The world’s longest, hardest horse race meets Canisius alumna, Claire Taberski

IMG_5154Abby Wojcik

Features Editor

At one point, Claire Taberski was taking ABEC classes in Science Hall and working as captain of the Canisius Riding Team.

Now, she is preparing for the longest, toughest horse race in the world: the Mongol Derby.

The Mongol Derby is a annual ten day, 650-mile race across the Mongolian Steppe. About 40 riders will self-navigate an unmarked route once used as Genghis Khan’s 13th-century messenger system, while enduring harsh weather conditions and a completely foreign culture.

Claire Taberski, class of 2014, majored in ABEC and Anthropology at Canisius and she currently works as a horse trainer and farm manager. She was chosen out out of hundreds of applicants to participate in this prestigious race. Taberski’s race takes place in August of 2020.

This is an extremely intense race in terms of physical endurance. Riders aren’t allowed a plethora of gear, there are dangerous wild dogs and wolves, and there are cold nights as well as blazing hot days. In addition, the horses they’ll be riding are semi-feral, meaning there is no guarantee that they are tame enough to ride. Because of all this, riders are only permitted to ride until 8:30 p.m. Taberski’s strategy is to be a team player and form a group with some of the other participants.

Another aspect of the race is immersing yourself in the Mongolian culture. Overnight, Taberski will stay with various Mongolian families, meaning she will have to understand their culture, the expectations and the manners of the people.

“It’s really an incredible combination of what I did at Canisius,” Taberski said. “Because it’s like the anthropological side. I have to learn a whole culture, so as not to offend, so I can survive for ten days. Then, here is my animal side. I have to ride simi-feral horses that don’t get pets and treats like we give our horses in here America. The Mongolians love their horses, but they don’t show them affection like we do.”

There are many Mongolian customs that include never touching anyone with your feet, never point your feet in the direction of the altar and never touch a child on their head. It is important to respect the Mongolian culture and not offend them because they have the right to kick you out of their home, forcing you to sleep outside for the night. It is extremely dangerous to sleep outside without any protection because of the wolves and other elements.

A major factor of Mongolian culture is the respect of horses. Riders can be penalized for not returning horses in good condition, meaning their heart rate should be returning to normal and they shouldn’t be in any pain.IMG_5188

“Horses are really essential to their being,” Taberski explained. “Some of them are pretty semi-feral, so maybe they’ve only had people sit on them a few times, maybe the Mongolian children have been riding them, or maybe they’re ridden and races all the time.”

Riders will get a new horse at every checkpoint station and they get to choose, but if a rider is struggling, then they’ll probably get a horse that no one else wanted, it might not be the best fit, and it could be more dangerous.

Regardless of the risk, endurance racing has always interested Taberski. Now that she is doing the Mongol Derby, she is forced to start practicing and getting more endurance races under her belt to prepares for the longest endurance race of all time.

“I’m just hoping this opens up avenues for me to continue on, especially when I’m done with the derby, of actually pursuing this,” Taberski stated. “I can only think that it would help my career because it just shows that I was dedicated enough to train for something that was as extreme as the Mongol Derby and if I can make it out of there uninjured and if I can finish it, then I feel like that would just show a lot commitment to something extreme.”

With everything that goes into this race, one of the most interesting things is that there is no material reward. Taberski sees this as a once in a lifetime experience and she’s not giving herself any other option but to finish and succeed.

“I’m doing this race more for the experience, not necessarily to win,” she said. “For me, it’s just such an educational and spiritual experience. It’s so hippy of me to say that, but honestly to ride a horse in a foreign country and do something that pushes my mind and body literally every day would be worth it for me.”

Another way Taberski is making the race worth it is by bringing in a charitable aspect. The race itself is $15,000 because an organization, The Adventurists, is trying to preserve the Mongolian culture and proved some awareness for them with The Mongol Derby. With technological advances and civilization changes, a lot of long-standing nomadic cultures are being wiped out. This derby is a way to bring people from other cultures in to experience this other treasure of a community.

A GoFundMe page has been started to help raise the money for Taberski, but she is also hoping to make enough to donate to Crisis Services of Buffalo. Taberski is a survivor of mental and emotional abuse that actually came from one of her previous horse trainers as a teenager. She suffered from extreme depression and anxiety for a long time, but now she is in a place where she wants to help others. “I want to be able to support Crisis Services because I think if I would have known about them, I maybe wouldn’t have ended up as bad as I had. I think it’s just such an important tool,” she said.

Taberski’s journey that started with her struggle with depression and anxiety, to her time at Canisius, to the Mongol Derby is an inspiration to everyone. The Cheektowaga resident is putting herself in a scary, dangerous setting that will ultimately be rewarding and life changing. Donate to her cause at http://tinyurl.com/TaberskiRace.

 

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