Victoria Wang: The Ride of a Lifetime
Victoria Wang is about to embark on the adventure of a lifetime, when she takes her place in the August Mongol Derby, the world's longest horse race. The race extends 1,000km through the Mongolian Steppe and is certinally not for the faint hearted! We caught up with Victoria to learn a little more about herself and the ride ahead.
How did you get involved with horses?
I was born and raised in Beijing, China. Equestrian sport was not very common where I grew up.
My first time to see a horse was at 5 years old when my parents took me to travel in Inner Mongolia which is a northern province of China, and we stayed with a local herder’s family. The host threw me on a little Mongolian pony’s warm slippery back and led the pony forward a few metres, and at that moment I totally fell in love with this giant animal.
I became crazily addicted to horses while growing up, however, none of my family had any clue where or how I could get access to more horses, so I had to search around Beijing myself. Luckily in my third year in university, I went to University of Louisville in Kentucky for an exchange program, and from where I got involved with much more horsey stuff, and more importantly, thoroughbred racing.
And then more luck came to me – I was selected into the Sheikh Mohammed sponsored “Dubai International Thoroughbred Internships” after graduating from university with a finance bachelor degree and studied at Darley farms in Kentucky for a year. This opportunity totally opened up the door for me to get started in the racing industry.
What is your role in the racing industry?
My last job was Regional Manager for Asia at Windsor Park Stud, and now I am taking a career break and focusing on the Mongol Derby training.
What sparked your interest in the Mongol Derby?
The first time when I opened their website back in 2018, I was stoked – this is a perfect event to enjoy riding horses to the full. Usually when you go out for a ride at the equestrian club or someone’s farm, it is only an hour or a few hours riding at most, but the Mongol Derby is like a customized travel package for horse lovers, especially for those like me who did not have many opportunities to ride at home but are so keen to ride horses. That’s my first impression to the Mongol Derby – a fun horse trekking event. So, I decided right away that I will sign up for it at some stage soon in the future.
Why did you decide to do the event?
When I realized that the Mongol Derby is not only a fun horse trekking event but also with lots of DIY parts and potential risks, I hesitated a little bit for a few seconds. I love travelling and adventures, and I wanted to do something that I could still think of during the rest of my life, so I went ahead and submitted the MD rider application. If I don’t do it now, I will probably get scared and give up the idea.
What training have you done leading up to the race?
I am very grateful I got to know a professional endurance rider Jenny Chandler, who introduced me into Distance Riding New Zealand community. I did some training rides with Jenny and competed a few endurance races around North Island. I got the 2nd place in the 120km DRNZ Championships this May.
After the endurance season finished in May, I started going to Erana Shattock’s place where she trains a few racehorses. Apart from going to the track, Erana also takes her horses to do other disciplines such as dressage, trekking or normal short endurance rides. By going to her stables regularly every week, I can keep my body’s muscle memory on horseback.
I also try to go to the gym as much as possible, but I am not a gym person, so I took a few PT sessions with Kayleigh Ryan who rides horses as well.
What do you know about how the race works?
The Mongol Derby is an 1000km endurance race held every year in Mongolia. The riders will select their own mounts but most of the horses could be spooky as they usually live in a herd and are not handled every day.
Riders will have a Garmin GPS and navigate themselves to the next horse station for their next horse. Each leg between horse stations is usually 40km or less.
Rider’s body weight plus the dressed riding gears should not be over 85kg, and everyone is only allowed to bring a 5kg saddle bag with survival necessities in it.
Some parts of the race are just like a horsey version of Bear Grylls’s “Man vs. Wild”.
From my opinion, in this game your most reliable companion is your horse, so the better you treat your horse, the more likely you will finish the whole journey in one piece.
What are you looking forward to the most?
I am still quite green in horse riding, so finishing the race without penalties will be good enough to me.
Apart from the race itself, I am also very keen to meet the local herders, the race organizers, and other riders. I think anyone who is involved into something crazy like the Mongol Derby, will have something special about them. There will be many stories shared and more life-time friends.
What, if anything, are you nervous about?
I am quite nervous about lots of things to be honest. Losing my horse and gears, getting lost, or realizing that I forgot to bring some necessary gears after the race starts……
Have you spoken to anyone else who has done the race? If so, what advice have they given you?
In the racing community I’ve spoken to Eion Kemp (who did it in 2018) right after I got accepted into the Derby, and I also had some kind encouragement from Maxim Van Lierde (who did it in 2015).
Right now, I pretty much forgot most of the tips they gave me, but the only thing I remember is to keep riding no matter how sore you are.
How much does it cost to do the event and how did you fundraise?
The entry fee is USD 14,500 which is about NZD 22,000. On top of that I will also need to pay for flight tickets, visa, special insurance, and gears such as riding/camping clothes etc.
I short listed some companies in the horse industry, who I know quite well, and I think will be very supportive to a young person’s dream, and then I drafted a proposal to them asking for a sponsorship.
So far, I have got sponsorship from two top Italian equestrian equipment companies LAS Helmet and Setzi Saddles. From the racing industry I have got China Horse Owners Alliance which is led by Yulong Stud principal Mr. Zhang, IRT NZ, Te Akau Racing, and Windsor Park Stud.
Are you raising money for any organisation, and if so, which one and why did you choose them?
Yes, I will donate a portion of my sponsorship proceeds to three non-profit organizations, and it will be much appreciated if anyone who also would like to donate some to these organizations to support my Mongol Derby journey.
- Steppe and Hoof, Mongolia:
Steppe and Hoof is set up to help herders and their animals in Mongolia. Without the local herders and the mighty Mongolian horses, we could not enjoy the Mongol Derby at all, so they need to be looked after well.
- HOPE Equestrian Therapeutic Centre, China:
HOPE Equestrian Therapeutic Centre is a non-profit organization in Beijing that provides equine assisted activities and therapies (EAAT) to individuals with special needs in China. It is quite similar to NZRDA here.
As a Beijing local, I hope that more people in China could get interested in horses, and that they can also understand that horse is not just for entertainment or competitions, sometimes they could help general public in their daily lives.
- Beyond the Barriers, New Zealand:
I think the racing industry is not complete without an organization like Beyond the Barriers. Horse is the key role in our community. We have lots of professional breeding farms, training stables, racecourses to let the racehorses fit in their first career, and we definitely need a good organization to pave the ways for the racehorses’ retirement lives.
Gina and Nicky have dedicated themselves to running the organization and they have done a great job helping lots of retired racehorses shine in their second career. I respect their effort and results very much so I will support them as much as I can.
I would like to take this opportunity to thank the racing industry and the horse people here in NZ. I came to NZ for the first time back in 2014, when I got a temporary job from Sir Patrick Hogan at Cambridge Stud as a seasonal stud groom. Then I got to know more people and gained more experience. Everyone was very kind to me and if I had questions, there was always answers with patience. I still cannot believe that the original plan to New Zealand was just visiting as a traveller, but now it turns into being a resident.