The race is modeled after Genghis Khan’s messenger system. Riders, mounted on semi-wild ponies, navigate from horse station to horse station, fighting extreme weather, wolves, dehydration, hypothermia, and exhaustion.
Initially, Marloh wasn’t planning on a documentary. He explained: “When I heard about the Mongol Derby I just wanted to ride it. I applied, and, once accepted, thought I’d want to document everything as it’d surely be a once-in-a-lifetime experience.
“The filmmaker in me took over and I raised funds to take a tiny two-person crew. The moment there was interest from investors at the Cannes Film Festival, I knew I had to make a proper film. And this, unfortunately, meant I took a backseat as a rider to concentrate on filming.”
Marloh completed the race in 2014 and 2015, and followed it in a 4x4 in 2016 to do aerial filming and big-camera work.
Marloh added that his mother, who passed away before production began, was very influential on him growing up, and so he wanted to make this a big film in her honour; there is a dedication to her at the beginning of the film.
When asked what compelled him to attempt the race, Marloh said he grew up on a farm and learned to ride horses before he was even on a bicycle. He added that his mother “often told me about the places she dreamed of visiting, one being Mongolia. So, I’d read about it a lot as a kid, and dreamed of riding across the wild steppes.”
As an adult, Marloh studied film and screenwriting, and in his words “life got in the way”. He added: “I lived in London writing screenplays and commercials for a living, which isn’t conducive to riding horses, let alone riding horses fast across the steppes.”
Filming everything proved challenging, but perhaps not in the way one might expect. He said: “Filming on horseback was easiest when with the right people, meaning they’re interesting to film, as staying with them on horseback is the only way to keep up. You can't get too close in a car, as it scares the horses.
“The challenge was that the field soon spread out after the race started, so within two days the front runners were a few hours ahead, and the distance between the front field and back field quickly became days, not hours.”
He said the biggest challenge was that it was impossible to stay with everyone without multiple crews filming, and he ended up missing some interesting things.
Marloh said the Mongol Derby was probably the most exciting thing he’s done in his life, and while the horses were intimidating, his childhood breaking in his own horses on a farm meant he was used to working with similar horses; where some riders from eventing or polo backgrounds were, “in a bit of a shock.” Though covering 120-160 km in a 12-hour day was difficult, Marloh felt that, “having the filming and worrying about the story,” helped, as he had to be up an hour earlier to have everything ready to start filming.
He was also lucky, as he was only bucked off twice, and was sick once; others weren’t so fortunate.
Marloh said the successful riders “know which horses to choose – the ones who won’t buck them off – and they’re equally fit and stoic, with a love of the outdoors. They’re kind and open to the horses and herders. If you’re not, you won’t get far, as you need their support.”
He added that most riders are, “great to know, but there are, of course, some who drive you mad because they complain all day and you wonder what on earth made them do this in the first place.”