Midcoast dairy farmer to compete in the Mongol Derby, the longest horse race in the world

Midcoast dairy farmer to compete in the Mongol Derby, the longest horse race in the world

Jessie Dowling riding one of her horses, Maggie. Maggie will not be going with Dowling to the Mongol Derby. Instead, Dowling will have the opportunity to ride up to 27 different horses during the race. Courtesy of Jessie Dowling

A Midcoast dairy farmer and horse enthusiast will tackle the ultimate riding challenge when she competes next month in the Mongol Derby — the longest horse race in the world.

Jessie Dowling, 42, of Whitefield, will race in Mongolia alongside 44 riders from all over the world, two-thirds of whom are women. The elite race, which starts Aug. 2, follows the historical postal routes of Genghis Khan, the founder of the Mongol Empire.

“Mongolia is the birthplace of horsemanship,” Dowling said.

Riders will have eight to 10 days to complete the 620-mile race. Competitors can only ride between the hours of 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. Racers must weigh no more than 187 pounds when dressed in full gear and can only carry 11 pounds of supplies. In the evenings, riders stay with Mongolian families for food and shelter, according to the derby website.

Dowling is not the only Mainer to compete in the Derby. In August 2017, Amanda Charlton Hebert of Poland completed the race.

Preparing for the ride of a lifetime

For the past year, Dowling has taken Mongolian language lessons and trained in Ohio, Oregon and Idaho, riding horses of all different performance levels. At home, Dowling said she rides 30- to 75-mile-long races on her Arabian horse, Jellybean. She said Arabian horses are the best for long-distance running because of their naturally low heart rates and tolerance for heat.

Dowling said riders need to be physically fit before competing in a race of this caliber because “broken bones can happen.”

“No one has ever died, but it’s risky. I’ve been training, running, working out and mentally preparing myself for it,” she said, and added jokingly, “Luckily, I have a pretty good health plan.”

Derby competitors will ride up to 27 different horses during the race, swapping them out every 25 miles along the trail. Dowling said it’s crucial to take deep breaths and maintain a positive attitude because horses “mirror your energy.”

“It’s important to become comfortable with the uncomfortable,” she said.

Dowling said she received her first horse when she was 11 years old and has been in love with them ever since. Convinced riding was not a practical career, she pursued other avenues and opened her farm, Fuzzy Udder Creamery, in 2013. Dowling said she raises goats and sheep and sells her cheeses from Ogunquit to Bar Harbor. After years of pouring all her energy into the farm, Dowling said the COVID-19 pandemic gave her time to pause and revisit riding.

“This past year has been the best year of my life because I’ve been training and learning, and I haven’t even been to Mongolia yet,” she said. “I think my real, true life calling is working with horses. I’m a lifelong horsewoman.”

Entering an elite race like the Mongol Derby doesn’t come cheap. Each rider must pay a $15,500 entrance fee. Dowling has raised just over $5,700 so far through GoFundMe. Dowling is also raising money for BraveHearts Therapeutic Riding, an equine therapy nonprofit for veteran suicide prevention, and Steppe and Hoof, a nonprofit providing vet care to Mongolian herding families on the steppe — a fundraising requirement to enter the race.

Instead of a cash prize, Derby winners receive a cup of fermented mare’s milk (Kumis) and bragging rights.

“You get lifetime credit for completing the Mongol Derby; everyone will know you are tough,” Dowling said.

Dowling embarks on the 24-hour journey to Mongolia on July 14, where she will train and prepare for her race, launching Aug. 2. You can track her during the race by visiting equestrianists.com/mongol-derby/.

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