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Rider on the storm: Jasper woman plans Mongolia charity ride

Sandra Coombe is fundraising for the Children of the Peak Sanctuary Kindergarten by riding a horse, of course. She leaves for a wild riding experience in Mongolia at the end of May. | Supplied photos

Craig Gilbert | publisher@fitzhugh.ca

Sandra Coombe plans to spend some of her spring standing tall in the saddle.

The longtime local was the 12th and final rider selected for the seventh annual Gobi Gallop, a 10-day, 700-kilometre traditional ride on herd-minded Mongolian stallions from the steppe into the mountains and back down again at the end of May.

She plans to get all four of the innoculations recommended for travel to the region, including typhoid and rabies, but she seemed more concerned about altitude sickness.

She reached the race’s organizer, Julie Veloo, through a video chat Tuesday afternoon.

“We’re technically skirting around the limits of it,” she said, with the riders starting at 7,200 metres in the western Gobi Desert, ascending to 8,600 metres then descending to about 5,000 metres. “Many people could have other issues.”

Coombe was selected after a three-hour interview process.

“She has a strong desire to help others,” Veloo said, “and a strong endurance background. I look for someone not in it for themself, for their ego, but who really wants an experience and is prepared for a difficult challenge.”

Coombe and the other riders are to be in Ulaanbaatar, the Mongolian capital, on May 30. They then fly to the Gobi for two days of orientation with the Mongolian horses, which are less domesticated than North American horses and are more “sensitive.

“They ride in herds and mostly with speed,” she said. Each rider takes two horses and switches them out to rest them. “They have a particular way of moving. A lot of the time we’ll be standing in the stirrups and letting the horses run. It’s not a gait most riders in the world are used to.”

She hasn’t been doing a lot of riding in the frigid weather but hopes to get some hours on her horse if we get an early spring. In the meantime she’s focusing on strengthening her core with yoga and skiing.

“A lot” has happened in Coombe’ life in the last five years or so that prevented her from doing the adventurous sorts of things she likes to.  

“I wanted it to be with horses,” she said. “Riding holidays didn’t grab me. I found this by mistake following links. Researching the fund, it seemed like a very solid and transparent organization, and well-run.”

The ride, not a race, is a fundraiser for the Veloo Foundation, which supports the Children of the Peaks Sanctuary Kindergarten project, which lets three-to-five-year-olds in the region attend school for free.

“These children would otherwise be home alone or up with their parents scavenging in the garbage to survive,” the foundation’s website says.

Each rider has to raise at least $3,500. Coombe has raised $2,500 so far, a quarter of her goal. She has to meet the minimum by May in order to participate in the ride but has until August to add to her total.

“I spent the last few years in a high level support role with endurance athletes,” she said. “I want to do something without the politics of high-level sport and that gives back.”

To give to Coombe, visit http://www.veloofoundation.com/sandras-gg-fundraising-page.html.

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