For at least a week, beginning today, Madison Kauffman -- equestrian, riding instructor and pre-school teacher -- is taking the ride of her life.
The 28-year-old is one of 30 participants selected for the 2014 Mongol Derby, a race across the Mongolia steppes on semi-wild horses.
There’s no money prize awarded the winner.
So why does Kauffman want to compete in this unbelievable event?
“Mostly for the thrill of it,” she said.
A British company, the Adventurists, created the 1,000-kilometer (621-mile) race through unmarked terrain in 2009. The idea was inspired by Genghis Khan’s 13th century legendary empire-building postal system, with riders changing horses every 40 kilometers.
Riders have the option of staying with nomad herders or camping under the stars. Competitors carry a sleeping bag, change of clothing and other survival equipment.
Kauffman of Goldfield Ranch teaches at Sunflower Preschool. She is the daughter of Dan and Beverly Kauffman.
“Hopefully, I’ll finish in one piece,” said Kauffman during an interview two days before she boarded a flight to Seattle, then Seoul, Korea, to reach Ulan Bator, capital of Mongolia.
She expects to arrive home Aug. 18.
“I’m not even nervous because I don’t know what to expect,” said Kauffman. She has lived around horses since she was 10 years old.
Adventurist director Dan Wedgewood has been quoted as saying, “What we do as a company is put on tough adventures to recreate the old version of adventure where you can walk off the edge of a map.”
“The idea is Mongolia is one of the last wildernesses. There are no boundaries, it’s pretty untamed.”
Because the horses are semi-wild, they are unlike most other types of horses that competitors have previously ridden.
“It’s been said you don’t tell a Mongolian horse to do what you want it to do, you hope they want to do what you want and your goals are aligned,” Wedgewood wrote on his website.
Kauffman decided last November to enter the event after a family friend, Lisa Youngwerth, 48, of Colorado Springs contacted her.
Kauffman’s initiation reaction was, “Are you crazy? Then, I kept thinking about it and it sounded kind of cool.”
Kauffman said the longer she thought about entering, she decided experiencing a culture untouched by modern society would be an exciting adventure.
Kauffman and Youngwerth will ride as an unofficial team.
Youngwerth has competed in show hunter events and competitive trail rides in Ecuador, Spain and Costa Rica. She operates a mountain equipment supply business and is part-owner of an indoor climbing gym.
Kauffman’s main concerns are chaffing, time change, eating a native diet of mainly mutton and goat products, and staying healthy.
Rapidly changing weather conditions, typically from 50 to 90 degrees in a day, can hinder competitors’ stamina.
“Mongolia has a reputation for having four seasons in one day,” Wedgewood said, adding that only 18 of the 30 riders who started the 2013 race were able to complete the event.
Nearly half dropped out due to illness, injury or personal reasons.
Competitors are limited to no more than an 11-pound backpack.
Each rider receives a satellite tracker and emergency beacon, which allows derby organizers to monitor a rider at all times and to dispatch veterinary or emergency assistance, if required.
Competitors must raise funds for two charities, including Cool Earth, a charity that works alongside indigenous villages to stop rain forest destruction.
Each rider also raises $1,000 for a local charity. Kauffman said she probably would select an animal no-kill shelter.