For a refreshing view of the young adult generation, you need only look as far as Goondiwindi born and bred Todd Cranney.
At 23, Todd Craney has had more adventures than most of us will have in a lifetime. His latest jaunt was on a little known horse race across Mongolia called the ‘Mongol Derby’ which holds the world record for being the ‘Longest Horse Race in The World’. Always keen for an adventure, Todd applied to ride the race in January after hearing about it from a friend. Two days later Todd was selected to be one of 30 riders chosen from hundreds of applicants from around the world.
A pre-requisite for the race is that funds are raised for a worthy cause of your choosing. Having recently seen a family friend commit suicide, Todd felt that ‘Tie Up the Black Dog’, a Goondiwindi-based group which supports and educates about depression and mental health issues, was that cause. Todd raised $2300 and says, “I think it is great what these ladies are doing promoting awareness and providing avenues of support for rural people, as many tough country blokes seem to keep it all to themselves.”
Todd’s horsemanship began as a five-year old on his family’s property Bonyi near Goondiwindi. He quickly realised that riding the wild Mongol horses would need some broader experience. Thus he quit his job at the coast and moved to Roma to clock up time on the wildest horses he could find. Retrospectively, he realises that nothing could have prepared him for this ride of his life.
The Mongol Derby is a 1000 kilometre, nine and a half day, mullti-horse race taking the riders across the wilderness of the Mongolian Steppe. The horses are the ancestors of the 13th Century steads who once carried Mongol warriers across half the world, and have been described as sturdy, fearless, wild and unbelievably tough.
The first leg began three hours from the capital, Ulaanbaatar, where the competitors chose their first horse out of those tethered at each station. Todd describes how he carried only a GPS, medical kit, sleeping bag, a camel pack containing his daily water supply and the clothes on his back. Needless to say, he enjoyed his shower and change of clothes on day 10.
After choosing a horse, each day consisted of galloping across the wild plains to four stations approximately 40 kilometres apart. How you get from A to B is entirely up to each individual rider. Riding for hours without seeing another soul meant Todd could absorb the surrounding unimaginable beauty whilst dealing with indescribable challenges. He says the scenery comprised “green rolling hills of nothingness and valleys in between. Almost always a beautiful blue sky”. So powerful was this Mongolian Steppe that Todd says, “I still sometimes have dreams about it.”
Todd’s unbelievable stories include being chased by wolves, racing after his mount for 10 kilometres whilst being chased by rabid dogs (his scariest moment), as well being dragged by the thumb by a galloping horse when he dismounted to fix a broken stirrup. One night, Todd stayed with a local Mongolian family when he was unable to make it back to the next station. The family generously shared a feast of goat’s gizzards and fermented mare’s milk. The potent combination led to Todd being violently ill and almost pulling out of the race.
Unlike 13 of the 30 starters, Todd did finish the race; battered and bruised but extremely proud of his achievement.
Ask Todd what’s on the agenda for the future and he says, “Possibly a cross country ski race across the Alps of Afghanistan, but until then it’s back to reality.”
Words by Mandie O’shea