WHAT: Ride in The Gaucho Derby
In March 2020, 24 horse riders set off into the untamed, unspoiled landscapes of Patagonia to tackle the Gaucho Derby – a ten-day, 500km multi-horse adventure race. Four days and five emergency helicopter evacuations later, 18 of the 24 riders had either called it quits or been rescued. Five had hypothermia. A horse had kicked one rider in the face. Another was suffering from kidney failure. And the race wasn’t even halfway over.
The World’s Toughest Horse Race?
Said to be one of the toughest horse race challenges, The Gaucho Derby is run by The Adventurists. This British travel company believes adventure only begins when things go belly up. Although the Adventurists are known for the older, more established Mongol Derby, the Gaucho Derby is different.
A Test of Horsemanship
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 mindbending 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.
Essentially, it will teach you what it means to be a “Gaucho.” These rock-hard, ultra-skilled South American cowboys are legends of Patagonian folklore. They spend their days thundering across the wild landscapes of Patagonia. They spend their nights winding down under starry skies, surviving on their wits and their knowledge of the land. This is precisely what you’ll be doing if you sign up to ride in The Adventurists ‘Gaucho Derby.’
If you feel ready to tackle the world’s toughest horse race, contact the Adventurists at their website. They are quick to point out that this is a genuinely dangerous race. Riders will be required to sign an airtight disclaimer should things go wrong, which they can and do. After that, the experience unfolds as follows:
The Gaucho Derby Race Schedule
- Fly to Patagonia. Settle in.
- Meet and greet your fellow race competitors, along with the race crew – an experienced mix of local horsemen and women, medics, managers, and vets.
- Attend Gaucho school. Pre-race briefings include navigation, horse and rider health, wilderness survival, emergency procedures, several training rides and more.
- Sort your gear. Riders are permitted only 10kgs of essential survival kit, as well as 2kg resupply bags to be collected at horse stations along the way.
- Plan your route. The Gaucho Derby route is whatever riders decide, and depends on weather, temperature, and conditions on the ground, which can and do change rapidly. Riders should definitely plan ahead. However, once underway, they need to be adaptable. Riders must pause, read maps, GPS, and the terrain in front of them. They use this information to make educated decisions about how to get from A to B in one piece.
Other things to know about the Gaucho Derby include:
Slower-paced than its Mongolian sister race, the Adventurists Gaucho derby demands tactical riding to conserve the horses’ energy for the next leg. Vets must perform strict checks at each stop before riders can continue. Vet stations are around 40km apart to ensure the wellbeing of both animal and rider. Here vets check that the horses aren’t being over-raced. And, that riders are not putting their own racing ambitions ahead of the welfare of the horse. If you’ve been riding your horse too fast over gnarly terrain then these guys will be able to tell.
Skill Vs. Speed
Although a multi-horse race, riders do not switch horses at each stop. Unlike the pedal-to-the-metal Mongol Derby, riding the Patagonian Andes is more about skill than speed, meaning horses don’t tend to run out of steam so quickly. In contrast, the ‘Pampas‘ flatlands sections are a chance to hit the gas and eat up the miles. During these sections, riders will be switching horses more regularly.
Gaucho Derby Accommodation
On some nights, riders stay at the ‘estancias‘ or horse stations. However, most nights, riders will be camping out under the stars, so don’t forget your sleeping bag and camp stove.
How Much Does The Gaucho Derby Cost?
Entering the Adventurists Gaucho derby is not cheap (around $14,500) and doesn’t include travel costs and medical insurance. Although it sounds expensive, it makes more sense when you consider the event requires over 1,500 horses. Additionally, the Gaucho Derby employs around 500+ crew members, including vets, medics, round-the-clock support crews, and many more. Many riders cover their costs by obtaining sponsorship or recording the event for media outlets.
Patagonia is a sparsely populated region at the southern tip of South America shared by Argentina and Chile. This region was chosen because of the existence of a horse culture experienced and competent enough to be able to oversee this type of race.
- The Patagonian Andes can make you feel extremely small even before you’ve set out into them. Then they make you feel minuscule. Gaucho Derby riders will likely encounter every obstacle the Andes has to offer. These include hypothermia, exhaustion, frostbite, hunger, a million different injuries, and more.
- Before riding, you’ll need to sign The Gaucho Derby waiver form. The document is the size of Patagonia and as airtight as a nuclear submarine. The Gaucho Derby has dangers galore, which is why all riders carry satellite beacons that allow monitoring at all times. If things go South, hopefully the rescue and medical teams will be able to charge in and take you out before the elements do.
- Penalties for riders who made bad decisions range from time-outs to disqualification. Racing begins at 8 am and finishes at 6 pm. Riders must sit penalties out between these hours.
- 500 years ago, the first European explorers to set foot in Patagonia described it as exotic, vast, and infinite in it’s beauty. Nothing has changed. Nowadays, many adventurers consider the land at the ends of the earth to be its ultimate outdoor adventure paradise.
- The Gaucho Derby is much more than a horse race. It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to explore stunning landscapes at the ends of the earth. And, immerse yourself in a wild, warm, unique culture that precious few get to experience.