A retired firefighter from Athens-Clarke County celebrated his newfound freedom, and lifelong love of horses, by competing in the toughest horse race in the world.
At 57-years-old, Bishop resident Stan Michael was the second-oldest competitor in the world's longest horse race, the Mongol Derby. The 10-day, 1,000-kilometer race is a test of endurance through the Mongolian Steppe. According to organizers, the course recreates the horse messenger system developed by Genghis Khan in 1224. The first Mongol Derby took place in 2009, and has continued annually since then.
"You can ride from 7 a.m. until 7 p.m., and you typically change horses three or four times," Michael said. "And you change horses at least 28 times to complete the whole race."
Michael retired two years ago after 27 years with the Athens-Clarke County Fire Department. Around that time, his wife and daughter just happened to see a documentary about the Mongol Derby.
"I was just hoping to be able to finish, that was my main goal" he said. "There were 48 riders from the beginning, and I finished 8th out of 48."
Michael says he's been around horses for most of his life. He and his family thought it would be an adventure, and they say it certainly was.
"I've never been anywhere comparable to it. Just miles of grasslands and hills, no fences. You could just ride.
And at the end of the day, Nomads made sure he didn't have to worry about where he would put his head down.
"We would just ride up on a horse at 7 o'clock at night and ask them could we stay there for the night," he said. "They would automatically take care of your horse and ask whether you need anything to eat. That was one of the best things about the race was meeting the Mongolians and learning about their culture and their way of life."
Not only the people, but Michael says he got to learn about the hordes, too: semi-wild and born to run all day.
"The original Mongolian horse, they've been riding over there since Genghis Khan. They're amazing horses," he said "The stamina is beyond compare to any other horse."
It's an experience Michael says he and his family will not soon forget.