’s about your ability as an equestrian and the adventure of the journey.”
Parts of the trail carried messages on horseback up to the 1950s and was the first postal transmission system in the world. The massive network of horse stations was considered a strategic, tactical advantage of the Mongolian Empire which spanned half the globe.
Ms. Taberski will ride the rugged terrain on twenty-five semi-feral horses, changing steeds approximately every 40 km at established checkpoints.
The semi-wild horses are integral to the culture of the nomadic herders of the Steppe, and the respect that the riders show their animals will factor in their overall success. At the end of each day, the herders allow the riders to join them in their camps to eat and rest, and competitors are expected to comply with their local customs. If found lacking, whether, in manners or the treatment of their ponies, the herders will leave riders to fend for themselves through the hill passes, valleys, river crossings, wetlands, sand dunes, and the open grassland known for its extremes in temperature.
“Assimilating into their culture is key to surviving this thing,” she laughed.
Ms. Taberski is an alumnus of Canisius College where she dual-majored in Anthropology, and Animal Behavior, Conservation and Ecology. A life-long equestrian, the twenty-six year old Orchard Park High School graduate was selected from hundreds of international applicants for the August 2020 race following an extensive vetting process which evaluated her horsemanship and riding capabilities.
“It’s an incredible opportunity to test my equine knowledge, survival skills, and cultural adaptability,” she added. “As a survivor of abuse, and as someone who has struggled with depression and anxiety, this is also deeply personal for me. It’s a testament to the strength I have today. I don’t want to focus on the negatives of the past though. If I can bring attention to anything, I want it to be about tapping into your own power, overcoming challenges or fear, and embracing life. There are so many adventures out there.”
The race fee is about fifteen thousand dollars, and with her travel expenses, Ms. Taberski expects the whole experience to cost just over $20,000. Her family has set up a GoFundMe to help offset her expenses, but Ms. Taberski hopes to draw a corporate sponsorship so she can donate the crowd-sharing funds to a charitable cause instead.
“My personal choice is to support Crisis Services locally. The race association donates to Cool Earth, a UK-based environmental group focused on fighting deforestation of rainforests and placing local communities back in control of their lands. I plan to contribute to both with the proper support.”
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