I am 225: Heather Accardo

Heather Accardo is made of steel. She’d have to be to go on the adventure she’s soon to embark on.

For two weeks this month, the 37-year-old Baton Rouge dental hygienist will compete in the 2018 Mongol Derby. It is the longest horse race in the world, an intense 621-mile trek through the Mongolian steppe.

Accardo, who is an equestrian in her off time, will not have the ability to ride horses from her farm in Prairieville during the race. Instead, she’ll be riding the semi-wild horses of local Mongolian herders. About every 25 miles, riders change horses. Competitors can only carry about 11 pounds of gear. There’s a medical team on standby in the likely event of injuries and extreme exhaustion.

At night, riders can choose to house with local herders or camp outside. Either way, they’ll battle rough terrain, rough elements—and sometimes, rough horses.

“Endurance racing will make you learn more about horses than anything else,” Accardo says.

That’s if you can even get into the race. The derby’s entrance fee is $12,995. Out of thousands of applicants, only about 40 are chosen to ride. A credit to Accardo’s skills, she applied last August and was one of the first to be selected.

It takes guts, stamina and the ability to withstand the difficult circumstances. But, it seems, Accardo’s got all that in spades.

Fortunately, she also isn’t going it alone. She plans to pair up and ride alongside Michael Gascon, a fifth-generation horse trainer from Mississippi.

Accardo doesn’t intend to be one of the many competitors who don’t make it through the race.

“I’m not normal,” she says, laughing. “I don’t quit. They’ll have to drag me off in a body bag.”

“I feel like I was always riding. My favorite horse growing up was Precious. She was an Arabian. She lived until she was 28. I could get on her with nothing, with no bridle, no saddle, and she would listen to me. I was around 10 at the time. She was the best, like a little girl’s dream horse. I was always fascinated with endurance, but we didn’t have the money growing up—we were poor. So about five years ago, I was like, ‘What am I waiting for?’ This [race] is what I’ve always wanted to do. I always want to do more. I always want to try something harder. I like to do things that nobody else wants to do.”

Want to follow Accardo’s journey? She is live blogging the whole experience on Facebook at Flash’s Journey to the Derby, and you can also live track her here.

This article was originally published in the August 2018 issue of 225 Magazine.