Brenda Johnson is an avid adventurer. Earlier this month, she spent time thundering through South America’s Patagonia region on horseback. Johnson rode in this year’s Gaucho Derby. The race is billed as the “greatest test of horsemanship and wilderness skills on Earth.”
“I love being out in the woods with the animals and pushing myself and exploring and finding new places,” she said.
Johnson, of Wallowa County, is a live-in ranch hand, backcountry packer, horseshoer and veterinary assistant.
She prepared for the race by taking riding lessons and picking random points on a map to see if she could reach them. Also, one of her clients works as a personal trainer and she traded horseshoeing for fitness lessons.
The Gaucho Derby, which is 500 kilometers, tests competitors on navigation skills, horsemanship and endurance. Before the race, Johnson hardly slept, her nerves keeping her awake.
“You’re not scared, but you’re terrified,” she said. “It’s this whole swirl of emotions that you just don’t really totally know how to comprehend.”
Riders switch horses throughout the race and pick their 4-legged counterparts by drawing numbers out of a hat.
The race has built-in points where veterinarians can check on the horses and medics can check the riders. During the race, Johnson ran into issues with one of her horses. She learned quickly that this particular horse did not like to be mounted or dismounted.
“I got my leg out of the stirrup and about halfway up his side he bucked so hard, the rider behind me could see his entire belly,” she said. “[The horse] face planted me into a rock and broke my nose.”
After being cleared medically, Johnson was able to rejoin the race. She could no longer win, and had to miss a portion of the race that’s described by the derby as a “bleakly beautiful windswept plateau.”
Still, Johnson was grateful she could join the other participants and still ride along for the rest of the race.
“The entire time after that I was nothing but grins and smiles and some happy tears. I was ecstatic and thrilled to just get on a horse again,” she said.