Historical Long Riders
|Even in the pantheon of equestrian stars known as The Long Riders’ Guild, there is no one quite like Marguerite Harrison. Born to a wealthy American family, Harrison opted to leave a life of comfort in order to work as a reporter covering the trench warfare of the First World War. When that conflict concluded Harrison journeyed into the newly formed Soviet Union, where she carried on spying missions for the American government. During this time she met and fed the imprisoned American aviator, Merian C. Cooper, who was being starved to death in a Soviet prison. After Cooper escaped, Harrison was herself arrested and ordered to be executed. Through great good luck she managed to escape the firing squad. Yet instead of returning to the safety of America, the intrepid Harrison offered to bankroll Cooper’s idea of making a feature length film. Joining Cooper, and his camera man Ernest Schoedsack, the ever elegant Marguerite Harrison joined a band of Bakhtiari nomads. The film crew travelled with the Persians from the Persian Gulf to the nomads’ mountain pastures. Upon the completion of this gruelling journey, and having eventually returned to the United States, Marguerite became one of the four founding members of the Society of Woman Geographers.|
Everyone harbours a dream. Perhaps it is to
leave the bills behind, see what is over the next hill, or even seek for
adventure. Frank Heath, the author of
Forty Million Hoof Beats did all
that and more. A former cavalryman during the First World War, Heath not
only knew about horses, but more importantly he understood the rigors
involved in undertaking a great equestrian journey. That is why he took a
deep breath before announcing to the world that he was going to ride to all
48 states within the continental United States. Most people would spend vast
amounts of time and money to acquire a horse for such a stupendous
undertaking. Heath did neither. He traded a horse he had on hand for a
ten-year-old mare named Gypsy Queen. According to the horse trader, the mare
Heath acquired was a Kentucky Morgan. Yet fancy pedigree aside, the little
bay mare could cover ground like a fast moving windstorm. Mounted on Gypsy
Queen, Heath set out in 1925 to see his vast country. The journey lasted
more than two years, during which time the two travellers shared a long
series of hardships, becoming inseparable companions in the process. In
1927, more than 11,000 miles later, Frank and his Gypsy Queen mare finally
rode into Washington DC. The unlikely horse and her cavalryman rider had
touched every state in the Union. One man’s dream had been achieved.
|It was the kind of country that sheltered nomads and harboured renegades. It was wild. It free. It was Mongolia in the early 1920s, that legendary magnet for foot-loose sons of the horizon like Henning Haslund. Descended from a 19th Century Danish explorer, when young Haslund reached Mongolia in 1923 he discovered a lost equestrian world left largely untouched since the Middle Ages. Cruel Buriat warlords ruled a vast grass covered kingdom inhabited by freedom-loving Mongols, tight-lipped Russian mercenaries and the human riff-raff of a dozen countries. It was a world where traditions of poetry and hospitality ran side by side with extreme cruelty. Into this realm of horsemen rode Haslund Henning. He originally planned to journey to Mongolia to help other Danes set up an agricultural cooperative. Yet the dust of the steppes got into his blood. There was always some reason not to return to the boring safety of Europe, some horse to ride, some legend to explore. Mongolian Adventure is Haslund’s story of these early adventures. It is an epic tale inhabited by a cast of characters no longer present in this lacklustre world, shamans who set themselves on fire, rebel leaders who sacked towns, and wild horsemen whose ancestors conquered the world.|
The worst accident in the history of modern equestrian travel took the life of English Long Rider Christine Henchie; left her companion seriously wounded and gravely injured their horses. Christine Henchie, 29, was killed instantly on Monday, January 28th 2013 by an out-of-control bus in Tanzania. Her fiancé, South African Long Rider Billy Brenchley, 43, escaped death by inches but suffered a broken leg.
The couple set off in 2007, determined to complete the first ride from the most northern point of Africa, Cap Blanc in Tunisia to the most southern point of Africa, Cape Agulhas in South Africa. Ten countries and an untold number of hardships awaited them.
The couple’s excitement was quickly replaced by a sense of growing determination, as they were called upon to overcome an unprecedented number of modern obstacles. They were detained in the Sahara desert for 75 days while the Libyan government debated whether to allow them to enter. Egypt, with its sandstorms, tick bite fever and heat waves proved difficult. But that was the easy bit.
After riding across Tunisia, Libya, Egypt and northern Sudan, Billy and Christy were halted by the impassable swamp known as the Sudd. If the equestrian explorers wanted to progress they would have to load their two horses onto one of the few remaining cargo barges and float south to the distant city of Juba. Their thousand mile nautical journey is unique among modern equestrian travellers.
They were no sooner back on shore and in the saddle when political turmoil threatened their lives. A bitter civil war had just been concluded which left the victorious rebels in control of the newly formed country of Southern Sudan. Suspicious rebels accused them of being spies and gun runners. They were threatened with prison and with having their horses shot. Once again, cold courage saw them through. As they made their way through Southern Sudan, they passed areas where major battles had been fought. The landscape was littered with unexploded mines.
Immediately after crossing into Uganda the differences between the two countries became apparent. Aggressive, suspicious faces were replaced by friendly and welcoming people. It was in Uganda that Christy and Billy made an astonishing discovery. Horses had disappeared from the country during the reign of Idi Amin. The unexpected sight of two Long Riders mounted on mysterious animals caused pandemonium in the countryside.
Because they had not seen horses in sixty years the excited Ugandans asked Christy “Is that a kangaroo? Does it grow horns? Does it eat people?”
Having ridden across the Sahara, sailed down the Nile, survived a war zone, eluded hordes of excited children and reached the halfway mark in their journey Christy and Billy believed the worst was behind them. In fact, their greatest challenge came crashing out of nowhere.
While riding in Southern Sudan Billy had suffered, and survived, malaria and typhoid. Feeling weak, he sought medical advice in Kampala. After running blood tests, the doctor announced that he couldn’t believe Billy had lived long enough to walk through the door, much less ride across Africa. He was diagnosed with Acute Myeloid Leukaemia and immediately flown to South Africa for emergency treatment.
With her fiancé suddenly fighting for his life in another country, Christy was forced to find a temporary home for the horses in Uganda.
It took sixteen months for Billy to recover. After undergoing chemotherapy, he and Christy returned to Uganda in late 2012 to resume their interrupted journey.
After spending several weeks gradually getting themselves and the horses back in shape, the team set off again in mid-January. Their next destination, Tanzania, was close by.
Christy and Billy’s dreams were brutally shattered a few days after entering Tanzania. The morning of January 28th was bright and sunny. By 8:30 in the morning, the Long Riders had travelled less than three kilometres but a crowd of seventy excited Tanzanians, including many small children, were already eagerly following alongside. As they approached the small village of Isela, happy villagers came out to cheer them past or walk alongside. With the people in place, tragedy came tearing down the road.
A steep hill lay ahead. A slow-moving truck was making its way up from behind. Meanwhile, another truck was coming down the hill towards the village. Christy and Billy were well off the road and could see for miles. It was thanks to this visibility that Billy saw a large bus full of passengers speeding down the hill. Frustrated at being delayed by the slow truck, the bus driver veered out to overtake, only to find the way blocked by the oncoming vehicle. Instead of waiting patiently to pass, the bus driver whipped his vehicle to the other side of the road and tried to pass the truck on the inside. Billy had just enough time to shout to Christy to move further off the road, when the bus came screaming round the truck. Long Riders, horses and children were in his blind spot. The bus ran straight into the defenceless crowd.
“There was no squeal of brakes. He came right at us,” Billy recalled.
The speeding bus hit Christy without warning but her horse, Chami, jumped aside.
Next it hit Billy. The impact threw him through the air into a ditch. His horse, Nali, was also struck. Then it smashed into the crowd. The youngest victim was three years old. The driver then lost control and crashed into the oncoming truck.
Billy had never lost consciousness but he discovered he could neither walk nor stand. He crawled out of the ditch and dragged himself towards Christy’s body.
“When I got there I knew Christy was gone but I sat there holding her until the police arrived.”
Shinyanga regional Police Commander, Evarist Mangalla confirmed the accident, attributing it to reckless driving. Christy was declared dead at the scene, after which Billy was transported to the nearest hospital. After a brief examination, he was diagnosed with a broken femur in his right leg and transferred to hospital.
When Long Riders from around the world heard about Christie Henchie's death, they rushed to send their heartfelt condolences.
Educated at Oxford where he won fame as a fencer, Sir Ahmed Mohammed Hassanein, an Egyptian of Bedouin descent, returned home and initially served as a diplomat for King Faud. But Hassanein’s love of adventure came to the fore and for a time overrode his diplomatic career.
Despite their dangerous appeal, there are a few desolate places in the world that call to a man, daring him to return to their deadly beauty again and again. The world’s last unexplored desert held such an allure for the remarkable author of this book. At the dawning of the 20th century the vast desert of Libya remained one of last unexplored places on Earth. Because travel was restricted by the distance camels could trek between wells, vast portions of the Libyan interior were still blank spots on the map. Enter Sir Ahmed Hassanein, the dashing Egyptian diplomat turned explorer.
Having befriended the Muslim leaders of the elusive Senussi Brotherhood who controlled the deserts further on, Hassanein became aware of rumours of a “lost oasis” which lay even deeper in the desert.
In 1923 the explorer mounted his horse and led a small camel caravan on a remarkable seven month journey across the centre of Libya. More than two thousand gruelling miles later Hassanein emerged with marvellous tales of having not only located the “lost” oasis of Uweinat, but having also discovered a cave which contained ten-thousand-year-old drawings. Attributed to djinns, these Palaeolithic images depicted a flourishing, but now extinct, pastoral world inhabited by giraffes, ostriches, gazelles, even cows, but no camels. Yet the most startling image depicted human beings swimming in what had become a forbidding desert.
Upon his return, Hassanein was hailed as a hero of exploration and awarded the Founders Medal by the Royal Geographical Society, while the mysterious “Cave of the Swimmers” Hassanein discovered became a legend which featured in the film, The English Patient.
His book, The Lost Oases is a timeless account of his hazardous journey across the great sand sea.
Many men are born. Some are remembered. Few become legends.
Such was the fate of the English Long Rider Aubrey Herbert, whose amazing true-life adventures served as the inspiration for one of the most dashing heroes in British literature.
Aubrey Herbert was a renowned traveller who set out at the beginning of the 20th century to explore Anatolia, Arabia, Mesopotamia, the Middle East and the Balkans. Burdened at birth with poor eyesight, this son of wealthy English aristocrats compensated by becoming a linguist who spoke French, Italian, German, Turkish, Arabic, Greek and Albanian. The latter language, though seldom heard outside its mountainous native land, was to play an influential part in Herbert’s later life.
During the course of his many wanderings, hair-raising quests and narrow escapes from death, Herbert was accompanied by Riza Bey, a notorious Albanian tribal prince, who had thrown his lot in with the wandering Englishman for the lordly sum of ten English pounds a year.
In 1905 Herbert and Riza explored Yemen on horseback, at which time Herbert wrote, “The desert is a cruel place, where strangers rarely thrive.”
The following year they rode from Baghdad, across the Syrian Desert, to Damascus, where the famished Herbert and his Albanian comrade cantered up to the best hotel in the city.
“For three weeks we had been tanned by the sun and stung by the wind, sand and rain. Our clothes were fastened with string. With his gun slung over his shoulder Riza marched before me into the ordered quietness of the dining room. I followed, as well armed as he. There I sat down, and penniless and unknown, ordered a royal luncheon. Silence fell upon the room. Luckily for me our English Consul was there. He backed my name upon a piece of paper for all the money I wanted and for three days I revelled in luxury and baths.”
The remarkable duo next rode across Albania in 1907, a country which Herbert described as being so isolated from the rest of Europe that the chivalry of the Middle Ages still existed there.
In his autobiography, “Ben Kendim,” Herbert recalled an episode from his Albanian adventure which makes for interesting Long Rider reading today.
While riding with his horses and servants through a vile and dangerous portion of the mountains, a soldier stopped the author and demanded his yol teskere (road permit), which was packed away.
Soldier: "O Effendi, O my two eyes, give up thy teskere. The merciful government requires this. Praise be to God !"
Herbert: "God prosper the merciful Government ! This law is not for me, nor will I unpack my luggage."
Soldier: "O educated sir, O corner of my liver, stay. Thou shalt not pass."
Herbert: "O dog, eat dirt, but behold that we part in friendship."
Soldier: "I am grateful to you, O Bey. Depart in peace."
"So," writes Herbert, "in those days were the obstacles of travel surmounted."
When the First World War broke out, Herbert was declared unfit for military service because of his poor eyesight. Not to be put off by a few rules, the intrepid Long Rider was able to launch his military career by the simple expedient of purchasing an officer’s uniform and boarding a troopship bound for France. Upon being discovered, the noted linguist was transferred to Cairo, where he joined the British Intelligence Bureau and worked with T. E. Lawrence.
It was thanks to his amazing ability to blend into foreign cultures, and transform himself linguistically to fit his surrounding environment, that Herbert gained a reputation as being a cultural chameleon who was able to disappear into enemy territory. That reputation inspired the English novelist, John Buchan, to use Herbert as the inspiration for the fictional hero, Sandy Arbuthnot. In Buchan’s most famous novel, Greenmantle, a Herbert style hero infiltrates the Muslim world of the Turkish-Ottoman Empire in search of secret plots, deadly spies and the fabled green mantle once worn by the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH).
When the war was over Herbert returned to England, at which time the fledgling democracy of Albania twice offered its throne to this Englishman they had grown to trust.
Sadly, the man whom many still revere as the real Greenmantle died at a young age, not in the saddle or while escaping foreign spies, but as the result of a botched dental surgery. Towards the end of his life, the Long Rider who had escaped dozens of dangers became totally blind, whereupon he was told that having all of his teeth extracted would restore his vision. The resultant dental surgery resulted in blood poisoning which killed the fabled traveller in September, 1923, when he was only 43.
|Wilhelm Karl Herrmann rode across China and Tibet in 1941.|
|John Cam Hobhouse rode across Albania in 1809. Accompanying him was Lord Byron, who had attended Cambridge University with Hobhouse. The place they decided to explore was Albania, which had been a backwater satrap of the Ottoman Empire since 1478. Its hidden valleys were inhabited by fierce mountain tribesmen. Its few roads were infested with bandits. The country was ruled by a fierce despot. After a series of adventures, the Long Riders returned to England. Their Albanian journey inspired Byron to write his famous poem, "Childe Harold's Pilgrimage.” Though not as poetic, Hobhouse was an avid diary writer and it was his daily account entitled “Travels with Lord Byron,” that provides the details of their historic journey.|
|Countess Helen Hohenau of Germany - rode from the Catholic convent of Ettal, Bavaria to Rome, Italy in 1950. The journey required her to cross the Alps during winter. To spare her Arabian mare, Gisella, the countess told reporters that she alternately rode for seven miles and then walked for five miles to give the horse a rest. After arriving at the Vatican, the noted horsewoman slowly rode around the great square in front of the church, then she was greeted by Pope Pius XII.|
(1897-1977) - adventurer, author, artist and eccentric extraordinaire, led
an eventful life which brought him fame in Britain and abroad. He was
perhaps best known for his partnership with Trigger, a white horse bought
from a rag-and-bone man in 1956. In 1964, the duo made a 9,000 mile
trek across Europe - a remarkable achievement for a 66-year-old man and a
middle-aged horse. The resultant book,
White Horse, was absolutely delightful and deservedly successful.
Holt wrote, "Chi va piano va lontano" ("He who goes slowly goes far.")
Though Arthur Hopkinson was born into an ecclesiastical English family in 1894, that didn’t stop him from riding across the Himalayas in 1947 with some of the most important news ever heard in Tibet. After being educated at Oxford, Hopkinson was made a captain during the First World War, whereupon he was decorated for his exceptional conduct.
Armed with this combination of intellect and military expertise, Hopkinson entered the Indian Civil Service. He was quickly made an Assistant Political Agent and stationed in a number of colourful, and dangerous dangerous, locales including Chitral. Then in 1926 he set out for the distant town of Gyantse in Tibet. His job was to act as Assistant Political Officer for Sikkim, Bhutan and Tibet.
It was at this time that Hopkinson met and married Eleanor Richardson. Many of the letters that he wrote to her during his time in Gyantse give a detailed and colourful account of his time in the Tibet-Sikkim area. He was at the post in 1947, when the British government asked him to ride to Lhasa and inform the Dalai Lama of India’s independence. He made that trip, accompanied by Eleanor, then returned to England in 1948.
Eleanor Hopkinson was one of the very few Western women to have travelled extensively in the old Tibet. Her husband, A. J. Hopkinson of the Indian Civil Service, was the last British Political Officer and Resident in Sikkim in the Himalayas. In 1947, her 20th year in India, the Hopkinsons made a month’s tour of the Tibetan administrative centres of Shi-gatse, Gyantse and Sakya to tell them – at the behest of Whitehall – that the British were gone and thenceforth they would be dealing with an independent India.
Eleanor Hopkinson was born in 1905 into a large Quaker family in Newcastle upon Tyne. She recalled that, one day in 1926, her future father-in-law sent his son, Arthur, on leave from India, to call on her parents who were known to have two eligible daughters. On Arthur’s next leave two years later they were married. In 1928, aged 22, she joined her husband in India, first in Kathiawar and later in the North West Frontier Province.
She found herself in “part of Kipling’s India”. She recalled: “In winter tribesmen came down from Afghanistan with their womenfolk and camels, going as far as Bengal. They were moneylenders who extracted their interest with ‘the big stick’ – literally. The men were tall, burly and much bigger than the small farmers; if they couldn’t pay, they beat them with a pole 8ft long as thick as my arm, bound with four brass rings.” With war looming Hopkinson returned to England, living with her parents in the Lake District and (apart from two short spells of leave) separated from her husband. At the war’s end (a fourth child was born on VE day) she rejoined him, by then in Sikkim, leaving her sister to take charge of her four children.
India had been badly disrupted by the war, but the journey from the railhead at Siliguri up the Teesta Valley to Gangtok, surrounded by the Himalayan giants, impressed her. Her husband was supposed to be in charge of the trade route to Tibet “but that was a bit of a pretence because really it was to control the high border passes and to check that law and order was kept. The British Indian Government regarded Tibet as an autonomous buffer between the great powers of Russia, China and India.”
In Gangtok she found that the residency, supposedly a private house, was always full of visitors; her husband and his predecessor had been posted there alone, so they liked plenty of people around. Guidebooks recommended that Europeans should travel with dinner jackets.
The Hopkinsons’ daily transport was ponies, though Eleanor always feared that she would fall off. The daily trek on tours of duty was 12 to 14 miles at a steady pace. When breaking the news about independence the Hopkinsons went via north Sikkim – where very few Europeans, and no British woman, had ever travelled – rather than on the regular route over the Natu La pass.
In Tibet they reached Khampha Dzong, a magnificent and still intact inhabited medieval castle. The Tibetans reacted to the Hopkinsons’ news with dismay as they were the only outside people they had known. But in some places there were big parties: “Their barley beer was awfully good,” she recorded. “One good drink did you no harm, but you hadn’t to indulge.”
On earlier journeys she had had what was then the rare privilege of travelling to the Kingdom of Bhutan, east of Sikkim, as well as to Gyantse in Tibet.
She recalled that en route to Yatung “there was a wonderful little temple with some quite exceptionally beautiful images – the first bit of Buddhism you came to when dropping off the high passes”. Years later, after the Chinese had annexed the country, she saw a photograph of it: “The whole place was a ruin. The Tibetans never thought the Chinese would come – who still insist they delivered Tibet from the darkness of medievalism. Up to a point they did, but they destroyed so much. It was brutal. They wiped it flat.” By the end of their posting, Sikkim was regarded as an outpost on the fringe of Empire and received no recognition. Hopkinson recalled that friends in England thought they had been making a fortune and living very well, “which was far from the case. We were simply doing our duty.” On September 1, 1948, Arthur Hopkinson handed over his post to his Indian successor. Hopkinson’s entry in her diary for that day reads like an epitaph for the British Raj: “Today we are no longer masters of the residency.”
|At first glance one may wonder how qualified were the two young men who set off from a Texas border town bound for Mexico City in 1931. The author, Joseph Goodwin was a Yankee with an itchy foot and a taste for peril. In contrast to this homespun hero was his companion, Robert Horiguichi, the sophisticated, multi-lingual son of an imperial Japanese diplomat. To say these two mismatched, would-be equestrian explorers were unprepared for the deserts, quicksand and brigands they encountered in the Mexican wilderness would be a mild understatement. Luckily before leaving the Lone Star state they had procured what they believed were all the necessities for explorers, including a canteen, an old pistol, and a typewriter to chronicle their soon-to-be-famous equestrian escapades. Along with their mustangs, Pistole and Negra, the amateur adventurers set out to prove that the dangers of the road were as welcome as the pleasures, something for which they did not have to wait long to discover. In one particularly harrowing episode, they were surrounded, shot, and nearly kidnapped by an armed band of Mexican bandits. Through Mexico on Horseback is both a stirring tale of high adventure and a look back at a more innocent time in a now-bygone world.|
|It was thanks to a fateful sea journey to Portugal that John Howard, a wealthy English merchant, was captured and imprisoned by French corsairs. After his release from French prison Howard returned to England. Yet instead of resuming his life of ease, Howard determined to undertake a private inspection of the existing English prisons. Setting out on horseback, Howard made seven long rides which totalled an astonishing 80,000 kilometres, all the while documenting the horrors he discovered. Thanks to Howard’s brave social campaign, England reformed its prison system. Not content with having assisted his countrymen, Howard then set out to inspect Russian prisons. He died of “gaol fever,” a type of typhus, in the Ukraine in 1790. Following his death, a statue of Howard was erected in his honour in London’s St. Paul Cathedral. Today the Howard League for Penal Reform carries on the work of this noteworthy Long Rider.|
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