“All the Wild Horses” – The Kentucky Derby began in 1875, and this 1.25-mile race is dubbed the most exciting two minutes in sports.
On the other side of the world, Mongolia hosts an altogether different event. The Mongol Derby is one thousand kilometers long and runs across the country’s prairies. The contest takes eight days to complete and is known as the longest and toughest horse race in the world.
If the Run for the Roses is an ultra-brisk sprint, then the Mongol Derby is a marathon of the most grueling order. Competitors ride semi-wild Mongolian horses for over 13 hours a day but stop every 40 kilometers at marked stations (called urtuus) to disembark from their current four-legged partners and connect with new ones. Depending on the mount, a rider may find a cooperative or taxing traveling companion, which – of course – adds another unpredictable element to an already infinitely-challenging environment.
Even though this race has only existed since 2009, perhaps patrons and participants will be curious to know that a bronco-based postal system ran – about 800 years ago – across these same grounds. Well, Genghis Khan operated the aforementioned mail service, so maybe not.
(As a side note, Mongol Derby Chief Kate Willings mentions that Khan’s postal system finally shut down in the 1940s. Geez, and you thought that Amazon has an enormous reach.)
Director Ivo Marloh needed no encouragement to immerse himself in this wholly unique cross-country, man-and-horse event. He was raised on a horse farm, and during an interview at the 2017 EQUUS Film Festival, Marloh noted that he always wanted to go to Mongolia. When he heard about the Mongol Derby, he said, “I have to do that.”
His inspiring documentary “All the Wild Horses” certainly has an I-want-to-try-that impact, because even though the 87-minute film chronicles this exceedingly laborious, backbreaking competition, almost every on-screen moment feels very accessible. Rather than pitting an intimidating landscape and mysterious host country – along with its people – as unapproachable unknowns, the film breaks down barriers straightaway and welcomes us with congeniality and warmth, despite the trying paths – literally and figuratively – that lie ahead.
The Mongolian Steppe has a familiar grasslands’ look that one might find in an American western, and Marloh’s camera offers countless angles of open green pastures and nearby rocky buttes that help frame this Wild East. These gorgeous, scenic moments – captured from high above and also at ground level via horses and mechanical chariots – really need to be seen on the biggest televisions, as these lightly populated, enormous swathes of serene nature seem to unearth mystical, timeless sentiments, ones molded by some observant presence from eons ago. Surely, the setting is a foremost character, but the horses and humans comprise the main focus, and the two-legged beings include locals, Derby staff and riders.
In the doc’s first few minutes, we see Mongolian horses – on their own – rumble across the landscape, and soon after, riders accompany these grand creatures, but not with constriction. Their bonds appear harmonious, and Donie Fahy – a jump jockey from Ireland – gives a wide smile for the camera. He declares, “Because it’s something completely crazy. That’s why I wanted to do it.”
Horse trainer Monde Kanyana adds, “(This is) my first time to leave South Africa, and I’m very keen to be in the wild (to) handle (these) horses.”
Players from all over converge on Mongolia’s Bulgan Province, including Devan Horn from Houston. She’s the early favorite to win, and Marloh spends generous amounts of minutes with Donie, Monde, Devan, and many others like Will, Julie, Linda, and Simon who openly bequeath testimonials, observations and outlooks.
Several rich, personal stories and journeys proudly establish the documentary’s communal tones. So much so, that your interest in who first crosses the finish line might almost become a simple postscript. Almost is the key word, because the film does craft plenty of intrigue, but there’s something spiritual and timeless at work in “All the Wild Horses”. Animal lovers will also feel comforted that the horses’ care and safety take the utmost importance, but whether or not horses are your thing, this is for certain: you’ll be grateful that the documentary lasts a lot longer than the most exciting two minutes in sports.
⭐⭐⭐ out of ⭐⭐⭐⭐
Trailer credits: YouTube Movies