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Petaluma woman to compete in “the longest and toughest horse race in the world”

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Petaluman Erin Nagle is adventuresome, athletic, impetuous, determined and, by her own admission — crazy.

How else would you describe a 26-year-old who is planning to ride 25 half-broken horses 600 miles across the Mongolian steppe.

Competing in the Mongol Derby, described as “the longest and toughest horse race in the world,” is the latest in Nagle’s continuing self challenges. It is by far the most demanding of her adventures.

In the past, she has competed in a body-building competition, learned to play polo, tried her hand at horse archery and run a half marathon. Those seem tame compared to what stretches like a barren desert in her future.

According to Wikipedia, the race course recreates the horse messenger system developed by Ghengis Khan in 1224. The exact course changes every year, and is kept secret until shortly before the race begins. The terrain will invariably include mountain passes, green open valleys, wooded hills, river crossings, wetland and floodplains, sandy semi-arid dunes, rolling hills, dry riverbeds and, of course, open steppe.

To complete the race, riders will ride for 13 to 14 hours a day for 10 days. Horses are provided by the race organizers and are only partially broken to ride, making just staying in the saddle challenging.

Nagle expects each horse exchange to be a new adventure.

“Our altruistic Mongolian horsemen help in the attempt to saddle up your next mount and hold it down while you pray that you can actually get (and stay) on the bucking bronc,” she writes on her gofundme page.

“Once/if you’re on, you do your best to point it in the direction of your next checkpoint and hang on, hoping you don’t get tossed, lose your kit and have to walk the remaining 22 miles on foot.”

Still, the Mongol Derby is a natural for Nagle’s challenge. “I love horses, I love riding and I love to travel,” she explained.

Although she has never owned her own horse, her background in stable work, riding and training animals, along with a pledge for the $14,000 entry fee (not including air fare and travel expenses) were enough to convince contest organizers to offer her a spot among the 40 or so riders who will be allowed to compete in the ride.

Nagle has just a little over six months to raise the funds for her entry and prepare her body for the ordeal.

She is working hard at both.

“I do a lot of cross training, and, of course I’m in the saddle as much as I can,” she explained.

As for the money, the graphic designer is doing as many jobs as she can and taking all sorts of side jobs from dog sitting to babysitting.

There is also a gofundme page at gofundme.com/erin-vs-the-derby where the rider explains about her quest.

Preparing for the adventure is a pleasure for Nagle because it gives her an opportunity to do something she has loved for as long as she can remember — ride a horse.

“When I was about 5 years old, I was at a fair, and the first thing I did was get on one of those ponies that go around and around. That was all I wanted to do. I spent almost the whole fair riding a pony. Ever since then I’ve loved those magnificent creatures,” she said.

She has been with horses at several riding stables, often working with some of the more difficult mounts, an experience she believes will serve her well as she rides the semi-wild horses she will be assigned in the Mongol Derby.

Her hard work isn’t all for her own benefit. She plans to donate whatever funds she raises above and beyond her entry fee and expenses to therapeutic riding programs that offer equine-assisted activities and therapies for individuals with special needs.

“As a kid working at a barn, I spent many hours volunteering for our local therapeutic riding organization and watched as kids and adults with special needs had their lives changed by horses,” she explained on her gofundme page. “That is why I am giving 100 percent of proceeds, after the cost of the race and expenses, to these programs.”

She will keep the aches and pains for herself.