Dubai horse rider challenges herself to longest endurance race in world - the Mongol Derby

The 1,000km race over rugged Mongolian terrain is so arduous that as many as half of the riders do not finish but that has not stopped a Spanish finance graduate from taking on the challenge.

Uma Mencia, who is taking part in the Mongol Derby, trains at the Fazza Endurance Team stables in Dubai. Courtesy Uma Mencia
Powered by automated translation

DUBAI // A Dubai resident is going to be one of only 40 people who next month will take part in one of the world’s most gruelling events.

If not risking life, American University of Dubai finance graduate Uma Mencia will definitely be risking limb as she navigates 1000 kilometres of Mongolian wilderness with just her wits, her horse and possibly a GPS in the Mongol Derby.

Started in 2009, the equestrian endurance test is modelled on the world’s first long-distance postal route established by Genghis Khan more than 700 years ago.

Khan’s delivery system used a network of horse stations spread out through the vast Mongolian Steppe, and the Derby incorporates stops at 25 horse stations 40km apart.

It is there that Spaniard Ms Mencia, who has been living in the UAE for seven years, faces an additional challenge to the distance endurance aspect of the trek.

At each station she will have to change horses. Not only will she have to ride 25 different horses, they will be semi-wild Mongol horses – a very different proposition to the Arab horses she is used to riding in Dubai.

“Mongol horses do not trust the rider as much,” she said.

“They are used to hard work but they are not used to having that personal relationship.

“It will be challenging as they handle very differently – the way you ride or dismount is very different so I will have to be careful.”

Injury is a real prospect as the 26-year-old travels through remote and unmarked territory that she will have no advance warning about. Each year the course is changed and kept secret until shortly before the launch.

What it will include, say the organisers, is a variety of terrain that will expose riders to harsh elements, “goosebumps” and exhaustion.

It will be the most arduous challenge Ms Mencia has undertaken and she is fully aware of the risks that lie ahead.

“There are many dangers, like losing your way or your horse having an accident,” said Ms Mencia.

“Many do not finish the race. I have been riding most of my life but I am still scared of what could happen.”

Ms Mencia has been training for the Derby with the Fazza Endurance Stables in Dubai but this race is still a bigger challenge than she’s ever faced before.

“I completed a 380km race in Abu Dhabi but this is much further,” she said.

Endurance races usually range from 120km to 160km. The Mongol Derby is one of just a few that stretch over more than a week. The number of days depends on the riders and as many as half do not complete the race.

It is not enough to put off Ms Mencia. “This race has been a dream of mine for some time,” she said.

Her father Luis said the family is proud to see her achieve her dream. “We are a bit worried but it has been one of her dreams for years so we are very supportive of Uma taking part,” he said. “We are proud to see her fulfil one of her most precious goals.”

The event, starting on August 5, is raising money for Cool Earth, a project protecting vulnerable rainforest in two Awajun communities in Peru, with Ms Mencia hoping to raise Dh4,000.

Fatma Al Balooshi, a student at Dubai Women’s College, met Ms Mencia at the Fazza Endurance Stables, and said she has become a role model.

“We connected quickly,” she said. “She’s an inspiration and has a passion.

“I have not met someone like her; she is tougher than many of the men so I am sure she will do well.”

To make a donation visit