Countryside treks close to home are fine, but this summer Shanson has something much bigger on her schedule.
Shanson, originally from Tracy, and about 30 other horse enthusiasts will dash across 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) of the Mongolian steppe from August 7 to 20. It’s the fourth Mongol Derby put on by The Adventurists, a United Kingdom-based outfit that organizes multiple-day races around the globe. The group’s goal is to take people as far as possible from hotels and guided tours.
In an e-mail from Greece, Shanson stated that her search for a new equestrian adventure led to the Mongol Derby, and it was just the opportunity she was looking for.
“I have also always wanted to go riding in Mongolia, and The Adventurists provide a way of doing so that has the back up of a normal endurance race in the states- veterinary checks on each horse at every stop, before and after, as well as medical back up and experienced hands all along the route,” she wrote.
The Mongol Derby will bring Shanson to a part of central Asia that is famous for being so remote. It’s a land where the closest thing to a road is a pair of wheel tracks snaking off toward distant hills. Aside from global positioning technology to track riders, and the logistical and veterinary care for the horses, she might get an idea of what life was like on the steppe back in the 13th Century when Ghengis Khan set up a network that relied on the native horses to allow messengers to cross the vast plains in the shortest possible time.
The horses provide a unique aspect to the race. They’re the country’s native breed, and come from herds tended by the steppe’s nomadic people. They’re smaller than horses that Shanson has ridden in America and Europe, and are known for their strength and toughness.
“I'm use to big, hot headed Thoroughbred ex race horses and too-smart-for-their-own-good ponies,” Shanson stated. “Mongolian ponies are a different animal and can be described as semi-wild with a very strong herd mentality. They don’t like being molly coddled and are born and bred to race. They love to run and have a sense of competition with each other.”
She added that logistical support provided by race organizers is as much for the horses as for the riders.
“The safety of the horses is paramount, so they ensure each horse is fit to race and that all riders do right by them,” she wrote. “We change horses every 40k, which is nothing for these horses, so the physical torment is on the people!”
Shanson, 27, had to go through an application and interview process before the Adventurists would sign her up for the race, where they expect that up to half of the participants may drop out along the route from injury or exhaustion. She expects that her experience with horses was a bonus that helped her get selected.
Horses have been her passion since age 6 and she got her own horse at age 13. While living in Tracy and attending West High she trained in Livermore and Brentwood to compete in a variety of events, including local shows, dressage and jumping.
She graduated from West in 2002, and while at the University of California in Santa Cruz in 2003 she and her horse went as far as to the Intercollegiate Horse Show Association nationals.
People in Tracy know her as Erin Walton, and she married Benjamin Shanson in London in 2010 after they met at law school. At age 21 she took a year off from her studies at University of California at Santa Cruz to travel to England and study at Exeter University, where she also played polo. She earned legal degrees from College of Law in and University of Notre Dame in London and now is a shipping lawyer for Thomas Cooper law firm in London, and is on assignment in Athens.
She added that her husband was nervous about her going on a 10-day trip across Mongolia, but eventually joined the event as part of the support crew.
Her ride is also a benefit for charity. Shanson’s experience in shipping helped her select the charity her ride will support. The Mission to Seafarers works out of more than 300 ports around the world to support people who have been at sea for extended trips. The charity helps those who have been affected by piracy, dangerous weather and war or other events that can leave people stranded, without money, health services or means of communication, far away from their own countries.
Through the Adventurists she also will support Mercy Corps, an economic development charity that helps people in Mongolia build business and attract trade and tourism.
People can support her causes through her Just Giving web links: www.justgiving.com/mercycorpsmongolderby, and www.justgiving.com/shansonforseafarers.