ONE of the Borders’ most experienced vets will regale a Melrose audience next week with an illustrated talk on his involvement with the world’s longest and toughest horse race.
Harry McKerchar, a joint managing director of Merlin Vets, was first involved with the Mongol Derby three years ago.
This summer he returned to join the team of international vets providing cover for the 1,200 Mongolian horses used in the 1,000km endurance event.
Organised by the adventure travel company, The Adventurists, only slightly more than half of the 35 riders who started out, actually made it to the finish line between seven and 10 days later.
It was finally won by Irish jockey Donal Fahy, with fellow countryman, Richie Killoran, just behind him in second spot.
Shortly after crossing the finishing line, Fahy had admitted the race was one of the toughest things he had ever done.
“It’s been a hell of a seven days. Long days and really tough days, but on the whole it has been incredible,” he said.
“Not only is this the toughest horse race in the world, it’s the toughest thing I’ve ever done. The whole mental side, to keep pushing on and pushing on, but in the same breath it’s got to be one of the better things I’ve ever done.”
Not for the faint-hearted, this year’s injury list included a suspected broken neck, a broken collarbone and a punctured lung.
And on Wednesday (November 28), at 7pm, in the George & Abbotsford Hotel, Harry will recount what it was like to live and work amongst the modern-day descendants of legendary warlord, Genghis Khan, and the changes that had taken place since his first visit to the country in 2009.
“The last time I was involved, I was one of a group of five vets, but this year I was in charge of a team of 16,” Harry explained to TheSouthern.
“Each international vet was again paired with a Mongolian vet and there were eight teams of vets covering the race.” Mongolian horses were the steeds that carried the all-conquering Mongol warriors across half the known world.
Small and sturdy, they are revered in Mongolian culture and have hardly changed since Genghis Khan’s troops swept all before them in the 13th century.
Harry says the welfare of the horses used was always paramount.
“As well as vetting all the horses that were to be used prior to the actual race, the animals were checked again after each of the 35-40km stages of the event was completed,” Harry told us.
And he says this year there was much improved organisation, although one thing had not changed from previous years.
“Whenever we set up at one of the stations, local people would turn out with their own horses, cattle, sheep and so on.
“I even had to treat a couple of humans – one of these was another vet who had become seriously ill and I had to set her up with a drip as a precaution.”
Wednesday’s audience will also hear of a request to castrate a cat and how a welly boot proved to be a vital item of veterinary equipment.
And while he has still not been converted to the delights of the local Mongolian cuisine he and his colleagues had to digest while out on the steppe, Harry says it was still another fantastic experience.
“The 21st century is slowly encroaching on the Mongolian people. You see it more in the big cities and towns, but even out in the wilder parts you notice more people with motorcycles and mobile phones.
“But what hadn’t changed was the friendliness and generosity of the Mongolian people.”