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Rough Magic: Riding the World's Loneliest Horse Race

3.74  ·  Rating details ·  1,711 ratings  ·  372 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
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
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
Jun 03, 2019 rated it it was amazing
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,
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.
Jul 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
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
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
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,
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
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.
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
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.
Rachel Watkins
Jump on, hang on, and don't fall off as Lara Prior-Palmer's ROUGH MAGIC recounts her riding and winning the world's longest, hardest horse race in Mongolia at the age of nineteen. This story is outrageous and told with lyrical intelligence. I couldn't put this down and read it in one day!
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
Nov 16, 2019 rated it it was ok
Shelves: library
"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
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
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 ...more
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 ...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
Feb 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
My review for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune:

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
Jun 16, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoir, audiobooks
I love a true adventure story, set in a remote or exotic locale and this one fits the bill. Lara Prior-Palmer enters “the world’s longest, toughest horse race”, a 1,000 kilometer jaunt, across the rugged grasslands of Mongolia. She was only nineteen and completely inexperienced. How she became the first female champion, despite a myriad of deadly challenges, is the meat of this thrilling, well-written memoir.
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.
Jenny Cooke (Bookish Shenanigans)
I absolutely loved this.
S.J. Higbee
Jun 08, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Lara makes an intriguing protagonist – in this painfully honest memoir of a tricky time in her life when she signed up for this most testing adventure on a fairly random whim, I get a sense of a very strong determined personality who is a work-in-progress. I liked the messiness of the characterisation. She is clearly someone not comfortable in her own skin – literally, as it happens. This gawky nineteen-year-old has been suffering with chronic stomach pains that no one has been able to ...more
Jan 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: giveaways
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
May 18, 2019 rated it liked it
Mixed feelings about this one. At times, the author seems quite flakey, entitled, reckless, but then she will hit you with a gorgeous sentence that is so good you have to write it down. Her allusions to The Tempest don't really seem to work and some of her deep thoughts about space and time get to be a little too much, but her wry observations, sense of humor, and awareness of both the ridiculousness of this venture as well as her desire to win balance it out. It's a fast read and a journey ...more
Apr 14, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: giveaways
Really excellent memoir about a super cool race I didn't even know existed. I really loved Lara's humor and writing style. Some parts around the middle felt a tad overwritten, but I really enjoyed the journey overall. I recommend it, especially for horse and nature lovers.
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“Perhaps if I had said to myself, at any moment in the race, I am being competitive. I want to win and I care, I might’ve begun to find the whole competition boring. My competitiveness was like a kite I was refusing to pull down from the sky and examine. I think this increased its power over me. I rode with a mysterious compulsion, not knowing where it came from.” 4 likes
“Travellers can go out into the world with their devices and prejudices intact to smooth their journeys. Yet, etymologically, a traveller is the one who suffers—or at least, one who works (travail). The traveller forgets she’s going home, and forgets herself, too.” 4 likes
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