Thursday 21 June 2018

A ride on the wild side for jockey who won biggest race of his life

Donie Fahy won a gruelling horse race through Mongolia - 10 months after breaking his back, writes Hilary A White

The Mongol Derby lasts 10 days and covers 1,000km across the vast steppes of Central Asia
The Mongol Derby lasts 10 days and covers 1,000km across the vast steppes of Central Asia

Hilary A White

In order to get back in the saddle and win the most meaningful race of his entire life, jockey Donie Fahy had to go to the ends of the earth.

Mongolia, to be specific.

In August 2012, Fahy took part in the Mongol Derby, an equine endurance race fashioned after the postal route used by Genghis Khan in the early 13th century. While simply crossing the finishing line of this gruelling 10-day and 1,000km-long marathon is a feat in itself, the unassuming Meath man won it.

What's more, his triumph happened 10 months after breaking his back.

It was October 2011 when Fahy was thrown from the saddle at Ludlow race course. He had fractured and dislocated his L2 vertebra, meaning extensive bone-graph surgery and the insertion of screws and rods to reassemble the breakage. Recovering on the couch shortly afterwards, he received a link from old pal and fellow jockey Richie Killorin for the derby. They say the healing process is helped by having a point on the horizon on which to focus. Fahy, by that stage in the dark about how long - if ever - a full recovery would take, had found his.

"I said, 'great, when are we doing it?'," the Tara native laughs. "Richie was kind of baffled that I was so keen. I was back riding-out after six months, and back race-riding after seven."

The 2012 derby is the subject of an award-winning documentary that follows Fahy, Killorin and a colourful assortment of contenders on this unforgiving multi-stage trek. All The Wild Horses reveals the array of problems faced, from the unruly semi-wild native ponies used to negotiate the vast steppes, to the risk of heatstroke and marauding packs of dogs.

By their own admission, Fahy and Killorin (who came second) winged it. That said, they set off for Central Asia with no intention of being there just to make up the numbers. "We had a bit of tongue-in-cheek confidence when we were on camera at the start of the film because we went out there not really knowing what to expect," Fahy recalls. "We didn't know anyone who had done it. There were other people a hell of lot more prepared than us. But there was no point going all that way, to only be doing it for the experience. We went there to win. Little did we think we would, though."

Part of their motivation was chosen charity The Injured Jockeys Fund, which both men are passionate about. Not only was the trust key in Fahy's complicated and miraculous recovery, but teammate Killorin had also received much reconstructive surgery assistance from them following a hoof to the face. "It was a no-brainer," the 32-year-old says. "The minute we heard we had to raise money for a charity, that was the only one that was really close to both our hearts."

It might be six years ago, but Fahy, who now works on the family stud, still bathes in its afterglow.

"That day to the finish line was both the worst and best day of my life," he says. "It was extremely tough, and parts of it weren't enjoyable. But it was a phenomenal experience. We made some fantastic friends that we're still in contact with from all over the world. We all came together because of a common love of horses."

'All The Wild Horses' opens in the IFI on Friday, June 8. Sunday Independent film critic Hilary White will moderate a Q&A with director Ivo Marloh and Donie Fahy following the opening night screening at 6.30pm. www.ifi.ie

Sunday Independent

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