Wild ponies await Dade City woman at the Mongol Derby

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Patti Long of Dade City makes horseback riding look easy, even when she's galloping through the Florida landscape keeping the hounds of her local hunt club in check.

She crosses fences, ditches, palmetto flats, and orange groves on horseback, seeming to have nerves of steel. 

She's going to need them for her next adventure. She leaves for Mongolia June 29 to ride in the Mongol Derby - billed as the longest, toughest race in the world.

The 1000 kilometer race recreates Genghis Khan's postal route, which expanded his empire back in 1234 AD. That's 630 miles in about 10 days, over all kinds of terrain. She'll be in the saddle for grueling 12-hour days, swapping ponies every 25 miles. 

And the ponies she will ride are not domesticated riding horses. These will be semi-wild Mongolian ponies.

"Ponies that don't want to be saddled up or mounted, they don't really steer very well. Some don't want to go. Some want to bolt to their destination...or buck you off," Long explained.

She's trading riding boots for sneakers, just in case.

"There's a chance I could be without my horse at some point and I might have a very long walk," Long said.

She's also retrofitting her helmet with a brim to withstand the strong Mongolian sun.

Along the way, she'll rely on the hospitality of  Mongolian herdsmen and their families for shelter and food.

"You have to stop and get off at 8 o'clock at night regardless of where you're at, so you're going to go from nomadic family to nomadic family and eat the food they provide you," Long said, adding the food will mostly be mutton.

Time is crucial, but so is making sure not to push they pony too hard. Every 25 miles, there will be a veterinarian check. The pony's respiration rate must come down within a certain time or there's a penalty. Four penalties and the rider is done.

Long says, "It has to come into the vet station in good condition. The heart rate has to lower. The horse can't be lame. You can't override your pony. You have to take care of it."

To train for the race, Long is riding as much as she can.

She says, "Every waking moment I'm just trying to ride, ride, ride. I'm trying to get as much time in the saddle as I can."

She says winning would be wonderful, but her goal is to finish. At least a third of the riders usually don't.

"I would really like to win. I would really like to come in the top 10. But my main goal is to come in with no vet penalties.. and in one piece," Long said.

She is also riding to raise money for research at Moffitt Cancer Center. To follow her journey as it progresses beginning August 7, visit https://www.theadventurists.com/adventures/mongol-derby/.