The Long Riders' Guild

A Special Note from the Editor regarding this page.

Those of us who are Long Riders will know exactly what I am talking about when I say that taking to the long gray road is often a life-threatening event. If you can manage to round up a group of equestrian explorers and long distance travelers you will hear stories that make your hair stand on end. Its not brag, just cold hard fact, when they speak of all the dangers they have ridden through.

Yet the equestrian world is a vast and diverse experience. So while I will quickly acknowledge the inherent harm involved when you take a high jump, or ride a bucking bronco - you know in your heart - and I know you know - that this is only a pretend danger, that you can go home when you want, that a coach, or a caring spouse, or a cell phone, or a hospital bed is always close by.

But no one knows peril like a solitary Long Rider. Regardless of all the soothing talk about this being a global village, those of us who ridden out there can tell you that the world is a vast and lonely place still filled with dragons, superstitions, and some extremely horrible people. 

Yes, those of us who have ridden across the lesser known parts of the world lower our voices, and still shake with fear, when we remember the bad times, the lost lives, the treacherous terrains, the bandits, brigands, and thieves that have tried to kill us or stop us from riding on.

That is why I have decided to add this preface to the following biographical account of a Current Expedition.

Right now, as you read these words in the safety of your warm home, a courageous French woman is riding her horse in search of a dream. Her name is Laura Bougault. She is a famed equestrian traveler who has already ridden across many parts of her native Europe and Mongolia. Now Laura has set her sights on a new goal - to be the first woman to ride across Africa alone!

For those of you naive enough to think that this is some sort of pony ride, think again. What Laura is attempting has little to do with the glossy photos the equestrian tour companies send you, showing well scrubbed tourists cantering beside gentle giraffes. The Long Riders' Guild has received emails posted from Laura out on the trail. At first they were merely unsettling. Then they became alarming. Now they contain information which can only be described as completely dangerous.

Laura Bougault has nearly had her horses stolen. She was warned not to continue on her perilous journey. And now, she has been viciously attacked and robbed by Zulu tribesmen.

What you are about to read is not made up, not make believe, not in any way contrived, cooked, or forged. It is the unvarnished account of a small French woman with the heart of Hercules.

I do not know if Laura Bougault will survive this journey. I do not know if she will live to see France again.  I advised her to listen to her heart and do what she thought best.  Despite the very high risks, Laura has decided to continue her ride across Africa, and I will not chide her for that choice.

Yet this I do know.  Laura Bougault may be foolhardy. She may be reckless. She may be riding down a doomed road, and I personally would exhibit more caution given the volatile circumstances.  But this much is clear.  Some may call her crazy, but Laura Bougault is blazing with bravery.

CuChullaine O'Reilly
12th November 2001

Laura's Ride - A Dream & A Beginning

Writer and equestrian adventurer, Laura Bougault has been riding for fifteen years.  Before she turned to horses, Laura made several trips with camels in Senegal, Tunisia and Egypt.  Then in 1997 she made her first equestrian expedition, an extended ride across Mongolia.  She prepared for her epic ride across Africa by making two long training rides in the mountains of France in 1999 and 2000.

"Obviously most of all,  Equestrian Travel is a passion - a double passion that I have, for the horse and for nature.  You have to be a little mad to launch yourself into an adventure where you will be thrown back on your own resources, far from any help, confronted by your fears and the responsibility of your horses."

But the equestrian explorer encountered problems long before she went swinging into the saddle.   Because she left France a few days after the terrorist attacks in the United States, it was only with the greatest difficulty that she managed to struggle  through the hysteria at the European airports.  Security was so tight that she had her scissors taken away from her, she missed her connecting flight, and arrived two days late in Johannesburg, South Africa.

The following day Laura set off for the neighboring country of Lesotho.  She emailed The Long Riders' Guild from Africa with her first impressions.

"Maseru, the capital of Lesotho, resembles a town in perdition, as if life here had stopped during the 1970s."

Laura went to Mokholong, east of Lesotho, where she chose her mounts for the journey.  These horses are small, the result of interbreeding between Java horses and other breeds left behind during the Colonial wars.  They are reputed to be incredibly tough, and to have extremely hard feet, like donkeys. 

Laura has chosen two geldings, who are according to a local vet, about seven years old. One is a bay called “Speedy”, because he trots tirelessly, even through the mountains. The other is a grey “with a malign eye”.  This one she has baptised “Putsoa”, which means “grey” in the Sotho language.

Laura swung into the saddle on 6th October, and covered the first hundred kilometres through the mountains in three days.

“The trail is good, the weather superb, and I only met one car an hour!  The more I see this landscape at the end of the world – I could just as well be in Mongolia or Patagonia – the more I wonder how the cows and the horses survive.  The grass is so short that it would barely be enough to feed a few French sheep.

So far, Laura has discovered that riding horses in Africa on her historic expedition has lived up to her expectations.

“Everything I have read about Africa", she said, "seems to be a cliché, or possibly a myth.  But if I love Africa it is because, according to Occidental criteria, it is underdeveloped.  Its infrastructure (roads, electricity, skyscrapers) is non-existent.  It is true that this makes car travel pretty uncomfortable, that the inadequate public transport is overloaded, and that banks cannot even change your travelers’ checks into local money. 

So to mount an equestrian expedition in Africa amounts to pure defiance, not just because the heat slams you to the ground and the malaria makes short work of your beautiful white body, but because everything you know is rendered obsolete.  Here there is no electricity to feed your wonderful machines – if you want to build something, you need an axe. 

But I don’t want to build anything.  I just want to pass through on the back of my horse.”  

Laura's Ride - Trouble in Paradise

Laura emailed The Long Riders' Guild from Africa just before this revised website was launched. She is now in South Africa, riding north towards Kenya. Below are some quotes from her latest email.

November 2001

Dear Long Riders,

I was still in South Africa when my one of my horses was almost stolen at the start of the trip. I was staying with a hospitable Zulu family. In the middle of the night I was woken with a start by the sound of barking dogs. I rushed out of the house to find a man leading my horse, Speedy, away. When I screamed at him the horse thief ran away, leaving poor Speedy covered in barbed wire scratches........

Soon after arriving in Zulu tribal territory I was warned that the route I wanted to ride could not be crossed by a white woman alone. I was visited by a native policeman and his wife. This lady listed for me all the rapes and murders of the previous two years. She told me that up ahead I could expect to find 'a road full of dark skinned devils who are just waiting for you to pass through so they can rob you, rape you, and kill you at least twice. Firstly by giving you AIDS, and secondly by shooting you. Those are the nice ones, that is. The others will eat you!' she told me.

However, I was fed up with these warnings, so I set off on this road the following day anyway. The Zulus I passed made signs of friendship for the length of that day's ride, and I felt no animosity from these men and women who were more intrigued than threatening.

I passed some schools and attracted dozens of children who traveled with me for a little while. It has been raining for many days here because it is spring. The children held their umbrella above my head to protect me a little. These are the menacing monsters I had been warned about...."

Laura's Ride - Zulu Nightmare

On the morning of November 11th The Long Riders' Guild received a frantic email from our French colleague, Gerard Barre, the webmaster of our sister website, World Trail Rides.

Gerard wrote to say that Laura had been viciously attacked and robbed. A few hours later Laura emailed the details of what occurred. What follows are excerpts from her report.

"After 670 kilometers across Lesotho and South Africa, I was assaulted between Nongoma and Mkuze. I knew this area was dangerous, that crimes and rapes are part of life in South Africa, but I was hoping to avoid these problems. It now seems difficult to do so. I want to describe for you what happened, because violence must be described, as well as the good things that occur during a horse trip.

This area is known as "The Kingdom of the Zulus". They have always fought against white people. There is still a Zulu king, though there is a president in South Africa.

In certain areas it is easy to find hospitality among the Zulus, but in others it is more difficult. There are areas where only black people live and work. In these places white people find it too risky to live and work, so they do not do so. There are even roads which white people will not drive on as they are known to be dangerous because of vehicle hijackers.

Nongoma, which I recently rode through, is a 100% black city. When you arrive there you often hear people saying "Mlungu", which means white person. I could tell just from listening to the children here that I was not welcome.

But there were also kind people who wanted to help me, that asked me who I was and where I was going. Some of these people were afraid for me. I could feel very deeply the violence that is all around here, like a country at war.

I continued my journey, riding to Mkuze. The weather was bad, cold, but I felt good because the landscape was so beautiful. I talked with a lot of local people that made nice signs towards me. It was about 12:30 in the afternoon, and I had ridden about 24 kilometers  out of Mkuze when three black guys came out of the bush and attacked me.

Two of them had pistols. 

When the men pulled me off my horse I began struggling.

'Help, Help', I shouted.

But this only infuriated them. They began beating me with their guns.

Then one began to strangle me, screaming out 'I will kill you'.

After a few moments I had no more energy to resist. I believed that I was about to die from strangulation. Then I realized that they will probably rape, then kill me. I started to pray very deeply.

Suddenly they stopped, then lead me away into the bush. I tried to talk with the one who had spoken English to me. I told him that I was a friendly visitor to his country, that I had done nothing wrong, that I believed in God, that I was trying to learn about the Zulu culture.

At the same time I made up a story.

'I am poor', I said. 'That is why I am not travelling by car. Plus,  I have AIDS.' (I said this hoping that it might keep them from raping me.)

The man who spoke English became more friendly. He told me that he didn't want to kill me, just take my gun and my money.

'I have no gun', I told him.

At this point he called his two friends over. At the same time I saw my two horses coming in search of me. Then the robbers began searching me. They quickly took my money, but were not satisfied with that. They began searching my bags, and stealing my things including my clothes and other possessions in my bags. While they were doing this, they were calmly discussing whether they might still want to rape me.

Once again I told them that I had AIDS. This time I pointed to the blood that was running down my face from where they had beaten me with their pistols. 

'You see', I told them, 'my blood is very bad'.

Yet they were not totally convinced. They began touching my body a bit, but then they changed their minds.

At this point I got bold enough to ask for my passport back. I  was surprised when they gave me back my passport and papers and some of my things. But they robbed me of all my money, my ring, watch, camera, video-camera, sleeping bag, even my shoes. They also decided to steal the horse shoes and horse supplies.

Then, just as suddenly as they arrived, they disappeared into the bush.

Laura went on in her email to explain how suddenly her world was turned upside down. But trouble never takes a vacation when you are a Long Rider. She had no time to feel sorry for herself. In fact her immediate concern was to find and protect her horses, Speedy and Putsoa. The Long Rider located them nearby, repacked her few remaining possessions into the now depleted pack saddle, and rode off in search of help.

Riding wasn't easy.

The robbers had pistol-whipped her so severely that her face was covered with blood. Luckily Laura came across a small child shepherding cows in the bush. The child lead the wounded foreigner to a nearby village. There Laura discovered local people who were sympathetic but didn't know what to do. Laura unsaddled her horses and pastured them in some nearby grass. Then she asked for hot water.

"I washed my face. My hair was covered with blood. My socks were full of mud so I threw them away. A young guy that spoke a bit of English told the other villagers what had happened to me. Everybody wanted to find the aggressors. But I thought to myself that this wouldn't happen because these people had no guns and no way to fight those robbers."

An hour later a native policeman arrived. The French Long Rider was subjected to a long series of questions and asked to fill out a great many official forms. Laura then agreed to return to the city of Nongoma with the police. On the way they passed her friend, J.C. Sulon, a man who had befriended her a few days before. Sulon had learned of the attack on his guest and rushed to help. J.C. and Laura drove back to the village, loaded her tack into the car, and returned to his house. Speedy and Putsoa were left in the care of the kind villagers.

Six hours after she was attacked, Laura Bougault saw a doctor.

The bandits had beaten her severely on her head and face. One eye was black. She had trouble seeing. She was covered in huge bruises.

"I have four deep wounds in my face which have had to be sewed shut." 

Bougault-attack.jpg (109044 bytes) 
Click to enlarge

French Long Rider Laura Bougault received severe wounds to her face and head when she was kidnapped and pistol-whipped by three Zulu brigands.

The next day the Long Rider returned to the village with her friend, retrieved her horses, then took refuge in Salon's house and tried to determine what to do next?

"I wondered if I should continue, but avoid riding in South Africa? It is too dangerous. Too many people are killed. Too many women and children are raped for nothing. The atmosphere here is full of violence and terror. But this is not a new thing because the Zulus have always been violent.

Sadly, since Nelson Mandela became President the situation has become worse.  The people have begun to realise that even with a black president their situation is no better, perhaps even worse for them.  They live without hope because they have lost their culture and traditions and found nothing to replace them with.  People here are unemployed. Many of them have nothing, not even parents. Many are dying of AIDS. 

They think that all white people are rich and should surrender what they have. Plus, lots of black people want revenge from the Apartheid period. They hate white people and hold them responsible for what happened here.

I have found no equality in this country, only a deep scar that runs between the Blacks and the Whites in South Africa. It makes me proud to be French, to know that in the front of all our town halls we have inscribed the words 'Freedom, Equality, Fraternity.' These are the conditions that make for a peaceful life together.

Laura concluded this email by announcing to The Long Riders Guild that she has determined to saddle up and ride on, despite the dangers, knowing the risks.

"I have recovered quickly and feel good now. When you are alive after such an assault you feel very happy and you thank the Lord for that. I know that I am still alive because it has to be like that. So I will continue because I believe that it is just as important to take risks for peace as for war, for love as for hate, for freedom as for revenge! If humanity would concentrate on the good things life would be better. Now I must close. I still want to make my equestrian dream a reality, and bring to the world, which is often a horrible place, a small piece of goodness." 

Back in the Saddle - Again!

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Despite being savagely attacked by Zulu tribesmen, French Long Rider Laura Bougault is back in the saddle, determined to continue her historic solo ride across Africa.

In early December 2001, The Long Riders' Guild received a message via our French colleague, Gérard Barré, who is the webmaster of our sister site,  He was kind enough to forward a long email from Laura in which she reiterated her determination to ride on.

"Without doubt I have learnt more about men, both the very good and the very bad, here in South Africa than anywhere else.  I have met infinitely good creatures and unscrupulous monsters, but the impression of goodness has generally been stronger than that of violence, even though violence is more deeply inscribed on us than any other event.

I also need to get my self-confidence back before leaving with my travelling companions, who are making the most of the rich pasture on a dairy farm."

January 2002

Laura set off again accompanied by a young Mozambican who was supposed to act as her bodyguard.  

"After two days the brave boy gave up, but his company had been enough to enable me to forget the terror and regain my confidence.

"The further we travel, the more the people we meet are curious about these strange animals that they have never seen before.  Are they horses?  Donkeys?  Cows?  The horses provoke both fascination and fear, but each time we stop, fascination overcomes fear.  I am asked what they eat, how many kilometres we cover per day, and they watch with great interest how I saddle my companions.  And so the days pass in simple happiness for me.  When I get to Vilanculos I find people I love.  The sun is as hot as ever, but I am taking a week off while I wait for my friend Julien, who is coming from France to taste the joys of walking here in Mozambique."

February 2002

"We left Vilanculos on 22 January by a small trail beside the sea.  Julien, who has only just arrived, finds it hard to cope with the heat, and the journey gets slower and more complicated.  We get to the camp which belongs to my friends Snowy and Sandy, who are not there, whereupon I am struck down by malaria!  Stuffed with Lariam, I leave the following evening with Julien, who is also not well.  After four hours’ travelling beneath the moon, we put the tent up in the bush for a few hours, and leave for Inhassaro at 5 a.m. 

The heat is our number one enemy (100 degrees in the shade – so how much in the sun?!).  The cornfields and traces of habitation disappear sometimes for several days, as does the road, suddenly transformed into a rough, dusty path.  Travelling North, we lose touch with civilization.  Goodbye telephone!  Goodbye email! 

At the moment we are making steady progress towards the north, and I am in a hurry to get to Inchope to pick up the mythical road which leads to Malawi, via Gorongosa, the heart of the famous “terra incognita ubi sunt leones” (unknown territory where there are lions).  We have been warned:  there are lions, and plenty of other ferocious beasts running in the mountains.  We will leave the coastal plain, the road will become a trail, it will rain more often and I hope – oh, I do so hope! – that it will not be so hot.  We’ll have to go and find out."


"We have left Inchope and are heading for Caia.  The further we go, the more wild the country around us becomes.  140 kilometres (80 miles) from Gorongosa, we found the original trail which leads us through a forest filled with monkeys and amazing birds.  We are welcomed by James, a Zimbabwean who has lived here for years, and who talks passionately about the animals which live nearby in the forest - a small pride of three lions, leopards, lemurs, small chattering nocturnal primates...  they transform the thick leaves into a very noisy world.  I feel a bit as though I am at the peak of my journey, at the heart of a land still free and terrible...  Yet, the Zambezi is waiting for us with its crocodiles and hippopotami - if the mosquitoes don't eat us first, we are sure to discover more wonders."

April 2002

Laura wrote to say she had been very worried about her horse Speedy.  "He was exhausted but I could not find out why.  I gave him some penicillin on the grounds that it couldn't do any harm.  The next day I thought it might be pyroplasmosis and injected him with something Doctor Mullins gave me when I was still in South Africa. I was worried about colic, but the next day Speedy seemed better, and was back on form the day after."

Laura had now arrived on the banks of the Zambezi, which she and her team had to cross. 

"The three-kilometre-long bridge is divided in two:  a footbridge for pedestrians and a one-way road for vehicles.  The pack was too wide, and some stairs dissuaded us from using the footbridge.  We set off therefore on the road, the man in charge of the bridge having checked by radio that there was nobody else on it.  It is a suspension bridge, covered with planks of wood kept in place with huge screws, whose heads stick up above the surface."

24th March 2002

If we got through the customs formalities relatively easily, we have a new inconvenience waiting for us here – crowds!  Malawi is four or five times more populated than Mozambique and the children are so numerous that the grown-ups cannot restrain them.  They are very noisy and totally fascinated by these strange animals which are carrying me.

The following day it was no better, and each time we passed a school there was a riot.  I felt like a pop star followed and hassled by her fans.  You need the patience of a saint! 

We got to Nsanje, where we were royally welcomed at the Catholic mission by Father Felix.  The horses needed shoeing, and Felix knew a woman at Blantyre who kept horses.  We rang her, and she arrived at Nsanje with a van.  We thought it was too good to be true:  and in fact this charming person wanted nothing less than to buy my ponies for a derisory sum, and then expected to be paid for taking them to Blantyre!  She left empty-handed and we carried on.  Travelling was very difficult – not only did we invariably have fifty or so little children following us from morning till night, but the heat was unbelievable – 40 degrees in the shade at 11 a.m. and 31 degrees after nightfall!

Despite all these hardships, Laura is eating well – the hospitality she has encountered extends to delicious meals set before her by Mozambicans, Indians, Pakistanis and Turks!

29th March 2002 

After crossing Blantyre we managed to get hold of some horse shoes, and in drenching rain we struggled to put them on.  It took a while to get the hang of shoeing, but when I did we finished the job quite quickly.

Editor's Note 

Due to the primitive conditions of the regions she will be riding through, it will sometimes be weeks before we hear from Laura again.  The Long Riders' Guild will keep our readers updated as and when we get news from the French Long Rider. Meanwhile, if you would like to make a donation to help Laura continue this epic journey, please contact The Long Riders' Guild for details.

Click here for the latest information from Laura

Laura's equipment was provided by: 
Guichard-Sellier -

A satellite photograph of the African continent is seen on the left, while a map of Laura's route appears on the right.

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