The Long Riders' Guild

Neil Irons


In order to accomplish his goal of riding across Mongolia from east to west in no more than 90 days, Neale Irons made a catastrophic journey in the summer of 2010.


Irons originally set off with two inexperienced American tourists who had received “five minutes training” in the saddle. On the first day of their journey, Irons became separated from his companions, which resulted in him being lost on the steppes for three days. Soon afterwards, he determined to proceed alone, using two native horses to carry his saddle and gear.


Because he hoped to travel 2500 kilometres in record time, the 176 pound rider rode the small Mongolian horses extremely hard. Upon arriving outside the capital of Ulan Bator, an eyewitness stated that the two horses were so thirsty they could not eat. Upon observing the condition of the thirsty animals, this Mongolian immediately drove twenty-five kilometres to get water from a well and bring it back to the distressed animals.


In addition to being dehydrated, both horses were extremely thin and one of them was suffering from saddle sores which have been described as unbelievable. A witness described Iron’s saddle blanket as "a putrid piece of carpet." Another eyewitness said the horse’s injuries were, "the size of dinner plates and going to the bone." In addition to these open wounds, the injured horse was also being eaten alive by insects. According to an official statement, "I could see the bones and there were hundreds of worms (insects)."


Despite its injuries, local Mongolian horsemen were prepared to purchase the injured animal and nurse it back to health. Fearing that he would lose money, Irons decided instead to sell the injured horse to a local salami factory.


“I sold one horse for meat in Ulan Bator,” Irons wrote to the Guild on January 8, 2011.


The second horse was traded for a new riding mount. Mongolians report that when Irons left the capital he burdened the single riding horse with all of the equipment previously carried by two animals.


He then continued his rapid journey towards the still distant border. Upon arriving at his next destination, three days later that horse was also exhausted and suffering from wounds caused by the hobbles. "He had made a big rush to get there. The horse had injuries on three of its legs caused by the hobbles. Horse and rider were both exhausted," a Mongolian reported.


Once again Irons set off, however this time his journey was eventually concluded by the country’s inhospitable landscape. “Trek ended 8km from most westerly point on Mongolian border when shrubs became too thick to get through,” Irons wrote to the Guild.


Irons' horse stopped by impassable brush before the border.


Under Great Britain's Riding Establishment Act, it is an offence for any person to use a horse in the course of riding to cause the animal to suffer from a defect of such a nature as to be apparent on inspection. While the Long Riders' Guild does not have the ability to enforce legislation, we will not tolerate the presence of a person who incorporates a horse into a deceptive, unethical or criminal act.  Nor will the Guild condone or sponsor any expedition that subjects its mounts to needless suffering.


The Guild can however warn the public of the unacceptable behaviour of people who abuse, injure or kill their horses, because of intentional neglect or cruelty, during an equestrian journey. In such cases the names of the person is placed in the Guild's Hall of Shame. Consequently, the name of Neale Irons has been listed here as well.


Additionally, Long Riders reported this case to the Mongolian authorities.


Ironically, at the same time Irons was making his ride, three young men were attempting to make a difficult ride along the length of the Rocky Mountains.


“We are not doing this for fame or glory, but only to run against the grain of modern society, to reach back and hold on to values and traditions that have bonded all horse-people since the beginning of time. I only hope that we will prove ourselves worthy of the title ‘Long Rider,’" wrote Parker Flannery.


These are concepts which eluded Irons.


Instead he turned the journey into a publicized stunt wherein ego and public acclaim become more important than the horse-human relationship.


One cannot reduce equestrian travel to that of a product. It is never a jar of jam or a dossier of dust-covered facts ready to be presented for scientific inspection. At the heart of the matter is the mutual journey carried out by two sympathetic beings, a Long Rider and a Road Horse. That is why it is never the ultimate mileage that matters. The miles never blind us. What is at stake in every journey is the fact that there can be no honour in making the journey unless it has been achieved with justice. One must end the journey with an upright heart and a happy horse.


If we could call an International Tribunal of Equestrian Conscience, Irons would no doubt be charged. As it stands, regardless of the miles he rode, Irons is disqualified from applying for Membership in the Long Riders' Guild as he requested.


One of The Guild's primary purposes is to ensure that the travelling horse is never deliberately abused, for as any Long Rider knows, to break the trust of a horse is to invoke a curse. That is why it is said that the souls of horses will rise in judgment against unmerciful riders. Perhaps that is what will happen to the man who inflicted such treatment on his horses?

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