Mongol Derby 2013

We caught up with the event director, Katy Willings, to see how the equipment had performed and contributed to the event.

This year saw one of the most competitive, fast-moving and dramatic Mongol Derbies in the event’s history. After a single day’s racing the field was spread over an unprecedented 80 kilometres, and at its peak there was some 450 kilometres between the front runner and the rear guard. This presents a huge challenge to the team directing the race, as the backup crews of vets and medics must be deployed at intervals behind, among and in front of the riders, both for ordinary race duties such as health-checking the horses, and for emergency response.

This year we used the Iridium 9575 Extreme for the first time, and I must say they performed superbly call quality was always excellent, and battery life, generally the scourge of all field teams on a 12 day event like the Derby with no access to AC charging, was very solid. The Iridium 9575 Extreme and the Iridium 9555 are extremely user-friendly for first-time sat-phone users, as most of my vets and event staff are new to satellite technology. This is important because it allows the teams in the field to focus on their jobs, and not hesitate when contact with HQ is needed.

With no medical backup available in the case of an emergency, there was no option but to impose a race hold on all riders. Imposing a race hold involves communication with every crew on the field, so that as riders approach their next horse stations they can be intercepted and held until normal service could be resumed. In a race as competitive and high profile as the Mongol Derby, fairness is as important as safety, and so detailed logs need to be maintained of who has been held, where, and for how long, so that the real intervals between riders can be ‘trued up’ later in the race.

I was able to contact all 14 crews and confirm details of the race hold, and what I needed them to do, within 30 minutes of making the decision to hold the race with the medic teams. Without perfect communications this exercise could have taken several hours, and riders could have been loose on the field with no emergency back up in case they needed it, and getting an unfair advantage if the going was good.

When comms are difficult, they naturally tail off. The equipment provided by AST to the Mongol Derby 2013 made news correspondents out of all of the field crews, which adds so much to the event. Whilst horse and rider safety can be managed with relatively streamlined communications, in order to really know what is going on out there in the race, who is flourishing, who is flagging, the dramas, the great recoveries, the unlikely alliances and breakaways, we need commentary from the crews who are out there in sight of the riders.

The crews became invaluable commentators, allowing me in the office in HQ to give followers of the Derby round the world genuine updates and interesting commentary on the adventure as it unfolded. I am convinced that without the equipment to make this news-feed a manageable, enjoyable exercise, it would not have happened. As it was I was able to publish on our Twitter feed, @mongolderbylive, almost-live updates texted or called in by the crews, and the extra interest this generated among the public has been priceless.

After 7 days of fierce competition and 1000kms of gruelling riding, the Derby came to an intensely dramatic conclusion. 20 year old Devan Horn of Texas, USA, crossed the line first, and celebrations were underway, but her horse’s pulse remained high and she was issued with a veterinary penalty on the finish line, allowing her British rival, 19 year old Lara Prior Palmer, to saunter over the line, and claim an unexpected victory. Our race photographer Richard Dunwoody was there for the unfolding drama and captured this shot of Devan being consoled, while Lara talks triumphantly to the Adventurists in Bristol, UK, as press releases were prepared for global distribution

That photo was with our Press Officer in the UK Dan Wedgwood within minutes of it being taken, and after some deliberation as to whether we could publish such a poignant image, released to the world. The device Richard relied on throughout was the BGAN Explorer 500 provided by AST.

In short, I cannot recommend the hardware, and the good solid advice that comes with it from the team at AST Systems, highly enough. They work hard to make costs manageable for us as a small business and occasional user of the technology, they are always quick to suggest new solutions which may suit our needs. The technology they provide to The Mongol Derby underpins the entire event; the Derby is already a miracle of logistics, but it would be inconceivable without the communications systems supplied to us by AST.

Find out more about the trip - www.theadventurists.com