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CDU adventurer takes on world’s toughest horse race

Jessica and Natalie on horses training for the Derby.
​Farm and Stud Overseer from CDU’s Katherine campus Jessica Di Pasquale is representing Australia in the world’s longest, toughest horse race – the Mongol Derby – this month.

Charles Darwin University (CDU) Farm and Stud Overseer, Jessica Di Pasquale, is bringing into focus the world’s longest, toughest horse race when she competes in the 2022 Mongol Derby, representing Australia, this month. 

Competitors from around the globe, including Katherine-based Mrs Di Pasquale, are being fitted with GPS tracking devices that capture the progress of each rider in real time as they race through 1000 kilometres of the Mongolian wilderness.

The Derby traces the passage of the long-distance postal transmission system established by Chinggis (Genghis) Khaan in 1224, which relies on a vast network of horse stations stretching from Kharkhorin to the Caspian Sea. 

The 10-day race spans wild, grassland steppes (plains), high passes, valleys, wooded hills, rivers, wetlands and dunes. It comprises 25 horse stations at 40km-intervals, where riders must change steeds, refuel and camp overnight with traditional herders.

The dressed weight of each competitor is strictly limited to 85 kilograms, plus a 5kg survival kit. 

Racing along this legendary postal route on semi-wild Mongolian horses will see Mrs Di Pasquale draw on a mix of survival skills, horsemanship, grit, determination and resilience.

CDU Katherine and Big Rivers Associate Vice-Chancellor, Alison Haines, said Mrs Di Pasquale’s selection to compete in the equestrian endurance race is a “significant achievement”.

“Riders must apply to be accepted for the race, as it is limited to about 40 riders each year, from all over the world,” Mrs Haines said.

“Competing in the event is a major feat of endurance and stamina, requiring great courage, skill and strength. The Mongol Derby is not a pony trek, there is no marked course and not everyone finishes the race.”    

But in facing this challenge, Mrs Di Pasquale is not alone. She has partnered with Darwin-based competitor and childhood friend, Natalie Bell.

Together, the two women not only aim to win, but also raise funds for two charities: Sock it to Sarcoma, and Steppe and Hoof.

They opted to support the Sock it to Sarcoma charity in honour of their childhood friend Stevie Marcon, who succumbed to a rare sarcoma cancer in 2017.

“We’re raising funds for Sock it to Sarcoma in recognition of our Stevie-girl, who fought a battle tougher than any steppe, and who would have been our third musketeer on this adventure,” Mrs Di Pasquale said.

Fund raising for the Steppe and Hoof charity aims to support Mongolian herders and their animals, and the cultural traditions that are part of the country’s nomadic way of life.

“Both the CDU and wider Northern Territory communities have provided tremendous support for our fund-raising effort,” Mrs Di Pasquale said.

“For example, CDU staff supported a trivia night in Katherine on 25 June and helped run a movie night in Darwin on 5 July that raised about $4000 for the charities. CDU staff also got behind us with donations to our GoFundMe page.

“I’m looking forward to the challenge of the race after having two children, and the comradery and support of competing with Natalie to honour another close friend,” she said.

In her role as Farm and Stud Overseer at CDU’s Katherine campus, Mrs Di Pasquale manages 17 Stock and Quarter horses; 750 Brahman cattle; and runs the 'Show Cattle Program' for CDU VET Delivery for Secondary Schools (VETDSS) programs, including Certificates II and III in Rural Operations.

To follow the real-time progress of Mrs Di Pasquale and Ms Bell in the Mongol Derby from Wednesday, 10 August to Friday, 19 August, visit:

More information here: Facebook and GoFundMe

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