July 15, 2024

Baguio born  Solana Lim Perez is the first Filipina to compete in the longest and toughest horse race in the world popularly known as the Mongol Debry, which was held in August with over 1,000 km of Mongolian steppe (a vast grassland, devoid of trees and with little diversity in vegetation.

Judging from this definition, I would say that the grassland  is similar to the summit or plateau of Mount Pulag but over undetermined boundary.

One has to be armed with stamina, determination and will power to be able to handle the hurdles that will come your way.

As one rider  stated: “It is physically and mentally demanding and  the sheer vastness is epic.”

Another one attested: “To be on a horse from 6:30 in the morning to 8:00 o’clock at night for 10 days in a row is absolutely grueling. This is not an ordinary horse race; it is something else. One has to change horses every 40 km. As the horses rest, the rider endures,  until he or she finishes the race.”

Forty-four equestrians of different backgrounds and different nationalities from all over the world  joined the horse race challenge and learned about the wilderness of Mongolia, the nomadic culture and goodness of its people and the steadfastness of its steeds. Even if there were the best people watching over you,  who were  usually one step ahead, you still had to rely on yourself. Sheer will power could not be overstated.

Genghis Khan  was best known for unifying the Mongolian steppe under a massive empire that was able to challenge the powerful Jin dynasty in China. He said, “It is easy to conquer the world from the back of a horse.”

Hence, you can imagine the  immensity of  the Mongol Derby. It  is a test of endurance, wits and survival. This phenomenal race brought together about 500 people, medics, vets, equestrians and guests  from all over the world and from all walks of life.  About twenty five riders completed the 2023 Mongol Derby.

Swedish rider Linda Hermann won the race.

With Solana being the first Filipina to compete, it is surely a feather in our cap. She  started training  with the Kabajo Handlers Association at Camp John Hay and the Wright Park Pony Boys Association in 2019.

Solana’s mother,  Padmapani Lim Perez, is a doctor of Anthropology,  a research fellow, a poet and a freelance feature writer. Together with sister Feliz, who is another anthropologist, they own and manage Mt. Cloud Bookstore at Yangco Road in  Baguio. Solana’s grandparents are  Adelaida Lim, a gourmet enthusiast, environmentalist and one of the proprietors of Café by the Ruins,  and  Butch Perez, a film director.

Solana mentioned in a TV interview she was overwhelmed with the support of the community and her friends from abroad when they heard that she was joining the derby.

Mencie Kinao also cited in her report that  Solana expressed that she was only able to finish 625-kilometer of the 1,000-km. race because of various reasons,  but the race  had gifted her with friendships and brief moments  which warmed her heart.  

“More than my hydration system breaking down, more than bad luck at the horse lottery, this is the true reason I stuck to the back of the pack during the derby.  I do feel changed but I do not feel diminished. I feel loved. I will forever treasure the memories I made with all the people I met. Thank you, Mongolia. Thank you for sheltering me in the warm and strong arms of your people under your Eternal Blue Sky,” she said.

She also asked the people of Baguio to support her ponyboy friends. They served as her inspiration, “sila ang nag train sa akin at nagbigay ng inspiration.” She also recalled being enthralled by her horse Viper when she was young and how his passing had left a dent in her heart which gave her the passion to care for horses and to join the derby.

So, guys, when you bring your visitors and kins to Wright Park or Camp John Hay, remember to request the Pony Boys to teach your kids how to mount, how to hold the rein and steer the horse and to thank them for taking care of the horses. Remember too to  treat the horses gently.

Congratulations Solana for putting Baguio on the world map in the Mongol Derby. Your feat will surely be an inspiration for horse lovers and enthusiasts. (Photos from  Solana Perez) — Stella Maria L. de Guia