Liz and Belinda Blouin take a gallop around the track.

Liz and Belinda Blouin take a gallop around the track.

As part of my Mongol Derby training, I’ve been forcing myself to ride in situations that make me scared. My theory is that if I do this enough, I’ll develop the mental fortitude necessary to deal with the inevitable moment one of my Mongol mounts goes apeshit over a loose saddle bag or decides to tank off with me over miles of marmot-hole ridden steppe.

Most of the horses I have access to are the kind of beasties perfect for adult amateur riders like me. They know their job, switch to autopilot and cart you around the arena for your allotted hour of ride time. But I needed horses with a little more fire. Fast horses. Powerful horses. Horses that make me puke a little in my mouth when I climb aboard.

This is how I found myself connecting last fall with Marc and Belinda Blouin, who race and train Thoroughbreds. They are two of the most horse savvy people I have ever met. Riding with them has been a humbling experience as I realize how far removed I now am from that life of living and breathing horses day in and day out. I lack that ‘horse sense’ you get when it’s your full-time job.

One Friday about a month ago, I was having trouble with one of their horses in the arena who was throwing his head constantly at the trot and canter. Marc watched for a few minutes, then had me get off and climbed aboard in his coveralls and rubber boots. In two turns around the arena he had that horse’s head settled and calmly trotting forward as I nursed a blister on my finger from the head tossing.

Once a week I try to head out to their farm and ride. They’ve been generous and kind and given me plenty of pointers on how to ride these sensitive, fast creatures and I’ve developed a new appreciation for how flipping fit jockeys and exercise riders are. The first time Belinda took me out on the track I couldn’t do more than two laps at the gallop before I’d start heaving and sputtering and feeling that lactic burn through my quads and lower back. For two days after that first ride, I could barely walk.

This spring I’m fitter – and got to head out on the track for the first time this past weekend. They gave me one of their old pros – a six-year-old colt who does auto changes through the corners of the track and is basically voice trained. All I had to do was sit there, and that was enough. Even though Marc commented “it could’ve been faster” we reached almost 40 km/hr – fast enough for me for my first time out. I was on a big, powerful horse and I was flying. And mid-gallop, I got to thinking, I would have never, ever, had the inclination or motivation to ride a race horse if it wasn’t for the Mongol Derby. It’s a recurring theme over these last few months – I catch myself feeling in total awe of this whole process – meeting fascinating people who are as passionate about horses as I am and jumping outside my comfort zone and trying new disciplines of riding.

Here’s a video of parts of that gallop:

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