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Rough Magic: Riding the World's Loneliest Horse Race

3.67  ·  Rating details ·  3,623 ratings  ·  681 reviews
For fans of Helen Macdonald’s H Is for Hawk, this is the extraordinary debut memoir of a young woman who traveled to Mongolia to compete in the world’s longest, toughest horse race, and emerged as its youngest and first-ever female winner.

At the age of nineteen, Lara Prior-Palmer discovered a website devoted to “the world’s longest, toughest horse race”—an annual competiti
Hardcover, 288 pages
Published May 7th 2019 by Catapult
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Will Byrnes
Image from The Adventurists
Many of the people I’ll meet on the steppe hold horses as sacred. There are more love songs about horses than about women in Mongolia—for example, ponies come last in races are sung commiseration songs because no one wants them to feel bad. Your horse is an extension of you. A Mongol without a horse is like a bird without wings—goes the proverb. Even horses’ skulls are sacred. They’re made into musical instruments, whose sounds comfort mourning souls.
What has 25
Diane S ☔
Jun 04, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: lor-2019, 5000-2019
The race was said to be the most difficult in the world. Seven days spent traversing the Mongolian steppes on wild ponies. Not my cuppa, but fun to experience through someone else. Lara, at loose ends decided this was something she needed to do, despite the costly entry fee. She prepares little, and becomes a nineteen year old underdog, though she soon has others pulling for her.

There are vivid descriptions of the Mongolian steppes, many allusions and quotes from Genghis Kahn. We meet dome of t
May 02, 2019 rated it really liked it

there is a 1,000 kilometer horse race in mongolia called the mongol derby with the reputation of being “the world’s longest, toughest horse race.” human riders mount a series of 25 wild ponies, swapping ‘em out every 40 kilometers “to ensure the endurance [falls] on the humans, not the horses.” participants train rigorously, obtain sponsorships to offset the enormous entrance fees, prepare themselves for the physical and psychological hardships of being on horseback for more than
Olive Fellows (abookolive)
Review originally appeared on Open Letters Review.

Impulsivity is an intimate friend of the teenager. This emotional siren lures newly-minted adolescents into making rash decisions, most stereotypically taking the form of raucous parties and torrid love affairs. And though we all go through our own form of the teenage phase, most of us wouldn't, on a whim, choose to ride the world's longest and most demanding horse race to assert our individuality. But it seems someone had to be first.

The Mongol
In 2013, when she was 19, Prior-Palmer won the Mongol Derby horse race: the first Briton and youngest competitor to do so. I thought her memoir couldn’t fail to be exciting, but I was wrong. A book I should have raced through was instead an agonizing crawl over many weeks. Moreover, the voice, which initially seemed quirky and jolly-ol’-English enough to keep me reading, grated. I should have given up on this one early on.

In a nutshell: spoiled rich English girl (the family seat of Appleshaw in
Elizabeth Bober
May 27, 2019 rated it it was ok
I have mixed feelings about this book. The setting and perspective are great: a memoir by the first female and youngest winner of the Mongol Derby, an endurance horse race.

The writer’s style is hit and miss. A little too cursory, too eager to float into lines of poetry when action is needed.

My biggest beef is turning the author’s main competition, another young woman and first time racer, into a villain after barely laying eyes on her. This woman’s chief sin being that she arrived prepared, co
May 09, 2019 rated it did not like it
This author tries so hard to come across as edgy, philosophical and unique that her story gets lost in the image she’s trying to write herself in, and is lacking in substance.
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
ROUGH MAGIC is the debut memoir of Lara Prior-Palmer. The story focuses on her last-minute entry and race in The Mongol Derby of 2013.

With the motion of a carefree spinning of a globe and haphazardly pointing to the next place to find adventure, 19 year-old Lara Prior-Palmer clicked on the “flashing” pick me Google tab and applied to enter the “world’s longest and toughest horse race”.

The Mongol Derby is a race of endurance run over 1,000 kilometers (621.371 miles) on 25 different semi-wild hors
2.5 stars rounded up to 3.

What an odd little book. In a perfect world, this would have been one of my top reads of the year. It has everything I love: travel, horses, and traveling with horses. However, the writing style just didn't click with me and I never truly felt engaged with the narrative. Don't get me wrong, there are some gems of passages in here. They are, however, the exception and not the rule.

One such example is when Lara starts ruminating on why, historically and evolutionary, th
May 20, 2019 rated it it was ok
Disappointing, esp. after the rave reviews. Gave up after 200 pages, should have quit sooner. Disjointed sloppy style without any of the dramatic momentum to be expected from a story like this. It’s probably the case that she was just too young to properly appreciate and represent this remarkable experience.
Jul 14, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Rough Magic is a coming of age story, an interrogation of naked ambition, and a self-conscious meditation on English colonialism, all wrapped up in a thrilling tale of a 19-year-old girl entering and winning the most difficult horse race in the world. Lara Prior-Palmer’s underdog story couldn’t have been any more pitch-perfect if it were scripted: she entered the Mongol Derby on a complete whim, underestimated its difficulty, was dismissed by the other competitors early on, but still rallied to ...more
Joy D
Nov 12, 2021 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Memoir of the author’s experience of competing in the Mongol Derby, a 1000km (621 mi) race on the steppe. Each competitor rides 25 semi-wild ponies over six to ten days. Each pony is examined by a veterinarian at each stage and penalties are assessed if its heartrate is too high. The author describes her competitors, the beauty of the landscape, the harsh conditions of the race, and her inner thoughts. She throws in a good dose of Mongolian history along the way. It is written in a poetic style, ...more
Kasa Cotugno
"Riding is a dance that demands each muscle in your body answer to an ever-shifting floor"

Put aside the fact that the outcome of this race is known before Lara Prior-Palmer begins her story, here is proof positive that it is the journey, not the arrival, that is most important. How Lara, a woefully under prepared 19-year-old decides to participate in a horserace that traces the Mongolian course of Genghis Khan's pony express, 1,000 kilometers with no preplanned route, is the stuff of almost myth
Nov 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
"I am racing for the finish and racing for something else, a thing that changes with the wind, a thing I may never know nor think nor really see, only circle around, like a startled horse inspecting a coiled snake."

Lara Prior-Palmer found herself with some time on her hands a year after graduating from high school. On a whim she signed up for the Mongol Derby, a 621 mile horse race, that mirrors Mongolia's a Pony Express style postal system. The race was thought of as “the world’s longest and to
Apr 10, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was a really interesting read about the youngest and first female winner of the Mongolian horse derby. I was sent a preview of the book through a marketing email and the preview... was the whole book. I don’t know if that was an error or what, but I really enjoyed it and enjoyed being inside the author’s head as she treks across the open spaces of Mongolia, contemplating her place in the world.
The Mongol Derby is touted as the world's most challenging horse race. Carried out over 1000km and 25 legs (with 25 different horses), 30 participants compete across the wild landscape of Mongolia in a gruelling feat of endurance.

Lara Prior-Palmer entered the competition on a whim in 2013, having finished school and with no travel plans (or sponsor) and ended up participating in the race as the youngest ever participant at 19 years old.

The style and short, snappy chapters of this memoir mimic th
Jun 13, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
What an inspiring memoir, full of adventure, poetry, and sheer willpower, Lara shares her journey to victory - the dehydration, the determination, entering oblivion and not only coming out the other side, but coming out victorious as the first woman, and youngest ever champion.

I loved the incorporation of Mongolian culture and history. "The prophet in Mongolia is often called an uzmerch, 'someone who sees'.”

Before entering the race, Lara didn't have it all figured out but felt this desire within
Robert Sheard
Nov 25, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was my selection for the sport prompt for Nonfiction November. It's a strangely compelling, odd mixture of reporting about the unique race, philosophy, Mongolian history, and the utter strangeness of the author. ...more
Paris (parisperusing)
"I could not pull out of the race … so I let the terror energize me instead. Asked afterwards if I would dare attempt the race again, I’d reply that I could never again be scared enough to do so. The supernatural power of fearing the unknown stunned me into a state of readiness." — Rough Magic, Lara Prior-Palmer

What a thrill, what a journey! Prior-Palmer writes with the galloping speed of a restless somebody and the unyielding ambition of a true underdog. By turns a tale of tribulation and trium
Lee Prescott
Apr 23, 2021 rated it did not like it  ·  review of another edition
This story should have been compelling - the youngest winner of the world's toughest horse race and does have some drama when Lara realises here inner competitive streak and realises she may beat her Texan nemesis and win the thing. But the rest of it is padded out with so much writing like below that it makes the book an awful read:
'Unzip my skin and you might find luminescent blue rubber ready for a swim. I am not really human. And nor, I am sure, is anyone else.'
If anyone knows what on earth
The Mongol Derby is the world hardest horse race. The aim is to ride 600s mile across the Mongolian plains, that was once the home of the army of Genghis Khan. The ride takes 10 days and they are restricted in the time they can ride each day and how hard they can push their horses too. The riders swap horses at regular intervals, transferring saddles onto a new horse that they have seen before at each urtuu they stop at.

Her race began in 2009, and there are around 30 to 40 entries each year to
Jun 15, 2020 rated it it was ok
While the Mongolian setting and race itself were extremely interesting, I just could NOT stand the writer of this memoir. Lara Prior-Palmer enters this race on a whim after one quick internet search, enters far past the deadline and is accepted anyway, hardly prepares for it beforehand, doesn't bother learning anything about Mongolia or how to navigate with a GPS beforehand, and, most grievously, treats the race with an utter lack of passion or respect.

You would think this would be the perfect
May 09, 2019 rated it liked it
I wanted and expected very much to like this, because a story about a long distance horse race in Mongolia is just cool. And the race does sound like an amazing experience, but something about the writing didn't work for me. The tone just sounded very....young, or maybe her self descriptions just reminded me of how I wrote about myself when I had a Livejournal and was preoccupied with telling my own story. This would have been more effective for me with much more focus on the race and less on he ...more
Apr 04, 2020 rated it it was ok
Read this one for round 1 of the booktube prize. You can see my thoughts here: https://youtu.be/5QGUMOHG3Ts ...more
Lara Prior-Palmer signed up for the Mongol Derby—famously the world’s toughest horse race—on a whim, a month before the start date. Other competitors had been preparing for a year, building their endurance and stamina. She won it. At nineteen, she was the youngest rider, and the first woman, ever to do so. Although her book about the experience is technically, I suppose, a sports memoir(!), what’s most evident throughout Rough Magic is the kind of mental or spiritual transformation she finds her ...more
Jemima Pett
Magical, brilliant, evocative. I've never highlighted so many wondrous passages before.

Given Ms Prior-Palmer's self-deprecation of her performance in school, you don't really expect such a wonderfully descriptive, and achingly evocative narrative.  Lara enters the world's toughest horse race on a whim, as she seems to do most things in her short life. Her fellow competitors have been preparing for a year, she barely has a month. She's not even a born horsewoman, although she has ridden a bit, at
Sue K H
Dec 18, 2019 rated it liked it
I had never heard of The Mongol Derby and was very interested in learning about it from this book.  It is the world's longest and most dangerous horse race and was inspired by Genghis Kahn's ancient messenger system.  Each participant rides 25+ ponies for around 25 miles each. The total length of the race is 1,000 kilometers (around 621 miles) of varying terrain over 10 days for 14 hours a day.  The ponies are semi-wild ones donated by the locals.  The riders have to navigate to various checkpoi ...more
Jan 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Not only is the subject matter of this book fascinating, but the language is beautiful. There are some really gorgeous moments of prose. At times I wanted to hug Lara and sometimes she needed a good smack but ultimately I was always rooting for her.
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
My review for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune: http://www.startribune.com/review-rou...

The Mongol Derby has only been around since 2009, but it immediately garnered and continues to hold the reputation of being the most grueling long-distance horse race on the planet. Following the route of the postal service that Genghis Khan established in 1224, riders traverse 1,000 kilometers across the sparsely populated Central Asian steppes, swapping their semi-wild horses every 40 kilometers and sleeping a
Sep 12, 2020 rated it really liked it
Lara Prior-Palmer is an odd duck. Yet her observations are keen. She notices how her competitors relate to their ponies (or there lack of) which keeps herself sharp and stealthy. Here is this young, awkward, amateur, naïve, shy, withdrawn and whimsical 19 year old woman who writes in a Winnie the Pooh Diary and dreams of owning a zebra, a giraffe, a penguin, a rabbit or a dog. She joins this pony race with the intention of hopefully finishing it. She comes completely unprepared with only one pai ...more
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Lara Prior-Palmer is a writer and athlete. In 2013, at age 19, she became the first woman to win the Mongol Derby, the world's longest horse race, as well as the youngest person ever to complete it. She is the niece of British equestrian Lucinda Green. ...more

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