Cu­rios­ity fu­els drive to derby

Havelock North Village Press - - Front Page -

Chloe Phillips-Har­ris has writ­ten a book ti­tled Fear­less, about her ad­ven­ture dur­ing the world’s most gru­elling horse race — the Mon­gol Derby. The 1000 kilo­me­tre em­du­rance race across Mon­go­lia pushed her to her lim­its. About half the com­peti­tors dropped out along the way, but Chloe kept go­ing. We asked her some ques­tions. ■ What mo­ti­vated you to get back on the horse?

The derby was some­thing I’d worked to­wards for years. I en­tered it know­ing full well at some point I was go­ing to reach break­ing point, and I knew I would have to push my­self to keep go­ing. I didn’t re­alise it was go­ing to be this bad, but when I reached the low­est hour there was still some lit­tle voice that said, “Well Chloe this is your chance to see if you re­ally can do it, get back on the horse or give up.” The thought of giv­ing up was so ab­hor­rent I couldn’t face it, so I got back on the horse.

■ You grew up on a run­down farm in North­land. Your first pony ter­rorised you and an­other frac­tured your skull dur­ing the first few weeks of own­ing him, but you turned him into a cham­pion. Oth­ers might have baulked at some of the chal­lenges thrown your way but you grew with them. Why is this?

I guess it never oc­curred to me that it was go­ing to be easy, so I wasn’t sur­prised to face these chal­lenges. I al­ways knew it was go­ing to be hard work and was just re­ally cu­ri­ous to see what was pos­si­ble. I just worked at ev­ery­thing step by step as well. Kind of not look­ing too far ahead but al­ways push­ing for that lit­tle bit more just in front of me. I en­joyed the chal­lenge.

■ While your friends headed off to uni­ver­sity you went to live at a big sta­ble as a work­ing pupil. Long hours and hard work — why did you choose this path? Do you re­gret this?

I have never re­gret­ted it. I would never choose to re­peat the ex­pe­ri­ence or nec­es­sar­ily ad­vise peo­ple to fol­low the same path, but it gave me a lot of re­silience. I im­me­di­ately saw what it re­ally took to suc­ceed. The hard work, ded­i­ca­tion and the hours of prac­tice. I will for­ever be grate­ful for see­ing that so early in my ca­reer. It al­lowed me to re­ally con­front if this was a path I wanted to fol­low. I had great role mod­els in that re­gard. Even though I do a mix of eques­trian sport and ex­pe­di­tions these days, I think some of the drive, de­ter­mi­na­tion and skills I de­vel­oped early on are very sim­i­lar.

But it def­i­nitely felt for many years that ev­ery­one else was par­ty­ing and hav­ing fun while I was just work­ing non-stop day in and day out. Both when I worked for other peo­ple and my­self those early years I just worked con­tin­u­ously, but was al­ways try­ing to learn and progress and al­ways push­ing to do bet­ter. I think that was my sav­ing grace — my work fas­ci­nated me even though — like ev­ery job — it could be mun­dane and hard at times.

■ Your work with wild stal­lions is highly re­spected. What do you see in these an­i­mals that oth­ers might class as dan­ger­ous?

I think be­cause I grew up ex­per­i­ment­ing with train­ing horses and spend­ing hun­dreds of hours alone with them, I could see no rea­son I couldn’t train wild horses and es­pe­cially the stal­lions.

By the time I took on Kaimanawa horses I’d al­ready trained so many dif­fi­cult and dan­ger­ous horses and fig­ured out ways to work with them, I fig­ured the wild ones couldn’t be any more dif­fi­cult. At least the wild stal­lions were a blank can­vas that had never had any in­ter­fer­ence with hu­mans — they didn’t come with bad habits or learned prob­lems.

I think what peo­ple quite of­ten for­get is that a horse is at heart an an­i­mal that doesn’t like con­flict and only re­sorts to it in ex­treme cir­cum­stance. So re­ally when you step into a pen with a stal­lion that has no ex­pe­ri­ence with hu­mans and has just come from the wild, you have to un­der­stand it’s an an­i­mal that doesn’t re­ally want to fight you.

My job is to make it feel safe enough through­out train­ing that it doesn’t feel the need to re­sort to ag­gres­sion. The stal­lions are chal­leng­ing but they are far more com­plex and in­tel­li­gent crea­tures than how they are of­ten por­trayed.

■ What led you to ride the 1000km Mon­gol Derby race on dif­fi­cult na­tive horses across a re­mote re­gion of Mon­go­lia?

I saw images of gal­lop­ing horses on the wide-open Mon­go­lian steppe and just couldn’t think of any­thing bet­ter — it looked like heaven. I was fas­ci­nated and hooked from the mo­ment I first heard about the race. The Eurasian steppe is where horses were first do­mes­ti­cated and where they re­main the least changed, and to see them there truly fas­ci­nated me. My cu­rios­ity was a huge driv­ing force. As far as the race, the chance to ride that many horses over such amaz­ing land­scape and to face such a phys­i­cal chal­lenge re­ally ap­pealed to me.

■ Your new book Fear­less is has just been re­leased — what else does the fu­ture hold?

Hope­fully more work with an­i­mals in re­mote ar­eas. I have a few ex­pe­di­tions planned for some very re­mote ar­eas in 2020 and two more trips to Mon­go­lia this year as well. I’d love to get back to the Aus­tralian desert and work more with camels there, too.

■ Meet Chloe Phillips-Har­ris Where: War­dini Books When: Wed­nes­day, March 13, 6pm.

Where: Horse of Year at the NZ Horse & Pony stand When: Thurs­day, March 14 and Satur­day 16th.

Chloe Phillip­sHar­ris.

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