Action Hero Devan Horn – Adventures in the Mongolian Derby

August 12, 2003, Texas ~ Devan Horn has just finished second – after coming in first in the longest and hardest horse race in the world – in Mongolia. Devan is 20 years old. What has shaped this fearless Action Hero? The back story shared by her parents, Rachel and Sandy Horn.

Devan and 2012 Tevis finish on SW Malaia

Devan and 2012 Tevis finish on SW Malaia

“Let me say first that Devan NEVER walked. Her first steps at nine months old were at full throttle. This literally and figuratively set her pace regarding how she moves through the world. She was born with a will and tenacity that has my head doing 360’s several times a day. She had stitches and a missing front tooth by age two. Need I say more?

As Devan grew up, it was evident that her official plan of action for life would be to set a goal, make a plan, execute said plan, check it off her list and set a new one. Most days were filled with plans that involved speed or animals. Perhaps she would decide on a morning that she was going to ride her bike ‘really fast’ down a steep hill with all the big kids. Then after taking a header, she’d spend the afternoon nursing her injuries and putting the finishing touches on her weekly ‘Why I should have a pet’ pitch. Naturally Devan’s goals changed over time. They became grander and more challenging as the years went by. Our plan as parents however remained the same: Give her the tools she needs to achieve her goals. Her resume is interesting and diverse. She has competed successfully in archery and has a first degree black belt in Kuk Sool Won. Her primary focus however has always been endurance racing.

Devan is a voracious reader. Her favorite author as a young child was Gary Paulsen, and reading everything he wrote inspired her at the tender age of 4 to attempt the Iditarod. This is a dog sled race set in Alaska during which you travel from Nome to Anchorage covering 1049 miles in 10 – 17 days. We were living in New Jersey at the time so sleds and snow were in abundance and served as visual fuel for her ambition. However, shortly after setting her sights on the Iditarod we moved to Houston where initially the lack of snow and sledding opportunities did not deter her. She began implementing a rigorous training schedule using our dog, Gidget, and a scooter. She was in race mode with her eye on the prize. It wasn’t until a bad fall while training and accepting the brutal realization that Sandy was not going to be able to manage a transfer to Alaska that she gave up the dream.

A few weeks later she switched gears and decided she would ride horses. We did not own horses or know people who owned horses. The only time we ever really thought about horses was during the Super Bowl as we adore the Bud Wiser commercials with the Clydesdales. Again, this did not deter Devan. She went online, found Cypress Trails and asked us to take her to meet Darolyn Butler. Devan was 7 years old and planning to volunteer at the stable. She was too young. So over the next several years she settled for riding at Cypress Trails whenever time and money allowed. When Devan turned 10 she was finally old enough to begin volunteering and volunteer she did! She was at the stable most weekends, during school vacations and soon became a fixture at the stables. When Devan turned 14 she was officially put on the payroll. During these early years, Darolyn and Devan began what has turned out to be one of Devan’s most valued relationships. Darolyn is her mentor, trail mom and friend. In 2005 Devan entered her first race. She rode 60 miles on DJB Legend at Armadillo in Texas. The rest, as they say, is history.

Devan has accumulated over 3000 endurance miles during the past eight years. She has traveled all over the country and abroad. She looks forward to every race. These past 12 months have been particularly exciting. She had a 20th place finish at Tevis on Kathie Forde’s Malaia. She flew to Abu Dhabi for the President’s Cup, to Australia for the Quilty Cup and then in an attempt to set the bar as high as it seems currently possible, she entered The Mongol Derby.

Now, Sandy and I met in our last year of high school and have been together ever since. We both attended universities in New York. He is a marine engineer. I am a domestic engineer. Sandy is an Ultra Marathoner and races regularly at home and abroad when he travels for business. He and Devan often train together as they both possess the long distance gene. I do not. I am a bowler. Not a particularly good one but I have a ball, bag and shoes so in accordance with the tenets of modern philosophical thought, I bowl therefore I am. Our son Casey, born in 1986 is a 2008 graduate of UT Austin. He is an exceptionally talented singer /songwriter and front man for his band Shadow Hound. He currently lives in State College PA. We are all very close and support each other in all our endeavors. But are we really the kind of people who would send their twenty year old daughter off to Mongolia on her own to do the world’s hardest horse race? Yes we are.

To say that Sandy and I were worried about Devan going to Mongolia would be an understatement. Sandy and I spent the years between 1983 – 1987 living in Pusan, Korea, and traveling pretty extensively so it’s not like we’re clueless. The thought of sending Devan far away, by herself to a country with which we are not familiar, where she doesn’t speak the language, to participate in a potentially dangerous and grueling 12 day, 671 mile race on semi wild Mongolian horses where she’d possibly be wandering around the Steppes knocking on the Gurrs of strangers sans hospitality gift in hand, seemed a bit of a stretch even for us. But we knew she wanted to do this. She knew she NEEDED to do this. We let her go.

Devan was born in 1993. She is going into her senior year at Sam Houston State University and studying criminal justice. Law school could be on her agenda in the future but she is currently considering the possibilities publishing or journalism may offer. Devan’s next goal? Not sure but stay tuned. It’s gonna be a fast and bumpy ride!”

The following link contains the race report covering  the first two finishers.

The following link contains some great photos.

Click the photo for details.

Note from author: Pamela Burton contacted me about contributing to for her Action Hero feature. She thinks people might be interested in hearing a bit about Devan’s racing journey and the support system that surrounds her. I hope this is the case as I am about to share.