The Long Riders' Guild

Long Rider Gordon Naysmith preparing to set off on his 14,000 mile ride from Africa to Austria

My Horse, my Husband, and I.....


Ria Bosman Naysmith

We hear a lot of stories, here at The Long Riders' Guild. People are always recounting various ways that they and their horses rode into, and out of, danger. Attacked by vicious piranha while crossing a river in the Amazon jungle?
Heard that one.
Ambushed by brigands while riding in a Central Asian republic?
Rode over a dangerous mountain?
That's nice.
And then there is Ria Bosman Naysmith.
She sent us the following story, via email, last summer while we were travelling in England to meet other Long Riders. I can still remember the sound of disbelief in Basha's voice when she finished the email and said, "You're not going to BELIEVE this"!
What I discovered was a story that had been painfully recalled, after lying dormant for more than thirty years, and then slowly translated and typed into English instead of Ria's native Afrikaans.
I had to read it, twice, before the story really began to sink in. This wasn't an equestrian expedition - this was a mounted impossibility.
And yes, I'll admit it - we WERE impressed by the fortitude, suffering, and the breath-taking courage shown by Ria, Gordon, and their trusty Lesotho ponies.
That original email is reproduced here now for our readers, the first time this amazing story has appeared in English
So here is the account of how Ria Bosman, a young South African nurse, teamed up with Gordon Naysmith, Scottish pentathlon athlete, to ride from the tip of South Africa to the Olympics Games being held two years away, in Munich, Germany. The year is 1970. It is late fall when Ria begins her story.

Gordon and I met in hospital where I worked as a physiotherapist.    He had a painful back, which I treated.   The first thing he said was that his back has to come right because he was going to ride across Africa.   Silly me, I thought that sounded great, so somehow I was included.  We got married a year later and spent our honeymoon buying horses in the mountains of Lesotho.  

The trip started on November 2, 1970 from Maseru, Lesotho. Gordon figured it was more than 20,000 kilometres (14,000 miles) to Munich, Germany. If we kept a tight schedule, we thought we could ride that distance in two years.

The Lesotho pony is probably one of the hardiest horses around.   They are not shod, have to find food and water for themselves high up in the mountains.    So only the really strong and brave survive the fierce snowy conditions in the winter or droughts that occurs every few years.   They have no shelter and no veterinary care and no supplementary feeding!    That is why we chose them as Africa is a hard, dry, inhospitable place and they would have had to survive it all.    Only problem was that due to the altitude they live in, they had no immunity against horse sickness, biliary or any of the other nasty things you get in Africa.   All of them got so very sick from their first horse sickness vaccine!    The other problem was that very few of them had ever seen a motor car or train.    What a circus!

When a motorist honked, all one saw were 11 ponies flying off in 11 different directions.   A train nearly drove them berserk!     The first 2 weeks we spent hours chasing after panic stricken ponies!    Nobody, but nobody who saw us then thought we'll even make it to the Rhodesian border.    Must admit, I had my doubts too!

We camped on a farm on the border of Lesotho and South Africa for a few weeks to test the gear, etc.    There a young man named Neil Peacock watched this lot in total amazement and very quickly realized I was in great trouble as shouting and screaming by Gordon did not help to teach me how to ride!    One day he just came, saddled the ponies (the wildest ones) and took control.   His words  "Now Ria, this is a horse. That is the front. That is the back. You sit in the middle"  -  this I will never forget.    For hours and hours he took me up and down dongas, up and down mountains, through rivers, etc. etc.    He knew my life depended on that.    Bless his dear gentle heart - he probably did save my life.   He taught me so many little things about the ponies, how to see what each individual liked, how to handle each one, etc.

Travelling through South Africa was pleasant for us, not having to worry about our own needs but very hard for the ponies.    The Basutho people mostly ride bare back.    So our ponies were not used to saddles or packs on their backs.   Riding in the middle of summer did not help very much with the rubbing and saddle sores.    Every night all their backs were closely inspected, cold packs put on, rubbing muti (medicine) put on and massaged.   Because none of the ponies were shod, all their hooves were cleaned and rubbed with an ointment to strengthen them.   All the eyes were cleaned and treated, etc.

The farming community was very helpful and hospitable.   That gave us time to get to know the horses and understand them.    At first, we hardly ever camped and appreciated a hot bath every night realizing it would soon come to an end.

Our biggest problem was that the kind farmers kept feeding the ponies with real "horse food"    They believed we were cruel, but the rest of Africa has no "real food" for the ponies and they had to survive on what they could find in the veldt - as they had done all their lives.   We also had to teach them not to drink water when ever they wanted to - only once a day.   Again it sounded so cruel but that was the only way to survive in this harsh dry continent where water is a luxury!

The terrorist war was on in Rhodesia and the young policeman at Beitbridge (the border post) took us in for a few days and decided that they were going to do their utmost to keep as alive and they were wonderful.   They briefed us on what to do in an attack, what areas to avoid, warned us not to linger at water holes, etc.   Right through Rhodesia, the police checked on us during the day, brought us food, etc.  

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"Gordon and I met in hospital where I worked as a physiotherapist.    He had a painful back, which I treated.   The first thing he said was that his back has to come right because he was going to ride across Africa.   Silly me, I thought that sounded great, so somehow I was included."

We experienced a heat wave a few days later.  The water hole was destroyed by the terrorists so we and the horses had to go without water for 2 days (we only carried 1 litre of water each).   The next day, temperatures reached 50  degrees Centigrade (125 Fahrenheit).    It was indescribable!    The young policemen arrived with a few beers and a litre of water and saved our lives.    That day we rode for 12 hours.   When we reached a very unfriendly farmerís house, up on a hill, at 7 o'clock at night, the temperature was still 47 degrees Centigrade (115 Fahrenheit).    I was in great trouble - totally dehydrated and slightly delirious.   Gordon persuaded the nasty man to let us stay the night (Gordon can be very, very convincing) and his kind wife sneaked us oranges, food, and lemon juice.   The farmer chased us away the next day.

Fortunately only 10 miles down the road we came to a motel.    The owner, a bush-wise, hardened man met us at the side of a swimming pool.    Without a word or a greeting he very nonchalantly pushed me into the pool, riding boots and all and "ordered" me to stay there till I was told to get out!!     Welcome to Rhodesia!    He instructed a waiter to give me a glass of iced water, a little sugar and lemon juice every 1/2 hour and he had to watch me drink it all.    Very quickly I felt my throat, by now almost totally swollen and closed, getting better, I started seeing in colour again ( before I had only been able to only see faint outlines of things) and my hardened, rubber-like skin started getting back to normal.   Late afternoon my rescuer allowed me to get rid of my riding clothes, sleep a little and then ordered me to get back into the pool.    This went on for 3 days.    But I survived, thanks to this strange, kind man.    I never want to see pink elephants and giants ants again!!

In the meantime our poor, poor ponies were suffering just as much.   One after another got biliary - all of them!    The ones who started eating again then got these terrible runny tummies due to the change in diet.    They were used to a hard thin leaved, dry grass and now they ate the luscious wide leaved, juicy grass.    What a terrible thing.    Fortunately, being the hardy animals they were, they bounced back so quickly.    I suppose, not being used to medication at all, even a little bit of the right thing worked immediately.    Fortunately half of our packs consisted of muti (medicine) for the horses.    The state vet in Lesotho and a few country vets in South Africa saw to it that we had medicine for every possible situation and very clear instructions on what to do in every likely and unlikely situation.    These guys were quite incredible, working out in the bush and having to make do under any circumstance.

We took the poniesí pulse rate and temperature every morning and evening.    By the time we got to Rhodesia, we knew that 'normal' was different for every pony - up to plus minus 4 degrees Centigrade.    By keeping a clear chart of every pony, one could very quickly see when something went wrong.    Biliary had a very specific pattern.    One reading would be 2 degrees Centigrade up, the next 3 degrees up then right down to below normal, then the next day, sky high.   We were told by the wise vets not to wait for confirmation of blood slides but start injecting with Vitamin B12, Vitamin complex and Berranol immediately. So before the ponies even knew they were ill, we started treatment.    That still meant a very sick little pony and days by the side of the road.   Only on the second or third day did the eyes and gums turned pale, but by then it would have been too late.    When we got to the towns (often about 100 miles apart), we let them take blood samples to make sure that the diagnoses were right.

Biliary is caused by a tick. Later, when we reached Tanzania, there were millions and millions of ticks.   One has to see it to believe it.   At the waterholes, the grass vibrates because there are thousands of these little monsters waiting for a host to pass by.   We had an arsenic dip to wash the horses down with and did this as often as possible.    Every morning and evening we scraped hundreds of these ticks off from between the ponies' legs, in their ears, and around their hooves.   Dreadful little monsters, those ticks!!    At night when we got to bed, we had to examine each other by torch light and pulled off ticks sometimes as many as 50.    Both of us got tick bite fever quite a few times - do not believe the story the humans can only get it once - not true at all!!!

The police guys arranged for us to stay at the mounted police stables in Salisbury, Rhodesia (now called Harare, Zimbabwe)    They were extremely kind and helpful.   They fixed our saddles, backpacks, looked after the horses, their vet did a really  thorough examination on every pony and treated them as like royalty.   But trouble was brooding.    The S.P.C.A. [Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals] decided it was cruelty to animals to try and ride our ponies across Africa. They tried by court order to stop us.   This was an embarrassment to the police and their vet, because the private vet hired by the S.P.C.A. to examine the ponies gave a glowing reports on the condition of the ponies and took our side.   Fortunately the S.P.C.A's attempt failed and we were allowed to continue.   But it was headlines in all the newspapers and on television - even back home in South Africa.

Next big problem - Tsetse fly!   We were now entering the real problem areas.   During the colonial days these were controlled, but since the war in Rhodesia and Mozambique (now Maputo) it was impossible to control.    Tsetse fly causes Nagana  in animals and that is a killer.   Fortunately, a vet in Salisbury developed an injection that was in the testing stage. But this had only been used on cattle, sheep and donkeys, never on horses.    The stuff was extremely toxic to humans and absolute care had to be taken in administering this.   Bill, the vet, was very sceptical but we had to take the chance on one of the ponies  -  3 days later the pony was still alive and doing well.   So all the rest were injected too.

Then a few days away from Salisbury new problems started - enormous swellings around the injected area on the neck developed.   Fortunately we were near a phone and Bill came all the way from Salisbury to help.   He drained the abscesses, took blood samples, treated the ponies, etc.     He reckoned that the injection did the trick, the horses were immune to  Nagana  and he allowed us to go on very slowly for a few days - he wanted the horses to exercise.   (I feared the next lot of injections we were supposed to give a few months later!)

Our next destination was Mozambique. The war there between the rebels and the government was fierce.    Frelimo, the terrorist group, controlled the area we were to ride through    To make matters worse, at the border post  the border guards confiscated Gordon's gun with the promise of returning it at the entrance to the next country. But Malawi was a long way to go.   Now we were really very vulnerable, especially because the rebels had a notorious way of controlling the "block" we had to ride through. Their method was to kill everything in sight, all birds, reptiles, game, and people. Their motto was "No food - no people"!   

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The map on the left shows the approximate route travelled by Ria and Gordon on their historic trip from Lesotho to Kenya in 1970. 

[Click on image to enlarge it]

Most if not all of Mozambique consists of dense bush, low shrub and very high elephant grass. To get off the road you have to hack your way through the bush. It was very eerie riding through there!   This long, quiet dirt road, surrounded by thick bush and no natural noise - very scary!!  Probably twice a day a big truck would pass us, carrying building material to the Cabora-Bassa dam site.  These chappies often stopped to chat and often gave us a cool drink and some fruit. They were probably so happy to see a fellow South African.    These trucks got blown up by the rebels on a regular basis and many of the drivers lost their lives.  We tried to move through there as quickly as possible and eventually we got to Tete. The story goes that in the olden days the Portuguese government never sent real bad convicts to jail in this colony of Mozambique. They sent them instead to Tete, as being in Tete was much worse than being in jail! I can believe that, as it is said that the humidity there is higher than anywhere in Africa.

When we arrived the Zambezi river was in flood. We saw herds of elephants come floating down the river. What a sight to behold! There was only a ferry across the river and of course we had to wait for the river to get back to normal. The heat and humidity was unbelievable. Everything closes between 12 and 3 o'clock, even the police station.  The people at the ferry were very understanding and when the big day arrived they loaded 2 big trucks on either side of the horses and smaller vehicles at both ends and the ponies in the middle. What a nerve racking experience as nobody knew what the ponies were going to do with this rolling, strange moving thing they were on. Fortunately everything went well to the other side, but then they refused to go down the gangplanks.  One of the ponies cut his leg very badly and we had to go and fetch a vet back in Tete, hours later the pony was fixed. Unfortunately we then were forced to stay in a little town that was notorious for terrorist attacks. We had no choice as the little ponyís leg was so very painful. What was worse, we had to stay in the police station grounds where most of the attacks took place. That night the terrorists blew up a truck between the ferry and the town and one on the other side of the town. Even the ponies could sense the tension in the air. But again we were so very blessed and got to the Malawian boarder without any mishap.

Malawi, or as it is known, the land of the smiling faces, was very pleasant:  One cannot believe that some imaginary line between two countries can make such a big difference to people. One almost felt uncomfortable because somebody was always smiling or laughing at you, lovely people, so very helpful and so eager to learn about the ponies.

What a surprise to find my parents waiting for us at Blantyre.  They drove all that way to come and see us.  At that stage one could not fly from South Africa to anywhere in Africa, and they faced all the dangers through Rhodesia and Mozambique. The ponies needed their second horse sickness vaccines also and that meant a three week rest for them. The South African vaccine lasts for a year and the Russians insisted on a 6 monthly injection and two of the ponies got very sick and one died, how very, very sad.   The other little one pulled through, thankfully. My parents took us to the lake for a holiday, and it was bliss sleeping in a clean bed every night and the wonderful luxury of bathing each evening. It is amazing how much one can do with liter of water, cooking one's food, cleaning all the necessary bodily parts and washing undergarments and brushing teeth!! So by that stage clean running water from a tap was an enormous luxury. Even today my stomach turns when I think of the water we had to drink at times, water scooped from waterholes with green slime a few inches thick, and animal dung in it. Thank heaven for the water sterilizing tablets the Rhodesians gave us. I think we would have died without them.      

Fruit in Malawi is plentiful and very cheap, so we ate very well. The local people also were so very eager to share their meals with us and so often arrived with a few eggs, tomatoes, cassava, a local type vegetable, or any thing else.  Some of the villagers also allowed us to let the ponies graze their left over maize fields. The locals were  absolutely marvellous But because the little children ran with us for miles on end - it was difficult to find a spot where one could be private when nature called! .

One day we camped just outside a little village, I woke up feeling a little dizzy. When we finished packing up I was in trouble. The 2 miles into the next village took ages. We rode to the mission hospital where I collapsed and fell off the pony. A man who had just got out of his jeep, caught me. He happened to be a young French doctor who was doing research on a new strain of malaria, called galloping malaria. He was collecting samples miles out in the bush and had to return to fetch something he forgot. I was one of the first Europeans to get "galloping malaria". Apparently this type of malaria kills people in two days. So it was very fortunate for me that this young man knew what to do and helped me.  I was very, very sick for the next few days. In Malawi they had government rest houses in a few small towns and we were fortunate enough to have stayed in one of those. I think if we had had to stay in our small tent in the bush somewhere things would have been different for me.

After we crossed into Tanzania we started seeing a lot of wild life. The animals did not seem to recognise the human shape on the ponies, so we could ride very close to a lot of them. But it was also lion country. We often heard them, sometimes uncomfortably close! The elephants did not like the look of this new form of wild life and we had to move very carefully and very quickly out of their sight.

The main road goes through a game park and we had to follow that road. One night we went to a lodge in the park to see if we could camp on their premises and this German fellow was so very rude and chased us away. An African man who realized we were in trouble came to our rescue. He told us to ride to a shed a few miles away. There we would be more safe than just out in the bush. When we got there we discovered that at the river a few hundred yards away from the shed was the drinking place for all the large game. These animals were already arriving at the waterhole because the sun was setting. But this German fellow contacted the police. Whilst we were unpacking about 12 of them came with big guns and bayonets. They started shouting and screaming, threw everything we had out on the floor of the shed, opened the cameras, and ordered us in to their jeeps. We drove at an unbelievable speed in the dark cross country to their police station. They forced Gordon to stand up in this jeep. But he fell and broke a few ribs, but they could not care less. They locked us up till the next day when the big boss would arrive. We were so very worried about the ponies alone out there with the lions around!

"Our stay at Arusha had been the most pleasant of the whole trip. We left there with heavy hearts and travelled through the bush to avoid any possibility of being caught and sent back by the authorities of either Tanzania or Kenya." 

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The big boss arrived and interrogated us for hours. We were suppose to be Israeli spies! Can you believe that? Luckily, before we started our trip Chief Jonathan, the prime minister of Lesotho, gave us a letter of introduction. It was this slip of paper that saved our lives. Gordon made such a big scene and told them that there were going to be a big war between Tanzania and Lesotho if anything happened to "Chief Jonathan's horses" Fortunately they believed him. They took us back to the horses and ordered us out of the park in two hours:  it took nearly two days.  The kind African man who helped us in the first place had taken it upon himself to look after the ponies whilst we were in jail.  We left as soon as possible but Gordon was in great pain and we moved slowly.

Then it got worse, and was a little scary, because we realized that lions were following us. Before leaving, the people in the know had assured us that lions will not attack a "smell" they are not used to. Our only hope was to forget Gordon's pain, keep moving, not stay in one place for two nights in a row, and hope the "experts" were right!!!

There was a great drought in Tanzania in 1971 and everything went hungry, including the ponies. We fed them on what ever grain we could buy from the locals. By then they had grown used to eating anything that even looked like food.  Poor darlings !!

Then we arrived at a little village late one afternoon. The headman said we could stay. Only problem was that a pack of hyenas raided this village every night. The headman said we were welcome to share a little building that had a corrugated iron roof. This was important because the hyenas climbed on top of the huts and broke through grass roofs to get to anything eatable inside. So Gordon and me and all of our ponies were bundled into one the few huts with a metal roof. We were huddled in there with all their chickens and small animals and a big fire was started to keep the beasts away. It was so very scary when the hyenas arrived. They make that horrible noise when they scream and laugh. When the little ponies heard the hyenas, they became frantic with fear and so were we. The beasts charged the door, climbed on top of the roof, scratched the corrugated iron with their long nails, doing everything to try to get to the ponies and eat them. It was very terrible.  Fortunately by morning the hyenas left and we could move on as far as possible from that fearful place.

At Iringa, Tanzania I suspected that I might be pregnant. I saw a doctor from India. But he was not sure, so we had to move on. A few days later I started bleeding.  Strange how every time one of us was in trouble help just seemed to arrive out of nowhere. This time in the form of a Italian man who was working on a new road near by. He directed us to their road camp. When we arrived I was bleeding a lot. The man who found us went ahead to tell the people there of our coming and the men, not the few woman, were waiting with blankets for us. They so very gently covered my blood drenched body and escorted me to the loo. They removed my clothes, stacked pillows all around the loo, and there I sat like a queen on a throne! Strange how love does not speak in a language, as they could not speak any English and I, not a word of Italian. The message was clear, they were going to help me no matter what, and they did with more care than I could have received at a hospital. They washed my clothes, put me in bed and really cared for me so well. I will never ever forget these rough, hardened men with their calloused hands, sun-baked faces, and kind, gentle hearts.  They saved my life, without any doubt. The ponies got a nice rest, good food and their condition improved a lot at that camp. Gordon took the time to fix everything that was broken, so it was a good rest for all.   

We reached Mount Kilimanjaro on the far side of Tanzania and stayed with the honorary German consul and his family. What an experience to wake up every morning and see that incredible mountain, every day a different sight. I think every person on earth should see that once in their lifetime. It is the most beautiful experience one can imagine. These kind people had horses and our ponies stayed with them and had a feast after the drought stricken areas we came through.

At that stage we did not have permission to enter, or ride through Kenya yet. But trust Gordon. If one cannot go round something you go through it, no matter what it costs or what tactics you use. In the nearby city of Arusha, the government officials of Kenya said " no" in so many uncertain terms to the idea of letting us ride across their country. But after "negotiating" very long and hard (which of course also included Gordon's threat of the big war that would result between them and the tiny kingdom of Lesotho if they tried to stop us!) they agreed we may enter. But, and a big BUT, only if we can show proof from a vet that the ponies had no contact with any other horse or any other animal that carries foot-and-mouth disease during the entire trip from Lesotho! They thought this was obviously an impossible task and this requirement would keep us and the ponies out of Kenya forever.

Again, nothing stops Gordon. The next day when the director of veterinary services for Tanzania was away on business, which Gordon knew, he stormed into the deputy's office shouted and screamed and made such a big scene. The poor chap was so confused, he signed all the papers we needed and before anybody could change their minds we were on our way out of Tanzania. We made a flying visit to say goodbye to the kind German consul at his wonderful coffee plantation. Then we were riding on our way to the border.

Our stay at Arusha had been the most pleasant of the whole trip. We left there with heavy hearts and travelled through the bush to avoid any possibility of being caught and sent back by the authorities of either Tanzania or Kenya. We headed for a tiny border post in the middle of nowhere and the man let us through without any trouble! On the way I got sunstroke very badly and again was really very sick. But we had to go on as food for the ponies was again very scarce and Gordon wanted to get to Nairobi as soon as possible as we were now very badly behind schedule.  Luckily, the German consul in Arusha had contacted the Lesotho ambassador in Nairobi, and told him about our predicament with the authorities of Kenya.

Imagine our surprise when we rode up to the edge of Nairobi, where we were stopped by somebody from the Lesotho office and told to go to the show grounds. This kind reception was strange to us. On our arrival a whole bunch of people welcomed us, including the wonderful Lesotho ambassador and his lovely wife, and of course all the newspapers. This was a big set-up to keep us in the country, I suspect. This lovely man and his wife took us into their home and made arrangements for the ponies.

All dressed up in clothes borrowed from the ambassador and his lady, we attended a Lesotho independence celebration party. There I fainted and was stone cold out for an hour or so. Fortunately a lovely Indian lady doctor attended the party and took care of me. I had to go and see her a few times and she did all sorts of tests on me She said the malaria was not cured yet, the infection from the miscarriage was still with me, and the after affects of the sunstroke etc. etc. all made it necessary for me to go home to South Africa. Gordon felt I could go on if we could get a wagon and let the ponies pull it!!

Anyway, a team of people working on a set of a play they were producing, decided to build the wagon, which they did.  This time Gordon bit off more than he could chew as the poor, poor ponies just could not learn to pull that damned wagon. So he decided to go on alone. In a way I was sad as I really wanted to go with all the way to the Olympics in Germany with him.

So, we gave my ponies to a lovely man, and Gordon took three with him and left for Addis Ababa, and I came home to my wonderful parents in South Africa.  The rest of the story is Gordon's story and he will probably tell you how he rode through the Arabian deserts and all the other things that happened to him.  

We are happy to announce that Gordon Naysmith has completed his book about this extraordinary equestrian journey, A Will to Win.  Ria meanwhile lives quietly, without horses, in South Africa.

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