Surviving the longest and toughest horse race in the world

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Jessica Di Pasquale was pregnant with her second child when she had an epiphany – she needed to do something for her.

The Northern Territory woman applied for the Mongol Derby, known as the world’s longest and toughest multi-horse race.

The experienced rider made the cut and was one of about 40 people accepted into the competition.

Jessica Di Pasquale
Jessica Di Pasquale was one of 40 riders from around the globe accepted into the Mongol Derby. (The Equestrianists/Ochiroo Bayarsaihan)
After more than 18 months of training and an initial coronavirus delay, the mother-of-two set off for Mongolia.

For 10 days, Di Pasquale raced for 11 hours a day across the country’s wilderness.

The rider followed a recreated version of the horse messenger system developed by Genghis Khan in 1224 for 1000km.

Di Pasquale partnered with fellow Northern Territory rider and childhood friend Natalie Bell for the bucket list adventure.

“We’ve already been friends for almost a lifetime,” she said.

Jessica Di Pasquale followed a recreated version of the horse messenger system developed by Genghis Khan in 1224 for 1000km.
Di Pasquale followed a recreated version of the horse messenger system developed by Genghis Khan in 1224 for 1000km. (The Equestrianists/Shari Thompson)

The two raised money for Sock it to Sarcoma in honour of their late friend Stevie Marcon, who died from a rare type of cancer in 2017.

Along the way, the riders kept Marcon in their thoughts.

“She was a really adventurous person,” Di Pasquale said.

But while the pair planned their trip and trained together, the friends were separated early in the race.

Bell was hit with a time penalty, which resulted in Di Pasquale joining two riders from New Zealand for most of the competition.
Jessica Di Pasquale partnered with fellow Northern Territory rider and childhood friend Natalie Bell.
Di Pasquale partnered with fellow Northern Territory rider and childhood friend Natalie Bell. (Supplied)

“It was definitely the hardest thing was to leave Natalie,” Di Pasquale said.

“It still brings tears to my eyes every time I think about it.”

This wasn’t the only challenge Di Pasquale encountered along the way.

The rider, who works as a farm and stud overseer at Charles Darwin University, knows horses well.

But the Mongolian horses used for the race “are notorious for being semi-wild”.

Along the way, the riders remarked at the
Along the way, the riders remarked at the “unbelievable terrain” which “changed so often”. (The Equestrianists/Shari Thompson)

“They basically said treat them like wolves,” Di Pasquale said.

“You’ve just got to get on and ride. No fancy horsemanship.”

One of her fellow riders saw this firsthand after he dropped his reign and it wrapped around the horse’s legs.

The horse then threw the rider.

“I tried to follow it,” Di Pasquale recalled.

“Sometimes it takes days to find them.”

Di Pasquale said the Mongolian horses used for the race “are notorious for being semi-wild”. (The Equestrianists/Shari Thompson)

When it wasn’t the horses keeping riders on their toes, it was the “unbelievable terrain” which “changed so often”.

None of this defeated Di Pasquale, who crossed the finish line in August, a feat that was not a guarantee for every rider.

“There were many highs and lows,” she said.

But regardless of the ups and downs, Di Pasquale said the experience overall was a “completely and utterly mind-blowing”.

“I think for anyone who wants to do it, bite the bullet and do it,” she said.

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