The Mongol Derby is the longest and toughest horse race in the world. A recreation of Chinggis Khaan’s Morin Urtuu postal system, the 1000 kilometer (700 miles) race is strung along a network of 25 horse stations in the Mongolian wilderness, and has in its short life become an epic equine adventure of no equal. The competitors come from all over the world, and all walks of life. Mongolian horses once carried the all-conquering Mongol warriors across half the world. Diminutive, wild and very tough, they are highly revered in Mongolian culture, and have not changed over centuries, free as they are from human interference. Thus the competitors are judged for their ability to handle these wild horses. If successful, they are quickly accepted into the hearts of the nomad herders, who rarely — if ever — see a westerner, let alone someone who attempts to ride their horses. If on the other hand, they don't manage to handle these fiery steeds, they'll be on borrowed time. Amongst the larger-than-life characters are people like Monde Kanyana, a farm worker from KwaZulu-Natal in South Africa; Donal Fahy, a jockey from Ireland; Erik Cooper, a Cherokee American and Wendy Chambers, a former undercover cop from Brisbane, Australia.
The field of around thirty-five international riders are on their own, armed only with essentials like sleeping bag and GPS. They navigate their own way across the steppe, staying nights with nomad families or at the horse stations, where they change their horses. There is no room for error. Choose the wrong horse and the chances are you’ll get bucked off in the wilderness, with no backup to come to your rescue. Less than half the riders manage to finish the race unscathed. This film tells their epic story.
PRODUCER'S STATEMENT Darcia Martin
When Ivo first came to me with this idea I thought he’d gone completely nuts. It was February, he was all bandaged up having just broken his collarbone in a sporting accident and he reckoned he could get funding, crew and everything in place for a 3-week shoot on RED in the Mongolian wilderness by August. Magically somehow, it all worked out. The story attracted strong interest from the start and even though it is guerilla filmmaking in its purest form, there was keen interest from well-known industry players for distribution and sales, so we could concentrate on production with the confidence that brings.
The film is as much about the characters that go out to ride the longest horse race in the world and often get very badly injured in the process, as it is about the different mentalities, as well as value and belief systems that come into play and are often reduced to the lowest common denominator out there on the steppe.
What happens to someone who travels halfway around the world and crashes out of the race on day 1, the dream of a lifetime shattered with the crunch of a bone? What goes through the head of a nomad herder whose entire life has been spent in the saddle, when he watches a bunch of westerners try to master their semi-wild horses? And what is it that people look for as they attempt to live a life at its most basic, elemental level for a few weeks? All The Wild Horses examines the connection between man and beast in the biggest of big sky countries, the last place on earth where horses still outnumber people 9 to 1, and where the rural population still lives the same nomadic life it has for thousands of years. Filming in Mongolia we came across a lot of evidence that this sadly is changing fast with the industrialization of the once largest land-empire on the planet.
DIRECTOR'S STATEMENT Ivo Marloh
I was raised on a remote farm. My siblings and I would, instead of playing Pac-Man with schoolmates, look after our horses, mending fences, cutting hay, shovelling snow. It was a callus-making, happy time, and has inspired most of my work since. My mum would give us books on faraway places like Mongolia or Argentina, so already as a boy I dreamed of one day riding wild horses across wild steppes.
In January of 2012 whilst working on another feature I read about the Mongol Derby. I instantly decided to apply — and only paused momentarily before signing the compulsory waiver in case I should die. Once accepted I realized that this was too rare an opportunity not to make a film about it.
And so All The Wild Horses was conceived. We intended to make a truly spectactular feature that would deliver on story, vistas and high production values. I started looking at funding immediately and after meetings with Red Bull Media, Olympus and a few seed funds I had enough of a budget to shoot. Post-production we'd have to worry about later. The summer was spent preparing physically for a thousand kilometers of fast riding, testing gear and talking to as many of the competitors as possible to get a better picture of the personalities involved.
We went from idea to start of principal photography in less than 6 months and I felt woefully underprepared. Not only had I not ridden a horse — let alone a Mongolian bronco — for a long time, I also wasn’t sure about my level of fitness and mental capacity to endure hardship on this scale.
Well, the Mongolian horses were as feisty and wild as ours back home used to be, if anything even wilder, so we made friends instantly. Horses recognize a kindred spirit when they meet one...
DoP Michael Sanderson and sound recordist Kevin Augello couldn’t have been more perfect. It proved impossible to get a helicopter for aerial photography, so Michael brought his own coptercam along.
Because the race covers such a vast area of wilderness, people seem to just disappear, so even with two units it was impossible to cover everything. This we realized to our disappointment when we started the edit afterwards.
This is why, the following year I decided to film one more story, and Monde Kanyana’s journey became one of the strongest backbone stories in the film. So I’ve come full-circle. I dreamed of riding in Mongolia as a little boy, I went to film school, started making films, and finally I got to do the one thing I dreamed of doing as a boy — ride wild horses across the Mongolian steppe. That, and I got to film it too!