It’s a big leap from selling commercial real estate in Hurstville to riding wild horses through Mongolia following the trail of Genghis Khan.
But William Gunning proved it was possible when he saddled up last month to take part in the 1000km Mongol Derby.
William was one of 44 riders from 12 countries who took part in what is classified by the Guinness Book of Records as the world’s toughest equestrian endurance race.
Riding semi-wild horses, the Derby participants trace the route taken by the messenger system used by Genghis Khan 800 years ago.
William, a director of Gunning Real Estate Hurstville, took eight days, riding 30 different horses to finish the race in 20th position.
He was inspired to take part in the 10th Mongol Derby by the plight of NSW farmers struggling with the drought.
He was particularly motivated by the challenge of those farmers battling depression brought on by their struggles.
By taking part in the Derby he was able to raise $10,000 for the Black Dog Institute which supports mental health and suicide prevention.
While he grew up in Blakehurst, the 35-year-old father-of-two spent his childhood riding horses on his grandfather’s property at Gloucester.
To prepare for the Derby, William went back to Gloucester and practiced riding horses with friends who are farmers.
“It had probably been three to four years since I rode a horse,” he said.
But nothing could prepare him for the horses he would have to ride during the Derby.
He rode 30 different horses over the 1000km course, selecting a new horse at face value every 40km from a choice of around 40 available horses.
“These are half-wild horses and sometimes I couldn’t get off them when I started to ride,” he said.
“I was thrown off eight times but I had no injuries so I count myself lucky.
“At every station along the course we got to choose our horse out of 40 to 50. Choosing a horse wasn’t as straightforward as it seemed.
“A horse looked like a Ferrari on the outside but could have a 1.5 litre engine.
“There was another horse that looked like a beat-up old Datsun but had the engine of a a V12.
“When I got a good horse it was magical. There was one I called TNT. He was a fat horse but he destroyed the hills like TNT.”
William also rode through extremes of landscape.
“One morning I started out in the mountains and finished up in the desert. The minimum I rode in a day was 100km, and the best I did in a day was 180km.
“There was no prize money at the end, just bragging rights. But doing it was on my bucket list and I was happy to be able to raise $10,000 for the Black Dog Institute.”
William said the race taught him a couple of valuable lessons about himself.
“I’m the kind of guy who likes to be in control of what I do for the day or the week ahead,” he said.
“But doing the Derby I couldn’t plan ahead. I had to live in the moment. I didn’t know what was over the next hill, so I just had to go with it and stop trying to think ahead.”
He also learnt not to judge people by first impression.
“There was one guy in the race I didn’t like at first. But I found out he was doing the race in memory of his wife who had died in his arms after a paragliding accident.
“It made me realise that everyone is fighting a battle. Don’t judge, but give people a chance. Sometimes you can find the best of people when you do.”
Now he is back home with his wife Emma, and children, Callum, four, and Charlotte, three, William is thinking of his next challenge.
“The race organisers are also doing a race through Patagonia but I don’t know if my family will let me go,” he said.
“Perhaps I’ll do something closer to home like the Kokoda Trail.”