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Interview with Lara Prior-Palmer

First Woman Lara Prior PalmerLara was the first woman to win the Mongol Derby – and doesn’t seem phased by much at all. Using ‘fear as the inspiration to seek out truth’ her adventurous life-view led Lara to compete in and win one of the toughest horse races in the world when she was just 19.

‘The Mongol Derby is the longest, toughest horserace and I was convinced I wouldn’t finish’

‘You ride twenty-five ponies over 1000km. Most competitors take a year to prepare – I stumbled in 6 weeks before, totally unaware of how demanding it would be. I only did some research after signing up!

‘If it all goes wrong, at least in a week you’ll have a good story to tell’

‘I wasn’t prepared. But there’s no real way of training to ride for 14 hours a day anyway. I never felt worried. I like it when something is so ridiculously challenging. Riding for Macmillan Cancer and Greenhouse Sports helped drive me too.’

‘People flee struggle and inconvenience’

Fear drives us not to do a lot of things – and not doing something through fear scares me more than anything. We have to seek out our edges. I know I can only speak of my own experience, but ‘do something every day that scares you,’ doesn’t happen much in day-to-day city life.’

‘The more I achieve alone, the happier I become in my own company’

‘When you turn a challenge into fun, all that matters is the here and now’

‘Enjoy the process. When I’m right in the process, I feel euphoric. Knowing that I have chosen to put myself here, in this situation, on this journey is so liberating.’

‘The world media has a grip over us through fear’

‘But I genuinely believe what Dervla Murphy says, that ‘most people in the world are helpful and trustworthy’. Yes, read the papers, but also read travel writers so you get the good stuff too.’

‘You can do a lot of things that seem dangerous, quite safely’

‘I use fear to drive myself to investigate what other people are afraid of. I am at university in America where most find places beyond Europe terrifying. I got fed up of reading about it and went to countries like Iraq and Iran to find out for myself. If I was older with my own kids would I be as daring? I wouldn’t do anything differently. I’d take my children with me.’

‘If you break rules and go against the grain, you become more open-minded and flexible’

‘People regularly despair of me for not conforming– but it’s this rebellious spirit that got me through the Mongol Derby.’

‘My father might claim that I get my brains from him’

‘But I think any innate cleverness I might have comes from my mother. Women are regularly underestimated by men who have held the status quo for so long. Men who unquestioningly repeat inherited platitudes and old concepts. As women, we actually hold a lot of power if we know how to question those beliefs skilfully. It really doesn’t take much to crumble a pompous boy’s foundations if you ask the right thing. I often respond to any sexism with – ‘have you ever considered that you had a 50% chance of being a woman?’’

‘Age is a number – with its own value’

‘I found myself thinking – ‘I’m writing a book. 21-year olds are not wise enough to write a book!’ But I realised that we automatically look up to old age. My book is still a piece of work at a time of life with its own inherent value.’

‘I see women in roles of power and I think, – are they really free?’

‘Or have they simply signed up to the same process men have gone through? Are they only considered equal because they have jumped the hoops men have put there? It’s another thing to be young and not feel that you need to follow due process – and to still be considered successful.

Lara Prior-Palmer, Horsewoman
First Woman to win the Mongol Derby riding 25 ponies over 1000km

Interview by Deborah Willimott

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