Russian Government Extends Historic Welcome
to Australian Adventurer
Sometimes it’s not enough to be brave, or hardy, or even resourceful.
Sometimes you just have to be lucky.
Ask Australian Tim Cope.
He can tell you what it’s like when everything finally goes right.
Tim, who is currently riding 10,000 kilometers alone from Mongolia to Hungary, encountered an unexpected bureaucratic nightmare when he sought permission to ride from Kazakhstan into Russia.
|Tim Cope and his faithful friends photographed in February 2005 in Kazakhstan.|
With 6,500 kilometers and eighteen months under his saddle, Tim was prepared to accommodate the Russian authorities. Problem was no one had made such a request in living memory.
So the first-time equestrian traveller enlisted the aid of the Ministry of Agriculture in Kazakhstan, who kindly provided Tim with what they believed were the proper vaccinations and papers necessary for Tim’s three horses to enter neighbouring Russia. With what he believed were the proper papers in his coat pocket, Tim mounted up and rode straight into trouble.
“The border officials on the Kazakhstan side of the international border had all been given advanced warning of my arrival,” Tim told The Long Riders’ Guild by phone. “And I had contacts in Russia ready and waiting in case I needed help there too. Between immigration, vet checks, and customs, I knew it would only take one bit of bad luck to ensure failure. These horses, and my dog, Tigon, had been with me for more than a year. So the thought of leaving them behind in Kazakhstan was too much to bear. From an emotional, practical, and financial point of view I just had to get them across if it was at all possible.”
Thinking he had everything in
order, the equestrian explorer set off for the Kazakh-Russian border. When he
reached the first border station, to Tim’s relief the big iron gates were swung
open by grinning Kazakh guards. The Kazakh officials joked with
the traveller about his mode of transportation.
“So what model horse do you have? Where is the number plate? What year was it made?” they asked Tim with a grin.
Australian adventurer, Tim Cope, and his horses can be seen leaving Kazakhstan on their first attempt to enter Russia.
With the formalities completed, the Kazakhs sent Tim on his way. As the sun set, Tim rode two hours across a no man’s land of lush green pasture towards the Russian entry point. It was dark by the time he reached the border control station. Once again big gates were swung open by surprised guards. Tim tied the horses up outside the little guard post manned by immigration officials. After some confusion and a few more jokes, the Russian officials shook their heads in amusement, then stamped Tim’s passport.
“Real Russia” was only 70 meters away.
That’s when trouble caught up to Tim and his horses.
“I was about to mount up when a very nervous lady came out from the little cabin that represented the Russian Ministry of Agriculture,” he told The Guild. “At her request, I tied the horses up again and followed her inside. There was no computer, not even a telephone. But I had been expecting trouble, so I handed over all the documents that had been prepared for me in Kazakhstan. It didn’t matter what I gave her, this lady was clearly in panic mode. She ignored my papers.”
“I don’t know what to do!,” she told the bewildered young man. “What are these?” she asked, as she waved the carefully prepared Kazakh documents certifying that Tim’s horses were disease free. “These papers are only a big problem! God, look what has fallen on me tonight. It would have been better if I didn’t see you and you sailed past.”
Without any grasp of what was going on, the official asked Tim to accompany her to a nearby building where she borrowed a mobile phone. She then rang a superior for advice.
“You know what problem I have here on the border tonight? I have a Hungarian travelling from Mongolia on horses but he doesn’t have papers,” the worried official told her colleague in Moscow.
“Oh what a nightmare! How terrible,” Tim heard the lady repeat on the other end.
Back at the office of the Ministry of Agriculture, Tim tried to explain that he was Australian, not Hungarian, and that the horses were from Kazakhstan, not Mongolia where hoof and mouth disease was prevalent. Yet the Kazakh documents he had hoped would enable him to transit across Russia were declared invalid.
“To me Kazakh documents mean nothing. I need Russian documents. Where are your transit permits?” the Russian official demanded. When the worried equestrian traveller could not provide the appropriate papers, he was presented with a horrifying dilemma. He could ride back into Kazakhstan that night or his horses would be seized and destroyed by Russian officials.
Faced with trying to save his horses, Tim rode back the way he had come. His money was almost gone and his visa to stay in Kazakhstan was about to expire. Things look bleak.
What occurred next was a nightmare of long-distance phone calls, international emails, a flurry of faxes and an unprecedented wave of equestrian diplomacy.
A host of friends from many countries rallied to Tim’s support. The head of the Kazakh Ministry of Agriculture telephoned his colleagues in Russia and petitioned them to allow the equestrian traveller to enter the country. Russian supporters emailed their government asking that the Australian be allowed in. And The Long Riders’ Guild sent a letter to the Russian Federal Government, reminding their country’s historical links to the equestrian exploration community.
“This letter of support is being submitted by The Long Riders’ Guild on behalf of the famous Australian equestrian explorer, Tim Cope.
With Members in 34 countries, all of whom have ridden a minimum of 1,000 continual miles, The Long Riders’ Guild is the world’s largest international association of equestrian explorers. Though we enjoy cultural associations with many countries, our unique organization is especially proud of its strong historical ties with Russia.
In our role as academic publishers and equestrian researchers, The Guild has documented the amazing equestrian journeys of Russia’s most celebrated heroes of the saddle. This includes Captain Mikhail Asseyev, who rode from Kiev to the newly-erected Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1889 and Lieutenant Dmitri Peshkov, who rode 5,000 miles from Albanzinski, Siberia, to Saint Petersburg, beginning in the winter of 1889-1890.
|Captain Mikhail Asseyev, who rode from Kiev to the newly-erected Eiffel Tower in Paris in 1889.|
In addition, The Long Riders’ Guild is proud of our modern ties to Russia as well.
French Long Rider Jean-Louis Gouraud rode from Paris to Moscow in 1994 and Swiss Long Rider Basha O’Reilly rode from Volgograd to London in 1995.
The Long Riders’ Guild is symbolized on the more than 100 books we publish, as well as on our one thousand page website, by the great Russian horse, Count Pompeii, who made the journey from Volgograd to London !
Yet The Long Riders’ Guild is most proud of Russia’s own equestrian explorer, the renowned Vladimir Fissenko. In the late 1980s this celebrated Long Rider rode 19,000 miles from the tip of Patagonia to the top of Alaska.
Russia is rightly considered to be the treasure trove of Long Rider history,” the letter to Moscow concluded.
Despite everyone’s best efforts, things looked grim.
Tim was so desperate that he was quietly considering giving his horses to local nomads, then walking into Russia and trying to find new mounts.
With eight hours left on his Kazakh visa, the telephone rang and Tim’s equestrian dreams were saved.
The Federal government of Russia had issued a special permit allowing Tim Cope to ride his three horses across their country.
Kazakh officials cheered when the fax came in from Moscow which read “Permit for Tim Cope to ride through Russia to Ukraine with three horses.”
And, by the way, his dog was welcome too !
“It was unbelievable!” Tim told The Guild.
“The relief was palpable. Everyone in the office was
elated. It had not just been just me going through this process but many at the
Ministry of Agriculture who toiled with me along the way.”
|This Russian document is the first of its kind to be issued in the 21st Century to an equestrian explorer.|
The ramifications of the long delay were still to be felt, especially as the winter weather was upon him. But at least Tim knew he could start the journey again.
“I rode up to the Russian border with knots in my stomach and a sense of adrenaline. Everything had to work now because my Kazakh visa had expired. I literally could not go back. I rode through the iron gates and tied my horses up outside the Russian immigration booth. At first I was very worried. All the guards huddled around the computer and began arguing about something. Turns out their computer would not recognize Australian passports! But they finally cleared me through and even asked to take their photo with me.”
|After encountering a nightmare of paperwork and a three-month delay, Australian Tim Cope and his horses can be seen finally entering Russia.|
"Next it was the vet check, the place where my last crossing attempt was crushed. This time I sailed into the vet station with confidence and whacked a great wad of official Russian documents down on the desk.
The lady who I had met before was ecstatic and gone was the panic of last time:
“Well done, my boy! I don’t know how you did it but I received your permits from Moscow yesterday. You have all the right documents,” she told me in triumph. With that she stamped the already previously endorsed documents and I was waved on to customs.
At customs I was met by guards who were familiar with my previous attempts to enter their country. But those troubles were a thing of the past. I filled out a Russian custom form and handed the form and my passport to the guard. He replied, “Why do you offer your passport? You are a traveller, not a terrorist!”
And that, Tim told The Long Riders’ Guild, was the common sense answer that had been missing all along.
“I was a traveller on horseback, not a businessman, or a contrabandist, or a terrorist, just a traveller. The problem is that no one had ever been processed going through that border on horseback before. It was a lot of trouble. But as they say in Russia, первый блин комом (The first pancake never works out well).”
|Everybody loves a horseman - when they are officially welcomed by the Federal Government of Russia!|
To learn more about Tim’s amazing journey from Mongolia to Hungary, as he rides in the hoofprints of Genghis Khan’s mounted army, please click here.
The Long Riders’ Guild would like to extend our deep appreciation to the Ministries of Agriculture in both Kazakhstan and Russia who helped Tim Cope make modern equestrian history.
Back to Current Expeditions Top of page Home