Wild ride is just the be­gin­ning Head­ing back to tough race

The Western Star - - RURAL WEEKLY - AN­DREA DAVY An­[email protected]­ral­weekly.com.au

SHORT hooves, a kind eye and some­thing that looked like it was ready to run.

Those were a few of the fea­tures Kathy Gabriel looked for when pick­ing a semi-wild horse for the Mon­gol Derby – a 10-day race that stretches 1000km across the vast coun­try.

“But ba­si­cally… I was just look­ing for some­thing that wouldn’t kill me,” she joked.

This year, Kathy, who is the ru­ral per­son­al­ity be­hind pop­u­lar, and of­ten hu­mor­ous, Face­book page Ex­pe­ri­ence Aus­tralian Agri­cul­ture, pooled much of her re­sources into com­pet­ing in the iconic race.

She was in­jured on day three, after a fiery ride on a bolt­ing horse that only came to a stop with the aid of two handy Mon­go­lian horse­man, and even­tu­ally pulled out by day five from a shoul­der in­jury.

De­spite this, she is de­ter­mined to save again for the $18,000 en­try fee and take the risk rid­ing half-broke for­eign horses.

She has been ac­cepted for the 2020 race and she thinks she can win it.

“Bloody oath I think I can win it,” she said.

“There is a lot of ifs and buts to this race and any­thing can hap­pen, but peo­ple have won it who you wouldn’t ex­pect. I think I have ev­ery chance of win­ning it. That’s what my aim will be when I head over there.”

The last time the Ru­ral Weekly caught up with Kathy she was work­ing on Eva Downs Sta­tion in the North­ern Ter­ri­tory.

She has ded­i­cated most of her life to work­ing with horses, and now man­ages a cat­tle prop­erty near Be­nam­bra in the Vic­to­rian High Coun­try.

She first heard about the race when she was work­ing in the north­ern beef in­dus­try and word spread that Will Comiskey, a horse­man from Dingo, Queens­land, won the race.

“Through Face­book I learnt of a few Ter­ri­to­ri­ans who com­peted in the derby – one was Jodie Ward from Kather­ine,” she said.

“I looked into it and just knew it would be mind-blow­ing to be part of.”

Kathy is crowd-sourc­ing some of the fees needed to com­pete. She is also hunt­ing for a ma­jor spon­sor, and when she reaches that tar­get, her race will then fundraise for a Mon­go­lian char­ity dear to her heart.

She is al­ready hard at work prep­ping for the 2020 race, and thinks the skills she gained from this year’s com­pe­ti­tion, which com­menced in Au­gust, will give her an edge.

“Any­one who has done the derby will tell you the most dif­fi­cult part is pick­ing a horse,” she said.

When rid­ers com­plete a race leg, they walk up and down a line of about 40 horses to choose their mount. Dur­ing the race they will ride be­tween 25 and 28 horses.

“The ba­sic thing you look for is a horse that looks fit,” she said.

“I would look at their hooves, be­cause they don’t shoe their horses or trim them, so the shorter their hooves means they have been rid­den more.

“If they are fit­ter they will be able to go fur­ther and faster, and, hope­fully they will be quiet.”

Kathy also heeded ad­vice she learnt from cam­p­drafters and looked for a mount that had “a kind eye”.

It be­came a bal­anc­ing act – try­ing to select a horse that looked both safe and fast. Her main goal was to com­plete the next leg as quickly as pos­si­ble.

“If you pick a fat, quiet one, you might end up walk­ing the whole leg, so in­stead of it tak­ing two-and-half to three hours, it might take you six or seven hours.”

All horses are vet checked be­fore they have a run, and vet­ted again when they reach the next check­point; strict penal­ties are given to com­peti­tors if their horses don’t pass the vet’s re­quire­ments.

Kathy said she rode some “ab­so­lutely beau­ti­ful” horses that were smooth and re­spon­sive to her di­rec­tions, but she also had some wild ones.

On day three, the last horse she rode proved to be a hand­ful.

“I picked the horse, they

sad­dled it up, and one of the Mon­go­lian herders jumped on it for me and it rode around beau­ti­fully,” she said.

“So I kit­ted up, swung my leg over and it was like the fear of god was in­jected into this horse.

“We just bolted straight out of that camp.

“Maybe he didn’t like the way I looked or smelt, but this par­tic­u­lar leg was 36km long and this horse did not stop once.”

It was a wild ride. Kathy said the horse bucked, shied, fell in holes then bolted – on re­peat – the whole way.

It sounds ter­ri­fy­ing, but she was laugh­ing re­call­ing the tale.

“I came into the next horse sta­tion with a cloud of dust be­hind me and two Mon­go­lian herders had to chase after me to stop my horse,” she said.

Her adrenalin was pump­ing so it wasn’t un­til the next day she re­alised there was pain in her shoul­der.

Day four went well, and she picked a fan­tas­tic horse that was a smooth ride, but her pain only wors­ened.

It wasn’t un­til the medic, who she de­scribes as an ex­pe­ri­enced “Bul­gar­ian mil­i­tary man”, ex­am­ined her that she con­ceded she would have to with­draw.

“I had a foot­ball-sized swelling on my neck and shoul­der blade,” she said.

Although it all sounds crazy, and Kathy has been told she is mad for re-en­ter­ing, she stressed the race was con­ducted in the ut­most pro­fes­sional way.

Rid­ers are fit­ted with state-of-the-art GPS tech­nol­ogy and can hit a but­ton that will shut the race down and alert au­thor­i­ties if they need to be res­cued.

She also praised the vets, medics and trans­la­tors as be­ing sec­ond to none. And although the horses are half-wild, she be­lieves she has the skills to han­dle them.

“Their horses are be­tween 12 and 13 hands,” she said.

“Be­cause they are quite small, it gives you a bet­ter sense of con­trol and safety. So with all of them, I felt I was able to pull them round into a one-rein stop.”

Kathy also said com­peti­tors could re­quest a Mon­go­lian herder to ride a horse be­fore they stepped on them­selves.

“If the horse does carry on and buck with them, they think it’s great fun,” she said.

“They are truly bril­liant horse peo­ple.”

After her with­drawal, Kathy grabbed her big cam­era, and on a good dose of painkillers, and trav­elled with a crew fol­low­ing the race to cap­ture pic­tures.

This ex­pe­ri­ence made her fall in love with the Mon­go­lian peo­ple and cul­ture.

“They are the most warm, ac­com­mo­dat­ing and friendly peo­ple – and this whole race ben­e­fits the Mon­go­lian herders,” she said.

“They are not rich peo­ple, but they live rich lives. They aren’t poverty stricken be­cause they are so good at mak­ing do with what they have.

“The thing you have to un­der­stand with the en­try fee is, all the money goes back to the Mon­go­lian fam­i­lies. So ev­ery horse you pick, they get paid a fee. So if a herder do­nates 10 to 15 horses into the race, from that, he might earn more than a year’s salary.”

Dur­ing the race, com­peti­tors eat tra­di­tional food and Kathy said the dishes mostly con­sisted of eat­ing goat for break­fast, lunch and din­ner.

“The other thing we were given was mare’s milk. If you were lucky you would get cow’s or goat’s milk, but most of the time it was mare’s milk.”

She de­scribes it as be­ing a bizarre-tast­ing white sub­stance you just had to force down.

“It was re­ally salty,” she said.

“When you have a cup of tea it was like hav­ing a tea­spoon of salt in it, in­stead of a tea­spoon of sugar.”

The char­ity Kathy has picked is the Veeloo Foun­da­tion, a reg­is­tered non-profit help­ing or­phans and dis­ad­van­taged chil­dren, as well as run­ning the Narnii Hu­uh­duud Kinder­garten in Mon­go­lia.

Armed with ex­pe­ri­ence, Kathy said her train­ing for 2020 would see her hit the gym more of­ten, com­plete weight train­ing for her legs, and step up her over­all fit­ness.

If you can sup­port Kathy, visit Ex­pe­ri­ence Aus­tralian Agri­cul­ture on Face­book for more in­for­ma­tion.


IN­CRED­I­BLE RIDE: Kathy Gabriel dur­ing the Mon­gol Derby.


Herders wait­ing at a horse camp.

A Mon­go­lian herder’s sad­dle.

Graz­ing hob­bled horses.


A Mon­go­lian stal­lion.

Typ­i­cal horses that are rid­den – strong with amaz­ing stamina.


In good spir­its de­spite in­jury.


Will Gun­ning and Kathy Gabriel dur­ing the Mon­gol Derby.

A Mon­go­lian herder.


A Mon­go­lian herder’s horse.

A start camp at the Mon­gol Derby.

A tra­di­tional Mon­go­lian bri­dle that was used in the race.

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