The History of Equestrian Travel
It is only fair to admit up front that I do not feel qualified to write
this article. In fact there is no living expert who can claim such an honor.
This is because the subject of Equestrian Travel is the forgotten mother of our
collective horse scene.
Before there were show rings, or trail rides, or rodeos, or three-day
eventing, or dressage, or jumping, or gymkhanas, or polo ……….
of those latter day events, there was equestrian travel.
If I am struggling to explain to you the “why” of its importance, I
can at least adequately explain the “how” of its appearance.
The Institute of Ancient Equestrian Studies has documented a
6,000-year-old interaction between equines and humanity. Using space-age
methods, these diligent scientists proved that horses were mounted, and ridden,
before the Pyramids were built.
You may be saying to yourself at this point, “So what?”
In which case I must direct you back in time.
Johannes Jensen visualized in his book, “The
Glacier,” how mankind
might have first cautiously approached, and then mounted, a wild horse. The
world was a new place then. Humanity was obsessed with the dual daily efforts of
survival and food. The horse was seen as nothing but another source of protein,
a tasty, fleet-footed, chunk of meat not easily delivered to the stone-age
Thus we will never know who made the first decision not to view the horse
through the eyes of a predator? The
Celts have long cherished the oral tradition of Epona, a legendary female who
could communicate with and ride horses. Regardless, some skin-clad man or
woman, whose name is now lost in the abyss of time, listened to an inner voice and changed
our collective history. Humanity reached out the hand of friendship to the wary
equine and a new interspecies relationship was born.
Since then there has never been a more productive bonding of man and
The horse was soon plowing the ground that nurtured our first hard won seeds. He helped us round up our scattered flocks. He aided our scouts to warn us of advancing danger. He even put aside his peaceful nature and agreed to pull our war chariots to the walls of Troy.
But more importantly, the horse set us free!
I must admit at this point that I despise walking.
My long-standing motto is that I never willingly walk further than from
the bedroll to the saddle. I am a firm advocate of the ancient belief that God
gave us horses in order to free us from the bondage of gravity.
And free us the horse
For what that first Stone Age horseman discovered still holds true.
Pedestrians stay in their villages.
Horsemen roam the world.
Ask any Long Rider and they will tell you that the world looks different
from atop a horse. No distance is too grand. No desert cannot be crossed. No
mountain cannot be conquered. No river cannot be swum. No geographic obstacle
has ever succeeded in defying the combined bravery of horse and human. For
thousands of years this
four-legged friend has been taking horsemen to places beyond the daily
definitions of dogmatic pedestrians.
Yet it was not always so.
fact this ancient liberation which the horse
brought into our collective bargain almost ceased to exist as recently as the
For a few brief moments in the world's collective consciousness the legendary
candle known as equestrian travel flickered, and was nearly extinguished by the
world's indifference .
For a few brief moments in the world's collective consciousness the legendary candle known as equestrian travel flickered, and was nearly extinguished by the world's indifference .
To explain this statement let me first tell you about Aime Tschiffely.
He is credited with being the greatest equestrian traveler of the 20th
century. Starting in 1925, Aime rode 10,000 miles from Buenos Aires, Argentina
to Washington DC. The book he wrote, “Tschiffely's Ride” is
considered the most important equestrian travel book ever written. It details
the adventures of Aime and his two beloved Criollo horses, Mancha and Gato. Not
only is it an excellent read, in addition the book inspired four generations of
equestrian gypsies to take to the saddle in search of adventure.
The list of now famous equestrian explorers who were inspired by Aime’s legendary equestrian exploits reads like a “Who’s Who” of nomadic elders.
When John Labouchere rode
5,000 miles through the Andes Mountains he cited Aime as his inspiration. When
Alberto Barretta rode 18,500 kilometers through the wilderness of South America
he credited Aime with the idea. When I rode through the Karakorum
Mountains of Pakistan I offered him my silent thanks. The list goes on and on
and includes the names of men and women from all parts of the globe.
However what has been lost in
the reaches of time is the story of who inspired Aime Tschiffely
to climb into the saddle!
It may come as a surprise to
my fellow Long Riders to discover that the main root of modern equestrian travel
In 1875 Count Zoubovitch of
Hungary rode 800 miles from Vienna, Austria to Paris, France. His journey was
done in such record time that few believed it would be possible to ever travel
faster on horseback.
Then in 1889 Mikhail
Vasilievitch Aseev made headlines. The famed Cossack horseman rode 2,200 miles,
from Kiev, Russia to Paris, France, in the breath-taking time of 33 days! Using two cavalry mares named Diana and Vlaga,
Aseev averaged 100 kilometers a day in his mad dash across Europe.
Yet it was an age of centaurs.
Aseev’s record was almost
instantly dashed to pieces under the iron hooves of Dmitry Peshkov’s horse.
Like his fellow Cossack,
Peshkov was born for one purpose in life, to ride horses. And like Aseev he
was anxious to show a skeptical world that the best horsemen on earth resided in Mother
Dmitry departed from the village
of Albanzinski, Siberia in the winter of 1889 and rode west. For 5,500 miles he
and his pacer, a gray named Seriy, pounded across the frozen steppes. They
reached St. Petersburg in 193 days after averaging more than 28 miles a day. A
hero’s reception with the Czar awaited the Cossack and his still-fresh horse.
And here our story takes an
unexpected foreign turn.
An American newspaperman,
Thomas Stevens, had been ordered by his New York editor to ride across Russia
and report back on what he saw.
What he saw was Peshkov!
Tearing across the steppes
towards the unsuspecting reporter came a little man and his fast moving horse.
“The Cossack turned out to
be a small, wiry man, twenty-seven years old, with a pleasant face of almost
mahogany darkness from the long exposure of the wintry winds of Siberia. His
horse was a big-barreled, stocky gray pony about fourteen hands high. The horse
was well chosen for his task. He was all barrel, hams, and shoulders. His pace
was a fast, ambling walk that carried him over the ground at five miles an hour
and left the big chargers of the Czar’s honor guard far to the rear.”
Dmitry and Seriy had no way of
knowing that together they were about to ride into the history books, at least
for a while.
Stevens did report back to his
A news story did run in New
But what had more lasting
consequences was the book Stevens wrote soon after. Entitled “Across Russia on
a Mustang” it gives us a peek into a Russia that is no more. Serfs and Czars
compete on the pages for Stevens’s attention. But through it all comes riding
The book was an instant hit in
the United States, England, and more importantly, Canada.
For that is where Roger Pocock
An exiled Englishman, and
former member of the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Pocock was always eager for
a taste of danger. He decided to dine therefore on the hardships of the infamous
“Knowing that Peshkov’s
record for travel on a road will remain unrivaled, I set about to make another
standard – that of horsemanship and scouting over difficult ground.”
This Long Rider saddled up in
1891 at Fort MacLeod, Canada and headed south into an equestrian challenge that
even he could not have foreseen. He rode 3,600 miles through the most infamous,
and bandit-ridden, portion of the American West. What has now passed into
historical legend, the Wild Bunch at Robber’s Roost, the outlaws of Hole in
the Wall, the desolate beauty of Brown’s Park, Pocock not only saw but crossed
unscathed on his milk-white Arab gelding.
“Where are you from,” one
outlaw asked him?
“England,” he answered
“England? Is that a fort?”
Yes, Pocock saw the last of
the real west.
His adventures however were
captured in a best-selling book called “Following the Frontier.”
It sold like hotcakes in the
United States, even up in the rainy depths of the state of Washington. George
Beck lived there, a long way from the Utah deserts that Pocock described, and
even further from the beloved steppes of Dmitry Peshkov.
Beck was a lumberjack and no
But he dreamed of making the
longest continual ride in modern history.
He did it.
Sadly his remarkable feat is
now all but forgotten.
Setting off in 1912 from the village
of Shelton, Washington, Beck and three companions headed off to visit
the capitals of all lower 48 states. More than three years, and 20,352
later, the four weary Long Riders rode into San Francisco.
They expected to be hailed as
Instead an Irish cop told them
to “get them hayburners off the street.”
Beck and his companions
weren’t just disappointed.
They were broke.
They sold all their horses and
saddles, except Pinto. He was the Morab gelding who had traveled with them every
step of the way. While his three companions rode the rails like hobos back towards Seattle, Beck used the last of their money to ship him and
faithful Pinto home on a
He tried several times to
interest book publishers in his and Pinto’s story but had no luck.
“I wrote it sweet enough but
the deal came up sour,” he said.
Beck died dead drunk and
broken hearted in a ditch, drowned in six inches of muddy water. With his
master dead, Pinto was shipped off to the rain soaked depths of the Olympic Rain
Forest. The greatest equestrian travel legend of the 20th century passed his last days
working as a forgotten packhorse.
Beck’s death seemed to prove
that the world was looking in a new direction, towards the new-fangled
automobile. No one was interested any more in a horseman’s dusty story, no one
except a tough kid from Switzerland.
His name was Aime Tschiffely
and he was hungry for adventure.
Aime left his village near Lake Biel at an early age to see the world no matter what it cost. Thus he had few talents to recommend him when he landed in England in 1915. At first he made his living as a circus fighter, taking on all comers for the sake of a few dollars. But he was smart, so he soon talked his way into a job teaching at a plush boy’s school in Argentina.
Before leaving London he became a fan of
adventure travel stories. He would have learned about Beck’s record-breaking
trip through America from the British press. He would have read the best-selling
account of Pocock’s adventurous ride among the outlaws. He undoubtedly knew
about Peshkov’s legendary journey across the frozen wastes of Russia.
Ten years later, with the
knowledge of these other equestrian legends behind him, Tschiffely set out to
ride from Argentina to Washington DC.
It was a mythical trip that
almost never came to be.
With no prior equestrian
experience to fall back on, the 29-year-old Tschiffely ignored the legions of
local Argentine critics who told him his quest to ride 10,000 miles was
impossible and absurd.
Not only did this brash
neophyte propose to attempt this equestrian odyssey, he said he was going to do
it on two elderly horses, ages 15 and 16, owned by a Patagonian Indian.
In his own words, “They were
the wildest of the wild.”
But if Tschiffely, who had
only recently learned to ride, barely knew the difference between a hackamore
and a halter, at least he knew his history. In his bones ran a genetic
impression that whispered to him of star filled nights and wind-borne freedom.
Somewhere deep in his soul
Aime knew that though he proposed to ride into the unknown, others had ridden
Of course history has proved
His book changed the course of
equestrian travel history.
We can look back now from the luxury of our computer driven world and see how everything, and nothing, has changed in the seventy-five years since Aime stepped up onto the back of his wild horse.
For six thousand years each generation of mankind has been supremely confident, arrogant in
the reoccurring belief that theirs is the ultimate expression of the human experience.
Meanwhile the horsemen and women of history have watched from the sidelines
while fires were lit, wheels were invented, pyramids were built, railroad lines were laid,
automobiles were driven,
and computer screens were peered into.
Throughout this vast
never-ending stream of human experience and effort one thing has run through
our collective unconsciousness, the need for terrestrial freedom.
Six thousand years after Epona
first grabbed a handful of mane and swung on board that wild forest pony, we, her
grandchildren, still dream of imitating her bold move.
We long for the blood stirring
sound of horse’s hooves pounding across the steppe.
We long for the sweet smell of
the leather saddle that takes us to adventure.
We long for the feel of the
gentle rain in our face, the hot sun on our back, and a happy horse between our legs.
And most of all, like Aime,
and George, and Roger, and Dmitry, and Mikael, and all those other forgotten
equestrian heroes and heroines, we long for our eyes to be filled with the sight of a wide,
For that is what we Long Riders
are, and this pathetic attempt at story telling is what we are about.
See you on the trail, saddle
“Tschiffely’s Ride” by Aime Tschiffely, “Across
Russia on a Mustang” by Thomas Stevens, “Following the Frontier” by Roger
Pocock and “Khyber Knights” by CuChullaine O’Reilly are part of the
world’s largest collection of Equestrian Travel titles.
These books are featured at www.horsetravelbooks.com or can be ordered
from your local bookstore.
“Tschiffely’s Ride” by Aime Tschiffely, “Across Russia on a Mustang” by Thomas Stevens, “Following the Frontier” by Roger Pocock and “Khyber Knights” by CuChullaine O’Reilly are part of the world’s largest collection of Equestrian Travel titles. These books are featured at www.horsetravelbooks.com or can be ordered from your local bookstore.
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