I must admit I had some trepidation about writing up our next movie, All the Wild Horses, about the most brutally punishing horse race in the world.
I was fearful about the well-being of the horses. But I was relieved to find out that the Mongol Derby is a multi-horse event in which each of the horses is only ridden 40 kilometres and all of them are closely veterinarian-checked.
“The only abuse is human abuse,” one official jokes. It’s true – the riders are more likely to suffer injuries than the horses in this seemingly insane 1,000-kilometre race across unforgiving Mongolian terrain.
Filmmaker Ivo Marloh grew up around horses and when he heard about the Derby, he wanted to be part of it. When he was accepted to compete, he decided to do a video diary, which evolved into a full-length documentary that took three years of the race to film.
The movie introduces us to six different competitors, a diverse bunch of people, both women and men, who chose to participate in this gruelling competition. He brings us their individual stories and documents what compels riders from around the world to pay the $13,000 entry fee to subject themselves to “a list of dangers longer than your arm” (warns the official race website).
The course is different each year, is completely unmarked, and kept secret until the event, so there’s no preparing except to be physically fit, experienced with horses, and ready to ride for 13 hours a day for up to 10 days. The riders tackle the challenge of surviving alone in the wild steppes of Mongolia, navigating from horse station to horse station, huge stretches of land with no paths or tracks and with no support. At the stations, each rider picks out their horse for the next leg, which means 25 different horses each with its own personality.
So there you are, alone in one of the last true wildernesses on earth, on semi-feral Mongolian horses you barely know – what could possibly go wrong? Start with the horses’ bucking, rearing and spooking making for some white-knuckle rides, and the real possibility of broken bones and life-threatening injuries from inevitable falls. Add dehydration, hypothermia, exhaustion, extreme weather, swollen rivers, attacking dogs and roaming wolves and you have the challenge you paid big bucks for.
The sheer lunacy and fierceness of the competition make All The Wild Horses compelling watching, as we anxiously follow our featured riders through their various trials. There are plenty of twists and turns as the film builds to a nail-biting finish.
The film is a unique overview of a ride that takes a physical and mental toll, and simply crossing the finish line is an extraordinary feat in itself.
All The Wild Horses is a co-presentation of Shuswap Film Society and Salmar Cinemas and will have a seven-day run from Friday, May 10 to Thursday, May 16 at the Salmar Classic Theatre at 7:30 each night. It’s rated PG.