This is how and why women outperform men in the world’s most grueling horseback challenges. No, it’s not about gender competition; it’s about the mindset of competitors.
Imagine traveling 370 km in four days on horseback, crossing some of the most challenging terrains in the world. It takes grit, determination, and more than a little bravery. But, after all, what is courage if not “being scared to death, and saddling up anyway.”
According to some of those who’ve taken part in Race the Wild Coast, it’s “the most insane thing” you’re ever likely to do in your life. So while female courage may not be a hot topic among others, it plays a huge role in women’s performance in outdoor activities. But what name means courage? There are many ways to express this attribute of the female.
Do Women Have Greater Inner Strength Than Men?
The varied terrain throws competitors, both horse and human, a new challenge every day. “Big coastal hills cut by ravines” make for some hefty climbs, and “being fit to run the downhills leading your horse is a must to keep the pace up and minimize the impact on your horse.
Navigation is more than challenging, while spending eight hours a day in the saddle will – finding the “tight forested tracks” in a jungle of riverine forest is not achieved on a wing and prayer and a good working knowledge of a GPS is vital, as some competitors have discovered at their peril.
So far, three races held over four years have seen 41 competitors attempt the challenge, of which 23 have been women. Again, the female endurance shines through in these challenges.
Even though each one had to face fear and inhabit their “bold mode” to cross the start line, women outperform men, winning two of three races and chasing down the 2016 winner in a race to the finish.
Where Does Our Inner Strength Come From?
According to race organizer Barry Armitage, the fact that women are lighter gives them the advantage. “The lighter you are and the more strength you have in your body, the better you’re going to manage,” he told me in a phone interview earlier today.
Women are also more competitive, he says. Barry reminds me that her rivalry with another competitor drove the 2016 winner of the Mongol Derby. He believes a woman’s competitive streak is more vicious than a man’s.
For the winner of the 2019 Race the Wild Coast, Emma Manthorpe, this race, held annually in South Africa, is more challenging than the Derby, despite being shorter.
The ever-changing terrain meant there “no way to become familiar or comfortable in this race whereas I was able to adapt to the conditions of the Mongol Derby earlier in the race,” she said.
To the outsider, it looked as though Emma rode the perfect race. She kept a steady pace and maintained her horses’ well-being throughout, but it didn’t come with its challenges.
“I’ve never been more fearful in my entire life,” Emma said. “I didn’t actually think I could cope with something as grueling as this has been, but I did, and I’m very proud and thrilled that I’ve passed the finish line full stop, let alone in the first place.”
Walking The Fine Line Between Bravery And Competition
Of course, it takes bravery to complete a race like the one on the Wild Coast or the formidable 1000-km Mongol Derby, but, according to some who’ve achieved just that, “we all have a bold mode, we just need to inhabit it.”
Lara Prior-Palmer became the first woman and the youngest person to ever win the Mongol Derby in 2013. An incredible achievement by any reckoning.
What spurred her to victory, however, was a competitive mode that she neither trusts nor likes. Why? Because that “competitive spirit [often] comes from a place of irritation or hatred, such as mine for the race.”
Lara was “incensed” by fellow competitor Devon Horn’s bravado and was determined to steal victory from under her nose.
Female Dominance In An Equal Contest
Without that competitiveness, Lara would not have won the race, but that hasn’t stopped her from scrutinizing it or striving to unearth what motivated it.
In her book, Rough Magic: Riding the world’s wildest horse race, Lara suggests that, while being competitive gets sold as something to be celebrated, in truth, “What you’re really after is some delicate attention or… security because you’re fearful of being insecure”.
Competitiveness is one thing, but bravery is quite another. Lara believes bravery “isn’t a thing we need to do, or a mask we need to wear,” rather, it’s something that “lives inside us like a little creature, and all we have to do is let it out.”
A Question Of Bravery
As Lara Prior-Palmer discusses in her Ted Talk, Quiet Bravery, we tend to “monumentalize bravery,” thinking of it as some “big thing” we go and do, like riding a race or recovering from cancer, but, she argues, “it can be an everyday practice.” If “we just engage our bold modes while we’re doing admin, and it can be the same as sitting on a Mongolian [horse].”
Those words have made me rethink my own bravery, and now I’m going to fight that bit harder to run those extra few meters rather than giving up and walking, all in the name of female equality. In addition, I’m going to be braver in my writing and engage my bold mode when choosing my topics.
I’m not going to cower away, being fearful of being insecure, but neither am I going to wrestle to be the best. My bravery is going to be just being me and knowing that that is enough. I challenge you to do the same. Whether women outperform men or not, they must always do their best at whatever they do.
With Thanks to Rockethorse for the Photo!