The Long Riders' Guild

Long Rider Gordon Naysmith preparing to set off on his 14,000 mile ride from Africa to Austria

My Horse, my Husband, and I.....


Ria Bosman Naysmith

We hear a lot of stories, here at The Long Riders' Guild. People are always recounting various ways that they and their horses rode into, and out of, danger. Attacked by vicious piranha while crossing a river in the Amazon jungle?
Heard that one.
Ambushed by brigands while riding in a Central Asian republic?
Rode over a dangerous mountain?
That's nice.
And then there is Ria Bosman Naysmith.
She sent us the following story, via email, last summer while we were traveling in England to meet other Long Riders. I can still remember the sound of disbelief in Basha's voice when she finished the email and said, "You're not going to BELIEVE this"!
What I discovered was a story that had been painfully recalled, after lying dormant for more than thirty years, and then slowly translated and typed into English instead of Ria's native Afrikaans.
I had to read it, twice, before the story really began to sink in. This wasn't an equestrian expedition - this was a mounted impossibility.
And yes, I'll admit it - we WERE impressed by the fortitude, suffering, and the breath-taking courage shown by Ria, Gordon, and their trusty Lesotho ponies.
That original email is reproduced here now for our readers, the first time this amazing story has appeared in English
So here is the story of how Ria Bosman, a young South African nurse, teamed up with Gordon Naysmith, Scottish pentathlon athlete, to ride from the tip of South Africa to the Olympics Games being held two years away, in Munich, Germany. The year is 1970. It is late fall when Ria begins her story.

Gordon and I met in hospital where I worked as a physiotherapist.    He had a painful back, which I treated.   The first thing he said was that his back has to come right because he was going to ride across Africa.   Silly me, I thought that sounded great, so somehow I was included.  We got married a year later and spent our honeymoon buying horses in the mountains of Lesotho.  

The trip started on November 2, 1970 from Maseru, Lesotho. Gordon figured it was more than 20,000 kilometers (14,000 miles) to Munich, Germany. If we kept a tight schedule, we thought we could ride that distance in two years.

The Lesotho pony is probably one of the hardiest horses around.   They are not shod, have to find food and water for themselves high up in the mountains.    So only the really strong and brave survive the fierce snowy conditions in the winter or droughts that occurs every few years.   They have no shelter and no veterinary care and no supplementary feeding!    That is why we chose them as Africa is a hard, dry, inhospitable place and they would have had to survive it all.    Only problem was that due to the altitude they live in, they had no immunity against horse sickness, biliary or any of the other nasty things you get in Africa.   All of them got so very sick from their first horse sickness vaccine!    The other problem was that very few of them had ever seen a motor car or train.    What a circus!

When a motorist honked, all one saw were 11 ponies flying off in 11 different directions.   A train nearly drove them berserk!     The first 2 weeks we spent hours chasing after panic stricken ponies!    Nobody, but nobody who saw us then thought we'll even make it to the Rhodesian border.    Must admit, I had my doubts too!

We camped on a farm on the border of Lesotho and South Africa for a few weeks to test the gear, etc.    There a young man named Neil Peacock watched this lot in total amazement and very quickly realized I was in great trouble as shouting and screaming by Gordon did not help to teach me how to ride!    One day he just came, saddled the ponies (the wildest ones) and took control.   His words  "Now Ria, this is a horse. That is the front. That is the back. You sit in the middle"  -  this I will never forget.    For hours and hours he took me up and down dongas, up and down mountains, through rivers, etc. etc.    He knew my life depended on that.    Bless his dear gentle heart - he probably did save my life.   He taught me so many little things about the ponies, how to see what each individual liked, how to handle each one, etc.

Travelling through South Africa was pleasant for us, not having to worry about our own needs but very hard for the ponies.    The Basutho people mostly ride bare back.    So our ponies were not used to saddles or packs on their backs.   Riding in the middle of summer did not help very much with the rubbing and saddle sores.    Every night all their backs were closely inspected, cold packs put on, rubbing muti (medicine) put on and massaged.   Because none of the ponies were shod, all their hooves were cleaned and rubbed with an ointment to strengthen them.   All the eyes were cleaned and treated, etc.

The farming community was very helpful and hospitable.   That gave us time to get to know the horses and understand them.    At first, we hardly ever camped and appreciated a hot bath every night realizing it would soon come to an end.

Our biggest problem was that the kind farmers kept feeding the ponies with real "horse food"    They believed we were cruel, but the rest of Africa has no "real food" for the ponies and they had to survive on what they could find in the veldt - as they had done all their lives.   We also had to teach them not to drink water when ever they wanted to - only once a day.   Again it sounded so cruel but that was the only way to survive in this harsh dry continent where water is a luxury!

The terrorist war was on in Rhodesia and the young policeman at Beitbridge (the border post) took us in for a few days and decided that they were going to do their utmost to keep as alive and they were wonderful.   They briefed us on what to do in an attack, what areas to avoid, warned us not to linger at water holes, etc.   Right through Rhodesia, the police checked on us during the day, brought us food, etc.  

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"Gordon and I met in hospital where I worked as a physiotherapist.    He had a painful back, which I treated.   The first thing he said was that his back has to come right because he was going to ride across Africa.   Silly me, I thought that sounded great, so somehow I was included."

We experienced a heat wave a few days later.  The water hole was destroyed by the terrorists so we and the horses had to go without water for 2 days (we only carried 1 liter of water each).   The next day, temperatures reached 50  degrees Centigrade (125 Fahrenheit).    It was indescribable!    The young policemen arrived with a few beers and a liter of water and saved our lives.    That day we rode for 12 hours.   When we reached a very unfriendly farmerís house, up on a hill, at 7 o'clock at night, the temperature was still 47 degrees Centigrade (115 Fahrenheit).    I was in great trouble - totally dehydrated and slightly delirious.   Gordon persuaded the nasty man to let us stay the night (Gordon can be very, very convincing) and his kind wife sneaked us oranges, food, and lemon juice.   The farmer chased us away the next day.

Fortunately only 10 miles down the road we came to a motel.    The owner, a bush-wise, hardened man met us at the side of a swimming pool.    Without a word or a greeting he very nonchalantly pushed me into the pool, riding boots and all and "ordered" me to stay there till I was told to get out!!     Welcome to Rhodesia!    He instructed a waiter to give me a glass of iced water, a little sugar and lemon juice every 1/2 hour and he had to watch me drink it all.    Very quickly I felt my throat, by now almost totally swollen and closed, getting better, I started seeing in colour again ( before I had only been able to only see faint outlines of things) and my hardened, rubber-like skin started getting back to normal.   Late afternoon my rescuer allowed me to get rid of my riding clothes, sleep a little and then ordered me to get back into the pool.    This went on for 3 days.    But I survived, thanks to this strange, kind man.    I never want to see pink elephants and giants ants again!!

In the meantime our poor, poor ponies were suffering just as much.   One after another got biliary - all of them!    The ones who started eating again then got these terrible runny tummies due to the change in diet.    They were used to a hard thin leaved, dry grass and now they ate the luscious wide leaved, juicy grass.    What a terrible thing.    Fortunately, being the hardy animals they were, they bounced back so quickly.    I suppose, not being used to medication at all, even a little bit of the right thing worked immediately.    Fortunately half of our packs consisted of muti (medicine) for the horses.    The state vet in Lesotho and a few country vets in South Africa saw to it that we had medicine for every possible situation and very clear instructions on what to do in every likely and unlikely situation.    These guys were quite incredible, working out in the bush and having to make do under any circumstance.

We took the poniesí pulse rate and temperature every morning and evening.    By the time we got to Rhodesia, we knew that 'normal' was different for every pony - up to plus minus 4 degrees Centigrade.    By keeping a clear chart of every pony, one could very quickly see when something went wrong.    Biliary had a very specific pattern.    One reading would be 2 degrees Centigrade up, the next 3 degrees up then right down to below normal, then the next day, sky high.   We were told by the wise vets not to wait for confirmation of blood slides but start injecting with Vitamin B12, Vitamin complex and Berranol immediately. So before the ponies even knew they were ill, we started treatment.    That still meant a very sick little pony and days by the side of the road.   Only on the second or third day did the eyes and gums turned pale, but by then it would have been too late.    When we got to the towns (often about 100 miles apart), we let them take blood samples to make sure that the diagnoses were right.

Biliary is caused by a tick. Later, when we reached Tanzania, there were millions and millions of ticks.   One has to see it to believe it.   At the waterholes, the grass vibrates because there are thousands of these little monsters waiting for a host to pass by.   We had an arsenic dip to wash the horses down with and did this as often as possible.    Every morning and evening we scraped hundreds of these ticks off from between the ponies' legs, in their ears, and around their hooves.   Dreadful little monsters, those ticks!!    At night when we got to bed, we had to examine each other by torch light and pulled off ticks sometimes as many as 50.    Both of us got tick bite fever quite a few times - do not believe the story the humans can only get it once - not true at all!!!

The police guys arranged for us to stay at the mounted police stables in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now called Harare, Zimbabwe)    They were extremely kind and helpful.   They fixed our saddles, backpacks, looked after the horses, their vet did a really  thorough examination on every pony and treated them as like royalty.   But trouble was brooding.    The S.P.C.A. [Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] decided it was cruelty to animals to try and ride our ponies across Africa. They tried by court order to stop us.   This was an embarrassment to the police and their vet, because the private vet hired by the S.P.C.A. to examine the ponies gave a glowing reports on the condition of the ponies and took our side.   Fortunately the S.P.C.A's attempt failed and we were allowed to continue.   But it was headlines in all the newspapers and on television - even back home in South Africa.

Next big problem - Tsetse fly!   We were now entering the real problem areas.   During the colonial days these were controlled, but since the war in Rhodesia and Mozambique (now Maputo) it was impossible to control.    Tsetse fly causes Nagana  in animals and that is a killer.   Fortunately, a vet in Salisbury developed an injection that was in the testing stage. But this had only been used on cattle, sheep and donkeys, never on horses.    The stuff was extremely toxic to humans and absolute care had to be taken in administering this.   Bill, the vet, was very skeptical but we had to take the chance on one of the ponies  -  3 days later the pony was still alive and doing well.   So all the rest were injected too.

Then a few days away from Salisbury new problems started - enormous swellings around the injected area on the neck developed.   Fortunately we were near a phone and Bill came all the way from Salisbury to help.   He drained the abscesses, took blood samples, treated the ponies, etc.     He reckoned that the injection did the trick, the horses were immune to  Nagana  and he allowed us to go on very slowly for a few days - he wanted the horses to exercise.   (I feared the next lot of injections we were supposed to give a few months later!)

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