Two keen NSW South Coast equestrian riders will soon follow in the hoofprints of the world’s greatest warlord, helping today’s Mongolian kids move on from lives scavenging garbage tips.
Bodalla’s Duncan McLaughlin and Moruya’s Cele Stone are among 16 riders selected for the 3600km Blue Wolf Totem Expedition across Mongolia commencing in May 2022. Raising funds for the Children of the Peak Sanctuary, the three-month adventure will see the pair onboard native Mongolian horses, riding roughly 50km each day.
The horses are descended from those belonging to Genghis Khan’s armies as he carved out the world’s largest empire: an area covering more than 23 million square kilometres, including nearly all of Asia, the Middle East and a swathe of eastern Europe.
Mr McLaughlin said the expedition is “much more than simply riding from A to B”.
“We’ll be visiting with Buddhist monks, hanging out with reindeer herders and riders that hunt with golden eagles, crossing deserts and mountains, patting yaks and camels, and seeing the wild and endangered Przewalski’s horses up close,” he said.
“Riders cover the cost of the expedition itself but have each committed to raising at least US$5000 for charity.”
Mr McLaughlin and Ms Stone were both caught in the 2019-2020 Black Summer bushfires.
Mr McLaughlin and his family managed to defend their home and animals, although most of their property infrastructure was lost.
“There’s a way to go but we’re getting there,” he said. “COVID-19 willing, I reckon both Cele and I can do with the break.”
The bushfires completely wiped out Ms Stone’s Mogendoura property as she fled the inferno with only the items already stashed in her car. Yet to rebuild and still renting, she said the Mongolian trip will be a welcome reprieve.
“It’s been a bright light shining the way after some dark days,” she said.
“Mongolia has the world’s oldest surviving horse culture and the Blue Wolf Totem is the biggest charity ride ever undertaken.
“When you read up on Genghis Khan, he was quite forward-thinking and encouraged freedom of religion, instituted merit-based career paths, and was keen on redistributing wealth. I like to think he’d appreciate what we’re doing here.”
The driving force behind the Blue Wolfe Totem Expedition is Julie Veloo, a Canadian expat who has spent the past decade living in Mongolia.
Ms Veloo came late to horse riding after watching Mongolian children galloping their ponies across the steppe. Her Veloo Foundation is dedicated to helping displaced herder families, especially children.
“The steppe is in trouble due to climate change and overgrazing, with families forced to the capital to try and make a living, scavenging from Ulaanbaatar’s rubbish dumps,” she said.
“It’s astonishing to see the difference food, care and education makes in their lives. With money raised from horse expeditions such as this one – more than half a million US dollars over the years – we’ve built and run two kindergartens and a community library, with summer camps for the kids as well.”