What began as a childhood passion has evolved into the taking on the world’s longest and toughest horse race.
Since he was five years old, William Gunning spent every school holiday at his grandfather, Russell Gunning’s farm in Barrington. Being from Sydney, William loved to escape to the farm, something he continues to do to this day.
Riding horses took up a lot of his time spent in the Gloucester region, often going out to Camp Cobark to ride.
“I used to compete in the Gloucester junior rodeo,” he recalls. “And do campdrafting.
“Although I never came first, I did win a few ribbons,” William said.
As time has passed, his grandfather’s farm no longer has horses, only cows, and has passed ownership onto William’s father.
“If I had my way, I’d be a farmer," William said.
But instead, he is a weekend farmer, still coming to town every other weekend, bringing his wife and children to the place he loved so much as a child.
William’s passion for riding horses has never died and recently he jumped back in the saddle to train for the 2018 Mongol Derby held August 7 – 16.
After registering for the event in January, he found himself spending time back at Camp Cobark.
“I needed time in the saddle,” William explained. “I needed to get my legs and bum ready.”
He was preparing to take on a 1000 kilometre trek up the Mongolian steppe, changing horses every 40km; following Genghis Khan’s horse messenger system.
Completing a horse endurance race was on William’s bucket list and as he doesn’t own a horse, this derby was the best option, as the horses are provided, however, they are a little on the wild side.
“Mongolians ponies aren’t broken in," William explained.
So he spent a lot of his training learning tricks for getting on and off a horse that doesn’t really want him to ride it.
He explained how at the checkpoints he was faced with a line up of horses to choose from based mainly on how it looks. He had everything from rocking horses to race horses; some clearly wanting to do their own thing.
After 29 different horses and eight days, William crossed the finish line in 20th place Not something all the competitors did; some he rode with never finished.
“It was tough on the body,” he said. “I was bucked off 8 times.”
Mr Gunning was overwhelmed by the kindness and spirit of the Mongolian people and learnt a lot about himself during the journey.
“They were very welcoming in offering their homes and their level of generously was something I had never seen,” he said.
The ride wasn’t just done for the love of it, William raised $10,000 for the Black Dog Institute, a charity he choose after hearing stories of farmer’s mental and emotional struggle during drought.
“Now I can walk into a pub and call myself a horseman,” William laughed.
“The organisers of the Mongol Derby are planning to hold a race in Patagonia and I’d love to do that.”
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