A History of Russian Horse Travel
CuChullaine O’Reilly F.R.G.S.
Founder, The Long Riders’ Guild
When asked to name an equestrian culture, the majority of modern humans would think of cowboys and gauchos. What few people remember is that Russia played a remarkable role in horse-human history. A special study documents the astonishing and dangerous journeys done during the last 300 years. This unique report documents the women and men who had the courage to ride across Russia, from the days of the Czars, through the era of the Soviet Union, and who are blazing new trails in the 21st century.
|Dr. John Bell was a Scottish doctor who journeyed from St. Petersburg, Russia, riding across Siberia, before completing his sixteen-month journey at Peking, China in 1717. During his journey Bell met the Dalai Lama of Tibet and observed the equestrian practices of the people he met along the way.|
|Sir Robert Ker Porter was a celebrated English artist and explorer who travelled to Spain, Portugal, Russia, Finland, Sweden and South America. In addition to being knighted by Great Britain’s Prince Regent and the King of Sweden, Sir Robert was awarded the order of the Lion and the Sun by the Shah of Persia. His most celebrated equestrian journey began in 1817 when he rode from St. Petersburg, Russia to Teheran, Persia.|
Even though she lived and rode in the adventure-soaked nineteenth century,
there were few women who could match the amazing life and exploits of
Catherine de Bourboulon. Born in Scotland in the 1820s, Catherine
Fanny MacLeod was taken by her mother to live in the United States at an
early age. Later the young traveler journeyed on to Mexico. There MacLeod
discovered Phillipe de Bourboulon, a Frenchman who not only became the love
of her life but harboured a spirit as wild as her own.
“Shang-Haï à Moscou” is the account of this amazing journey undertaken by
the young lovers on horseback from 1859 to 1862. Written in French
from diaries Fanny kept during the journey through Mongolia, Siberia and
Russia, the book is compiled from a series of magazine articles published in
Paris during the mid-nineteenth century. Alas, Catherine MacLeod de
Bourboulon died soon after her return to Europe. She was only 38 years old.
Much of her exciting story was later plagiarized by Jules Verne for his
famed Cossack novel, “Michael Strogoff.”
|Russian anarchist, Peter Kropotkin, rode across Siberia from Irkutsk to Kyakhta in 1864. Though he became one of the forefathers of the Russian revolution, Kropotkin never forgot this great equestrian journey he made as a young man. It was a "long, circuitous route, across mountains 7000 to 8000 feet high. I once travelled along this track, greatly enjoying the scenery of the mountains, which were snow-glad in May, but otherwise the journey was really awful. To climb eight miles only, to the top of the main pass, Khamar-daban, it took me the whole day from three in the morning till eight at night. Our horses continually fell through the thawing snow, plunging with their riders many times a day into the icy water which flowed underneath the snow crust," wrote Kropotkin.|
|American Long Rider Januarius MacGahan rode from Fort Perovsky, Russia, across the Kyzil-Kum Desert to Adam-Kurulgan ("Fatal to Men"), Kyrgyzstan in 1873.|
|Swiss Long Rider Henri Moser was given permission to undertake an unprecedented equestrian exploration across Central Asia. Setting off in 1882, the young watch-maker turned equestrian explorer left St. Petersburg bound for Tashkent. He then rode on to Samarkand, Bukhara and Khiva, made his way to Tehran, crossed the Caucasus Mountains and finally emerged at Istanbul in 1883.|
|In April 1889 Mikhail Asseyev departed on a journey from Lubny, Russia to the newly-erected Eiffel Tower in Paris, France. He used two mares, Diana an Anglo-Don, and Vlaga, a Novorossisski. Asseyev travelled “à la Turkmène” – that is to say, he rode one horse in the morning and the other in the afternoon, the led horse being completely “naked” – no pack, no weight. For, as all Long Riders understand, the horse’s enemy is not the kilometres but the kilograms. Using this system Asseyev averaged 100 kilometres a day. After riding more than 3,000 kilometres (1,850 miles), when Asseyev arrived with his two mares beneath the Eiffel Tower, the Society for the Protection of Animals decorated him with a special gold medal because his horses were in excellent shape after such a long journey.|
|In November 1889 Dmitri Peshkov left his garrison's outpost of Blagoveshchensk in the far east of the Russian Empire on his Siberian horse, Seriy. After many amazing adventures, they arrived in St. Petersburg at the Czar’s court having covered more than 8,800 kilometres (5,500 miles) in temperatures sometimes as low as minus 60 degrees Fahrenheit. In recognition of the hardships endured by Seriy, the Siberian horse was adopted by the family of the Czar.|
|American Long Rider Thomas Stevens rode 1,500 kilometres (930 miles) from Moscow, Russia, to Sevastopol on the Black Sea in the summer of 1890. Stevens was mounted on a Hungarian Furioso horse named Texas. During the journey, Stevens met Dmitri Peshkov, who was nearing the completion of his ride to St. Petersburg.|
|English Long Rider Kate Marsden rode 3,200 kilometres (2000 miles) across Siberia in 1890, to visit the leper colonies of Yakutsk.|
Prince Galatzin of Russia made a 19,300 kilometre (12,000 miles) ride through Russia, Turkestan and Tibet. A descendant of one Russia’s noblest families, according to an interview granted to the Los Angeles Times on November 23, 1893, Galatzin had just arrived by ship in San Francisco, after having completed an equestrian journey of tremendous proportions.
Galatzin set off from St. Petersburg in May, 1890, after having been commissioned by Czar Alexander III to undertake a scientific and diplomatic mission, so as to collect specimens of minerals and plants, as well as to make barometric observations. The prince travelled with a mounted escort provided by the Russian ruler.
“On reaching the Tibetan highlands we could barely breathe. I soon found that it was highly dangerous to sleep on the ground, not because of the cold but because of the possibility of the heart ceasing to beat. Though one might not notice at first, his lungs soon grew too cramped to afford free breathing and the sleeper would grow black in the face, while his heart would flutter like a wounded bird. Several of my men came near losing their lives, so to obviate the great danger of dying while trying to gain a little rest, we were forced to sleep in a sitting posture,” Galatzin recalled.
As they proceeded, the lack of oxygen caused the Russians to have delusions.
“The thin air caused us to move very slowly and become the victims of strange hallucinations. One day some of my men said that they had seen two queer men in white who said they were ghosts. All of us felt very light-headed and strange. Our hearts fluttered as though they might suddenly stop and we were weak as though we were recovering from a serious sickness. We found we must eat no meat nor drink spirits, as these increased the beating of our hearts. Sugar was good but a single cup of coffee in that thin air could kill a man.”
Though he had survived the journey, the forty-six-year-old nobleman was reported to be in frail health.
|In February 1892 a Japanese samurai named Baron Yasumasa Fukushima began a legendary journey. Having been serving as Japan’s military attaché to Berlin, when his tour of duty ended, instead of taking the ship home to Tokyo Fukushima decided to travel overland on horseback. His equestrian journey of 14,500 kilometres (9,000 miles) became a legend in Japan. The Emperor hailed him as a hero, and adopted his three horses in the name of the Japanese nation. The ragged clothes of the Long Rider, and his whip, were put in a temple where they are still venerated.|
|Alexander Nikolaevich Kenik, an officer in the Russian cavalry, made a journey in 1895. Mounted on his stallion, Irkut, the lieutenant set off on June 14, from the village of Duderhof (about 30 kilometres from Saint Petersburg). After riding 7,000 kilometres (4,300 miles), Kenik and Irkut arrived at Chita, in southeast Siberia. The 155 day ride was recounted in books written by the Russian author Nikolai Amvrosiyevich Kotlyarevsky and the American travel writer W. H. Jackson.|
|Valdemar Langlet was a Swedish Long Rider who made an equestrian journey across Russia in 1898. He made the ride across Russia in order to meet the famous author and enthusiastic horseman, Count Leo Tolstoy. The two men were both advocates of Esperanto, the international language which many believed would help usher in an age of peace in Europe.|
In 1906 a Finnish cavalry officer Baron Carl Gustaf Mannerheim undertook a 14,000 kilometre (8,700 miles), two-year expedition from Andizhan in Russian Turkestan to Peking, China.
Mannerheim had served in the Imperial Chevalier Guard until 1904. An expert rider, one of his duties was buying horses for the army. In 1903, he was put in charge of the model squadron in the Imperial Chevalier Guard and became a member of the equestrian training board of the cavalry regiments.
Mannerheim volunteered for active service in the Russo-Japanese war in 1904. He was transferred to the 52nd Nezhin Dragoon Regiment in Manchuria, with the rank of Lieutenant-Colonel. He was promoted to Colonel for bravery in the Battle of Mukden in 1905 and briefly commanded an irregular unit of Hong Huzi, a local militia, on an exploratory mission into Inner Mongolia
When Mannerheim returned to St. Petersburg, he was asked to undertake a journey through Turkestan to Beijing s a secret intelligence-officer. Disguised as an ethnographic collector, Mannerheim started from the terminus of the Trans-Caspian Railway in Andijan in July 1906. He first trekked to Khotan and then headed north into the Tian Shan range. After arriving at Urumqi, he headed east into Gansu province and followed the Great Wall of China. From Lanzhou, Mannerheim headed south into Tibet. After riding 14,000 kilometres (8,700 miles) he arrived in Peking in July 1908.
|Alexandra Kudasheva holds a special place in Long Rider history. In 1910 she rode her Manchurian horse, Mongolika, 20,000 kilometres (14,500 miles) from Harbin, China to St. Petersburg, Russia. Czar Nicholas II then asked the equestrian explorer to ride his valuable Arabian stallion on another journey from Vladivostok to St Petersburg. “Queen of the Cossacks” recounts how Kudasheva then became a decorated hero during the First World War but met a tragic end.|
But despite his scientific credentials, the Long Rider had to contend with a hostile Russian government that disbelieved in Carruthers purpose. It was only after Carruthers had appealed to the Governor-General of Siberia that the proper paperwork was produced and the traveller was permitted to depart across Russian territory, bound for faraway China, via Dzungaria. The resultant trip took Carruthers across 8,000 kilometres (5,000 miles) of trackless forest, insect infested taiga, freezing steppes and dreary deserts.
|Though born in the United States, Anna Louise Strong became an early advocate of the USSR. Joseph Stalin was so pleased with this American convert that he encouraged her to visit the far-flung corners of the communist country. Mounted on her horse, Strong Boy, she accompanied a group of Soviet geologists as they rode into the seldom-seen Pamir Mountains of Tajikistan in 1928.|
|In 1929 American Long Rider Negley Farson rode from Utsch Kalan, Karachay to Batalpaschinsk, Russia via the Caucasian mountains. Farley used two Tartar horses named Kolya and Marusha.|
|Starting in 1988 Russian Long Rider Vladimir Fissenko spent five years riding from the bottom of the world, Patagonia, to the top of the world, Alaska. The 30,600 kilometre (19,000 mile) journey went from Ushuaia, Tierra del Fuego, Argentina to Prudhoe Bay, Alaska.|
|In the last days of the Soviet Union an impassioned young Turkmen believed the Akhal Teke was in danger. Geldy Kyarizov mounted his Akhal Teke on June 1, 1988, determined to ride from Ashgabat to Moscow. His 4,300 kilometre (2,671 mile) journey took him through what is today Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Kazakhstan and Russia. He was forced to ride 370 miles through the scorching heat of the Kara Kum Desert.|
|French Long Rider Jean Louis Gouraud rode from Paris to Moscow in 1990. The journey was made using two French Trotters named Robin and Prince. Upon arriving at Red Square, the horses were given to Raisa Gorbechev as a gift.|
|Swiss Long Rider Catherine Waridel departed in 1992 on a 5,000 kilometre (3,000 mile) journey that took her from Soudak in the Crimea, across Russia and Kazakhstan, to Ulaan Batar in Mongolia.|
|Polish Long Rider Tadeusz Kotwicki rode his Akhal Teke 4,000 kilometres (2,500 miles) from Jambyl, Kazakhstan to Moscow, Russia in 1992.|
|In 1995 English Long Rider Basha O’Reilly rode from Alexikovo, Russia to Denston, England, on a Volga Cossack stallion named Count Pompeii.|
|Italian Long Riders Dario Masarotti and Antonietta Spizzo departed in 1997 on a journey from Premariacco, Italy across Slovenia, Hungary, Ukraine and Belarus to Russia. They rode an Arab mare named Sebiba and an Anglo-Arab gelding called Terek.|
|In August 2007 Jing Li began an epic journey on horseback. Starting at Votkinsk, Russia, his route took him through the Ural Mountains, which serves as the Continental Divide between Europe and Asia. His arrival in Siberia coincided with the onset of winter. Severe weather halted his journey for three months. Finally, after eighteen months in the saddle, and having ridden 9,000 kilometres (5,592 miles), Jing Li reached the capital of China.|
|In 2010 Dutch Long Rider Michel Jacobs rode 2,400 kilometres (1,500 miles) from Amsterdam, Holland to St. Petersburg on an Andalusian mare named Lista.|
|English Long Rider Michael Pugh rode from Moscow to Sighisoara, Romania in 2014.|
|In the company of his two Zemaitukai horses, Azuolas and Ceklis, Lithuanian Long Rider Vaidotas Digatis set off in 2016 on a 3,000 kilometre (1800 miles) journey that took him from Laukuva, Lithuania, over the Ural Mountains, to Surmenevsky, in the district of Chelyabinsk.|
|New Zealand Long Rider Ian Robinson made a solo journey through the taiga in the Sakha Republic, or Yakutia, in Siberia, in 2106. He rode a Yakut horse named Katchula.|
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