Long Rider Warnings
With more than a million collective miles under their saddles, the equestrian explorers who belong to The Long Riders’ Guild have ridden on every continent except Antarctica. These mounted Argonauts know that few places test the skill of horse and rider as severely Mongolia. For example, when Australian Long Rider Tim Cope set out to ride 6,000 miles alone from Mongolia to Hungary, his journey had barely begun when he was trapped inside his tent for days by hail, faced constant threats from wolf packs, had his horses stolen twice and was repeatedly accosted by drunken Mongolian herders.
Basha O’Reilly is a Founding Member of The Guild who has also suffered in the saddle in Mongolia. In 1995 she rode from Volgograd to London, becoming the only person in the twentieth century to ride out of Russia. After riding the infamous Outlaw Trail from Mexico to Wyoming, she was made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society in recognition of her equestrian explorations. Yet she began her exploration career as Russian interpreter for a mounted scientific expedition in the Mongolian mountains.
“There is a saying in the Long Riders’ Guild: it is not the kilometres that kill a horse but the kilograms. I learned how accurate that was when I riding through the High Altai mountains. At 110 pounds my weight taxed my small Mongolian horse. Other horses were not so lucky. Being burdened by heavy foreign male riders, it caused me great distress to see these little native horses get so desperate they would lie down under the saddle. So my heart goes out to any horse which is expected to carry a heavy (and probably inexperienced) rider for 40 kilometres across that barren land - at speed!”
New Zealand Long Rider Ian Robinson, who survived perilous solo journeys across Afghanistan, Tibet and Mongolia, was likewise sceptical about the proposed endurance event.
“In regards to this Mongol race, it sounds like a great idea, on paper, but it's a disaster waiting to happen. Has this English tour company done any horse trekking trips before? Do they realise that twenty-five riders changing horses every forty kilometers for one thousand kilometers will require 625 horses? Good luck finding them. I had trouble finding one or two! But my main worry is the horses. Local herdsmen are not going to offer their fittest, healthiest, best conditioned horses. They are going to turn up with their worst, oldest, skinniest horses and hope to hire them out for a fortune. Riding such horses in a race would be downright cruel. Plus, as this race will be run in summer, it means racing a weak horse in the steppe heat with a large westerner on board. That could result in the animal dropping dead. Not on!”
Bonnie Folkins, from Canada, has visited Mongolia many times in preparation for her upcoming 1000 mile ride across that country. Because of the dangers and hardships certain to await her, Bonnie will be riding with two hardened Mongolian nomads. Having scouted the route, ridden the horses and met the people, Bonnie expressed grave concern regarding the safety of the endurance horses and riders.
“Mongolians tend to ride much younger animals than we allow, which is a concern. Does this company not realize that these Mongolian horses never see a portion of grain? It’s like asking them to run a marathon on a diet of lettuce. Yet the most obvious question must be, if the Mongolian government will not allow their prized horses to even leave the country, then why are they authorizing them to be abused in front of the entire world? Mongols are taught to never shout at the horse because it is their friend. So imagine the lesson it presents to young Mongolian children to see this sacred example ignored when foreigners ride an animal to the point of exhaustion or death. Either this English tour company is completely devoid of compassion, or they are determined to carry out this mission at any expense.”
Having mentored more than a hundred of these expeditions in less than ten years, The Long Riders’ Guild shared these grave concerns with the Adventurists tour company, which chose to ignore them.
"You're only having fun when something's going wrong," the company said.