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Trio Claim Victory in the Greatest Test of Horsemanship and Survival Skill on Earth

Posted in Equestrian News, Home Page articles, horse-racing

Trio Claim Victory in the Greatest Test of Horsemanship and Survival Skill on Earth

the rider news sunset two horses and a rider

The Gaucho Derby is part of the Equestrianists Series, which also includes The Mongol Derby.

Imagine yourself thundering deep into the wilds of Patagonia on horseback. Atop an incredible Argentine steed, you’re navigating across some of the wildest terrain on Earth attempting to win the toughest and most unique equine challenge in history…this is the Gaucho Derby.

An eight day plus, 500km multi-horse adventure race, The Gaucho Derby travels through the mountains and pampas of Patagonia and is unlike any other horse race on the planet, a test of much more than simply ‘who can go fastest’.

Rendel Rieckmann, Daniel van Eeden and Holly Masson. Photo by Kathy Gabriel.

Part of the Equestrianists Series, which also includes The Mongol Derby (the longest horse race in existence), The Gaucho Derby is based on the landscape, culture, history and horses of Patagonia and, or course, the Gauchos themselves. Crossing through high mountains, \riders have to contend with both tricky terrain and unpredictable weather, ensuring the event is more than just a test of riders’ skills on a horse, pushing navigational skills, physical stamina and an ability to handle the wilderness (with riders camping out most nights) to the limit.

Riding endurance horses for the first few days of the race, when the land levels, riders must swap horses for faster riding, but still remain mindful of not pushing their horses too hard, for fear of penalties.

The winners taking a chance to extend their lead. Photo by Kathy Gabriel.

“We would rather nobody wins than someone wins by pushing too hard. Riders seen making bad decisions, riding too fast across difficult terrain or not presenting horses in great condition will get penalties or be disqualified.” – Tom Morgan, The Equestrianists founder.
The end result, ‘the greatest test of horsemanship and wilderness skills on Earth’.

This was the third time the Gaucho Derby’s run, with Covid causing a break in proceedings, and 39 riders, from 9 different nations, lined up at this year’s start line.

Sandstorm rolls in. Photo by Kathy Gabriel.

The race began on the 8th of February and from the off riders learnt that the environment in Patagonia can be a cruel mistress, as they faced the prospect of riding through a sandstorm. This slowed things down and no one was able to break away from the pack during the first day’s riding, with riders split between vet stations two and three as night fell. The end of the day’s riding was far from the end of the riders’ day however, as they took on the crucial responsibility of tending to their horses, ensuring they were well-fed, hydrated, and comfortably settled for the night, before setting up camp (riders carry their own tents, food and equipment) and preparing a ‘delightful’ dehydrated meal. This self-sufficiency is a hallmark of the journey, with riders managing their daily activities independently, without reliance on others or the support crew.

Josephine Jammaers from Belgium sets up camp. Photo by Kathy Gabriel.

Day two saw six riders finally make headway on the rest of the pack, but their lead was short lived, as scorching temperatures and a complete lack of wind, made the going tough the following day. 16 riders spent the night together between vet stations seven and eight at the end of day three.

It wasn’t until day five that another breakaway occurred, with Gaucho Derby veteran Daniel Van Eden (Netherlands), endurance athlete Holly Masson (UK) and Mongol Derby veteran Rendel Rieckmann (Germany) breaking away from the pack. The trio carried the lead forward over the following three days, although at one point it looked like Daniel and Rendel would be able to get a lead over Holly, after she received a two hour riding penalty, but the pair decided to wait for her. Rendel commented…

“Honestly, it was exhausting to constantly look over your shoulder every 10 minutes and see them chasing you. Eventually, at one of the stations, we collectively made the decision to ride together and finish as a team. It has truly been a massive relief and a much more enjoyable race since we decided to work together."
It was these three riders who went on to claim the joint title of Gaucho Derby winners, on day eight, but only after a very tense wait at the finish line…

Gauchos at work. Photo by Kathy Gabriel.

Midway through the race, at the Meseta de la Muerte (Plateau of Death), a fierce storm rolled in and, in consideration of the well-being of the horses and riders, the race directors opted to pause the race until it was deemed safe to proceed. At the time, Daniel, Holly and Rendel were in the lead and were given a 2hr ‘credit’ once the race had restarted. 

Hot on the heels of the three riders, through the latter stages of the race, were French men Nathanael Bienvenu and Olivier Picard (who rode together throughout). They actually managed to cross the finish line first, but had to wait to see whether there was more than two hours between them and Daniel, Holly and Rendel. Unfortunately, for the French riders, there wasn’t and the trio were crowned champions of a race that will forever be etched in their minds for the scenery they rode through, the people they met, the weather and challenges they faced and, of course, the horses they rode.

Rendel Rieckmann leading the way through some tricky ground. Photo by Kathy Gabriel.

Not only was the race an incredible success for all those involved, but it also helped raise thousands of dollars for various charities across the world.

For more details on the race visit 

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