When Chad Deetken first glanced at an ad describing the Gobi Gallop, he quickly dismissed it as too crazy to consider.
Once the next edition of Saddle Up magazine arrived a month later and he took a closer look, the 69-year-old Chemainus resident had an immediate change of heart.
“It struck me like lightning. I thought you have to do this,” he said regarding the Gobi Gallop, hailed as the longest annual charity horseback rides in the world. The event covers 700 kilometres in 10 days, tearing up rolling hills, galloping across green pastures, fording streams, and occasionally sleeping in yurts with the Mongol nomads
“It turned out to be an endurance ride with a capital E, one of the toughest rides out there,” recalled Deetken, one of only eight people to sign up for the event in 2014.
Half of the $2,200 registration riders pay out of their own pockets goes toward the Veloo Foundation, a not for profit charity that supports children in Outer Mongolia and Malaysia.
One of the lasting impressions Deetken took away from that trip was how friendly the people are.
“They’re incredible riders,practically born on a horse,” he said. “You see three and four year olds riding without a saddle.” Another thing that struck him is that it is a communal country devoid of fences, other than small pens for livestock.
Although Deetken did a little riding in his early teens, he didn’t take it up seriously until he moved to Chemainus from Vancouver in 2010. “I realized there are thousands of horses on Vancouver Island and because I was retired, I saw the opportunity to own a horse,” he said.
He bought Tara, a Trakander,or Dutch warm blood that he boards at Takala Ranch in Ladysmith,and took up riding with an unbridled passion.
Deetken recently returned from a second trip in July, a 14-day ride covering more than 800 kilometres through northern Outer Mongolia that took him to within 20 kilometres of the Russian border.
The goal of the Reindeer Ride was to see the Tsaatan reindeer people, the original nomadic reindeer herders who migrate through the valley Deetken rode.
“It was one of the most rewarding challenges of my life, and an adventure I’ll never forget,” he said.
“It was a harder ride than the Gobi Gallop, less galloping and more difficult terrain. We had to ride up 9,000 feet to get to that valley.”
He was fortunate enough to stay with the reindeer people for two days.
“They probably stay in the valley for three to four months each year before moving to the higher altitudes in the summer. They’re always looking for grass for their reindeer,” he explained. “It was different from the first trip. Very few Westerners have seen these people. There are no motorized vehicles of any kind. It takes 10 days to ride or walk in.”That ride cost Deetken $3,500 U.S. to register, with half of that going to the Veloo Foundation as well, an initiative organized by a Canadian woman who lives in Outer Mongolia.
“It’s a wonderful charity. She provides education, food and teachers for children from extremely poor families who have no option, other than to scavenge through garbage in the capital city. I saw the garbage dump and it’s absolute hell,” Deetken said.“The ride was not only personally rewarding, but I got to see the great work the charity does.”
Deetken admitted that it took a month to recover from the ride, not so much from the pain, but from the fatigue. “It was an accumulation of not getting enough sleep to allow your body to recuperate over 14 days,” he noted, adding that there wasn’t much he wanted to do for a couple of weeks after he returned to Chemainus.
For more on Deetken’s rides and the Veloo Foundation, gallop over to theveloofoundation.com.