The Long Riders' Guild

The Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration - Volume 3

Final Volume is the Journey - the Change

This is the third of a three-volume set.  Please read my reviews for the Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration, Vol I and Vol II.  The entire set might be a winter’s read, but it’s a good one.

As promised in my review of Vol II, this is the wind-down from the high adventure and challenges of Volume II.  It is the thought-provoking part of the journey, the part that feeds the soul.  This volume also takes us through the details of the ride itself. How far can you go in a day and at what pace? How do you feed and water the horses? How do you prevent saddle sores? How do you conduct yourself around others? 

But, as indicated in the previous reviews, it is not merely a “how-to” volume. The author would say it is, more importantly, a “why to” book.   Once again, you fall under the spell of a master story-teller who is also an investigative journalist. The stories and information he has unearthed are astounding. If you thought you were pretty knowledgeable about horses, these volumes will open you to further inquiry. In this volume, for example, O’Reilly goes deeper into the practice of delayed off-saddling. The Asian equestrian cultures, with centuries of experience in horse travel, do not immediately remove the saddle after a ride. They wait until the back is cool and dry, which might take as much as an hour. This is how they prevent “scalding” and saddle sores. Saddle sores can stop a journey. While it may seem absurd in Western practice, at the least, a Long Rider will be paying close attention to his horse’s back. Remember, as O’Reilly states, “We are taking a modern horse and asking him to perform an ancient service- unmechanized transportation”.

“A great journey is completed without a drop of cruelty”, the author indicates. There is no honor in completing a ride with injured horses. Whether a rider encounters hospitality or hostility on his ride may be influenced by former Long Riders who passed through an area. He mentions the deep conversations that occur when the rider will be moving on the next day, never to be seen again. I experienced this time after time on my own 7,000- mile ride throughout the U.S.  The conversation around the dining table or the campfire was about life, hopes and dreams.

The heart of the ride is the “The Long Quiet”, as the author calls it. There are two worlds, he relates, the physical world and the other world. The other world goes beyond everyday events. This is the inner journey. This may be the most important chapter in the volume.

Long Riders put a great deal of planning into their journeys, but seldom do they consider that they must also plan for the conclusion of their journey. Saying goodbye to his horse may be the most difficult thing a Long Rider has to do. One Long Rider had to end his trip prematurely due to his father’s pending death. Having to quickly sell his beloved draft mare, Louise, he encountered cruel deceit. But then it was followed by a miracle. Louise was headed to auction to be sold for meat, but ended up in a green pasture. Untold evil. Untold good.

Long Riders often feel disoriented when they return home after a long ride. Other than a destination reached or not reached, few people can understand the magnitude of an equestrian journey. Long Riders tend to be lone souls. But in the year 2000, equestrian explorers from around the world gathered together for an international meeting hosted by the author to share their experiences. They talked non-stop for three days. This is what the author relates in his three volumes, along with many other experiences he has collected over the decades. He has the words for it.  This is his summary of what the group shared: “In the saddle, their lives never burned so brilliantly. Reaching their destination, they felt victorious. And then the darkness fell upon them.” This leads to the chapter, “Between the Worlds”. One thing is certain. A Long Rider is a changed person after his journey.

Long Rider Jeremy James calls it re-orientation versus disorientation. “The rides do not disturb so much as set us free. It is as though we caught a glimpse of something and knew it to be true and fine.”

The Epilogue is the chapter that reaches into the future. Equestrian travel is not dead. “The story of equestrian travel is not fixed in time or rooted in space,” the author tell us. “As circumstances change, every generation has created a new version of equestrian travel in its own image.” These volumes have preserved valuable knowledge that was nearly lost, knowledge from a global scale.

For a Long Rider who wishes to complete “a journey without a drop of cruelty”, it is a must read. There is nothing like it, ever written. These volumes will also be of value to historians and any of the humanitarian sciences, no doubt finding their way into the great libraries of the world. But it is one photograph that says it all for me. English Long Rider Bill Holt always slept next to his horse, Trigger, no matter what the weather. The photo is the two of them, side by side, stretched out on the ground. The halter and rope lie next to them, on the ground.

These three volumes were six years in the making, a compilation of thousands of years of wisdom collected over three decades.  Whether you are actually considering a journey on horseback or just wondering what it would be like to see the world framed between a horse’s ears, or to feel the gentle sway in the saddle mile after mile, or to fall asleep to the contented sound of your horse munching the same grass that has fueled thousands of years of exploration, these volumes will take you there.  It is the ride that could set you free.

Lucy Leaf

Long Rider-USA

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