I did the Gaucho Derby with a broken rib…
Imagine yourself thundering deep into the wilds of Patagonia on horseback. You’ve got your steed underneath you and you are navigating across some of the wildest terrain on Earth attempting to win one of the toughest and most unusual equine challenges in history…this is the Gaucho Derby.
35 Riders from 15 countries - Mexico, USA, UK, France, Germany, Belgium, Sweden, Switzerland, Ireland, Chile, Netherlands, Canada, South Africa, Kenya, and Hong Kong lined up and charged out into the wilderness to contest in the second annual Gaucho Derby on the 3rd of March 2022. A mix of tension, excitement and anticipation were buzzing at the start line. Strong winds and the feel of foreign saddlebags were keeping these fit and fiery horses on the tips of their hooves. Some mounts gave their riders a small taste of what could be in store for them over the next 10 days.
Nathalie Blomquist from Sweden was one of these riders and here is her story.
Nathalie describes herself as a six-foot giraffe whose natural habitat is on the back of a horse or on a sailboat on the water. She used to ride at speed and jump solid fences for a living before retiring to an office. She describes herself as stubborn: she started riding at age six and her stubbornness took her all the way to the national eventing team. While she has strong navigation and first aid skills and is competent in icy environments, she admits she doesn’t like being cold or wet and is “not really made for temperatures below +25C.”
The Mongol Derby and The Gaucho derby have both been called the world’s toughest horse race. But for different reasons. Like the Mongol derby, the Gaucho Derby features mind bending terrain, sublime views, and stunning horses. However, unlike the Mongol Derby, the Gaucho Derby isn’t just about horsemanship. It’s about wilderness survival, navigation, and strategy. The Gaucho Derby won‘t just test your skills on a horse. The world’s toughest horse race will stretch your navigation skills, wilderness skills, and physical and mental endurance to breaking point.
When did you decided you wanted to challenge yourself like this?
I am not sure; I sent an application and got the confirmation about ten months before the race. Some of the riders had been waiting for two years. The way I see it there where benefits from going into it with an open mind. When I normally compete, I know what to expect and what to train for. Now it was more doing the best with what I have got. What I have learned from that is to take some pressure of and focus on the situation at hand.
How did you prepare?
There is a strict upper weight limit at 85kg dressed to ride and this rule is non-negotiable. You’re also allowed 10kg of kit in your saddle bag. I spent a lot of time with the kitchen scale measuring clothing, tents, sleeping bags and foods. I needed to get as much calories as possible for as little weight as possible. I practiced putting up the tent in the yard when it was storming so I knew I would be able to eat and sleep at least. I had my Stierna gear the Storm Jacket, Nova Hybrid fleece jacket, Smilla winter breeches and the Stella Skirt. The Stella skirt had a double function since it was my pillow during the nights.
Tell us about your experience.
It is both the best thing I have ever done and the worst. Don’t get me wrong, I will go back to Patagonia but there were days when I were questioning what I was doing, and nights I woke up at 3am from being hungry. To be honest this can be tainted by the fact that I did have a rough start to my Gaucho Derby. The first horse on the first day was an absolute rocket speeding over the Pampas, after a while the saddle bag started to slide sideways pull the saddle along with it. I fell badly and broke a rib. I had to get up and move to the Vet Check, once there I wanted to move on. Then the horse went into a bog, and I was covered with mud from top to toe. When I finally reached the camp for the night it was snowing, and the wind was picking up.
How did you move on from that?
The next morning, I woke up from the tent canvas beating in the wind and the ground was covered in snow. I got up on the horse and just went section by section. It wasn’t until day 5 when I realized that the rib was actually broken, this is when it started to become really painful. I tried to focus on the breathing and at this point I didn’t have many options. The medics where also on horses and we were far from civilization. Day 6 and 7 I was so much pain, I shortened the stirrup leathers and tried to stand up as much as possible. My goal was to finish on day 8 but the horse I got in the morning was not fit enough so I had a two hour walk back to change horse. This took more than half the day and I ended up reaching the goal day 9.
How did it go for the rest of the riders?
It was about 15 hours between the first and the last rider. My mom was supposed to meet me at the finish line, but she had come down with Covid, so my dad was there. In the evening we all sat down to have Asados, a South American barbecue with beef, pork, chicken, chorizo, and morcilla which are cooked on an open fire. It was lovely to finally eat until I was full.
What is your key take-away from this journey?
Keep an open mind, anything is possible if you put your mind to it and that every day is a good riding day...even with a broken rib.