The Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration - Volume I
A Profound Contribution to Horses and Humanity
The Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration, Volume 1, is just the first of the three volumes subtitled A Study of the Geographic and Spiritual Equestrian Journey, based upon the Philosophy of Harmonious Horsemanship. At 563 pages, small print, its size and scope matches the breadth of its title.
As might be expected, this is not for the casual reader. It is massive in size because there is simply nothing like it out there, anytime, anywhere. O’Reilly coined the term “Long Rider” for those who actually travel on horseback and we quickly learn that while this mode of travel is unique in today’s world, it is not obsolete. For six thousand years, horses and humans have evolved together. Together, we became explorers and it still applies.
O’Reilly indicates that there is still a place for horse travel today and it can take us much further than our geographic destination. When you embark on an equestrian journey, he tells us, you are really making two journeys, an inner journey and an outer journey.
I was an equestrian traveler in the 1970’s, long before there was a name for it or any resources available about travel on horseback except an old US Cavalry manual. Having ridden one horse 7,000 miles, I believe I am qualified to say that the content of these volumes is invaluable, not only to potential Long Riders, but to anyone who is interested in the horse-human connection, both historically and in today’s world.
Though equestrian travel is behind me now, I purchased a complete set of the Encyclopaedia at its first publishing to learn about “my tribe”, for I had no idea of the many journeys that have been made on horseback around the globe. I was so impressed by the authenticity and historical value of this workthat I offered tocopy-edit the entire work for any missed errors, on a voluntary basis, since I knew I would be reading every word of it.
How did the author compile three volumes of wisdom about horse travel when before there was virtually nothing? For three decades the author and his wife, Basha, have collected books about horse travel, many of them rare and out-of-print, the only collection in the world on this subject. They started the Long Riders Guild Press to reprint over a hundred titles, in various languages, including the books they have written themselves about their own horse travels. Based on this material, listed in the extensive bibliography, the three Encyclopaedia volumes and the saddle-bag companion titled “The Horse Travel Handbook”, are today’s definitive work on the subject of equestrian travel and exploration.
The wisdom in these volumes also comes from many contemporary Long Riders who have connected with the author through the Long Riders’ Guild, a non-membership, international association founded by the O'Reillys and other accomplished Long Riderstopreserve, protect and promote the ancient art of equestrian travel.For the past twenty years, the Guild’s extensive website, free of advertisement or endorsement and visited by millions of viewers, has provided valuable information to equestrian explorers as well as updates about current adventurers. The Encyclopaedia is created from this foundation, the life work of this dedicated couple to keep equestrian exploration alive and horses free of harm.These volumes and their stories are treasures on my bookshelf.
I am not the only one to value this work. The first set of volumes was presented toboth Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth, and His Royal Highness Prince Charles (see photo), both responding with appreciation and acknowledgment of the value of this work. This work is not profit-driven. It has provided legitimacy to those who dare to dream, whether it be to explore the world on horseback or to read about those who have already done so.
Through these volumes, I learned that we Long Riders have a few things in common. Horses represent freedom. Long Riders yearn for freedom, the author explains. Horses have the capacity for horse-human relationship. Almost all Long Riders form intense bonds with their horses.
Who are these Long Riders? What sparks the desire to set off on a horse? How are we different from others? How do we choose our horses? How do they become different from other horses? Where will we travel? How will we go? What is our purpose? Will we travel alone or with others? These questions and many more are addressed in Volume I. This is the volume that will get you on the trail if it is meant for you. By the end of the volume, you will know for sure.
Volume I is not written as a “how to” guide from one expert. The author reminds us throughout that the information conveyed is not merely his beliefs and practices, though he has plenty of his own experiences to share, but that of the entire Brotherhood of Long Riders coming from different geographies with different cultures. It is not his book, he says. It is thecollective history of all of us. It is akin to a caravanserai, he tells us, where the equestrian travelers ride in, share their vital information, then journey on.
Through master story-telling and his background as an investigative journalist, the author spins his yarn, weaving the stories into each topic, as thoughsharing a warm fire, inviting inquiry, discussion, exploration. He is funny, interesting, informative and thought provoking, all in one. Reading the Encyclopaedia is embarking on a journey itself- a literary journey.
O’Reilly takes us to centuries past, presenting the concept of an “Equestrian Equator” of grassland exquisitely suited to horse travel which also served as a highway of trade and conquest. From these types of land, equestrian cultures developed. Herodotus wrote of the Scythians, the mounted nomads: “Their country is the back of a horse”. This is the collective wisdom that embeds into cultures. Traveling in “horse-friendly cultures” might be easier, or not, O’Reilly suggests. We are warned that there can be major and sometimes shocking differences in the practices and beliefs one encounters on a modern journey. There are many considerations, for example, in a culture that eats horse meat.
The author discusses successes and failures of the many Long Riders he has encountered through the Long Riders Guild, a clearing house of information for horse travelers. Failure in reaching a destination is not failure of the journey, he imparts. “Whether you ride a day or a year, your life will be changed”.
There are two chapters titled “Long Rider Horsemanship- the Philosophy”, which I found compelling. “Why isn’t riding across a continent granted the same respect as beating your neighbor in a competition?” He speaks of fashion versus function. Riders of tomorrow are looking for something else. “Riding out is riding in,” he explains.
What does a Long Rider hope to achieve on his journey? “Travel invokes an enormous sense of loyalty between horse and human”, O’Reilly reveals. “There is no secret so close as that between a rider and his horse”, another author relates. Reading these chapters took me back to some ancient, heart-felt soul connection that the mystics understood. O’Reilly offers the nearly lost concept of equestrian travel as a reasonable and rewarding endeavor in today’s world, while also giving the horse its rightful place in our constantly changing evolution.
Later chapters provide excellent overviews about saddles and the art of packing, taking us back to long forgotten equestrian history. His description of “horse mayhem” that can result from something as simple as a plastic rain poncho evoked personal memories that were both hilarious and sobering. “Never tie a pack horse to the saddle of the road horse,” he advises. A Long Rider might think it doesn’t apply to his docile pack horse, but he won’t forget the story about the horse that went off a cliff, or the “wreck” that ensued from an errant rope. “Forget riding lessons,” the author suggests. “Go to packing school.” He doesn’t say this lightly. Fifty percent of Long Rider inquiries he has fielded over the years are from people who have never ridden a horse before.
I found it amazing that the author was able to share many accounts of failed journeys, mishaps, disasters, blatant blunders, missteps, sheer ignorance, and even abuse, for this information is not always so readily offered. Saddle sores are one of the most common maladies; the graphic photos are mind-numbing. While minor saddle sores were commonplace in earlier eras, today there is no excuse for even a callus, an indication of unwarranted pain.
Saddles, pack saddles and pads are so much improved today, the information provided in this volume will pay for itself ten-fold to anyone considering a long ride. It could well save the journey, for saddle sores will end a trip. The same applies to protecting the hoof. Super glue will become part of your emergency kit. There are many advancements in equipment today, but buyer beware. Would you use an industrial floor mat advertised as a saddle pad?
An even more serious trip-stopper is inadequate documentation. The author relates a number of journeys that ended prematurely due to bureaucratic interference, even when every detail was attended to in advance. This possibility is so serious today that a rider may want to avoid international border crossings altogether. Horses have been threatened with shooting and unexpected quarantines lasting for weeks. This is where reality meets the dream head on, the author warns.
Should horses go barefoot, the natural way? While this is a recent trend, the debate is centuries old. The answer, as for many situations encountered on the trail: it depends. Should a Long Rider have a support vehicle following? Maybe, but it changes the nature of the journey. Your greatest enemy could be the driver.
The Encyclopaedia will rock some commonly held beliefs about horse management and care. There is a method of “off saddling” held dear by older horse cultures. We are warned that grave harm can occur by yanking the saddle off a hot back too quickly. We have to read further in Volume III to get the full background. Is this fact or superstition? I have to say that while I never came across this warning during my earlier ventures, I would give it serious consideration if I were to embark on a ride today.
The author gently implores us to keep an open mind. Ever hear of a girthless pack saddle? They are used in Asia, quite successfully.
The important chapter on feeding and watering, is excellent. It makes a complex topic simple and concise, applying to most geographic areas. Considering the monumental task of preparing a potential horse traveler for everything that might be encountered on a global scale, the author has done a commendable job. Some real dangers await the reader in Volume II, accompanied by hair-raising stories that hopefully, future Long Riders can avoid if they are aware of them. Who would think insects might be the greatest peril. Every chapter throughout the three volumes is followed by phenomenal photos, both revealing and enhancing to the topic discussed.
I consider Volume I a “must-read” for any rider considering a journey on horseback. It will connect you to your equestrian ancestors. If it speaks to you, you will surely want to read Vol II and III as well. Important decisions will be made. Your horse will thank you in every moment of a ride undertaken.
There is one thing I know that all Long Riders will agree on: a happy horse means a happy rider. O’Reilly has reached to the far ends of the earth to contribute to the welfare of both. This is a work that will find its way to the great libraries of the world, for this work is a contribution to the understanding of horses and humanity alike.
Long Rider, USA
Volume I on Amazon.co.uk