The Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration - Volume 2
Captivating, High Adventure on the Trail- All True
Volume II of the Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration is part of a three-volume set. Please read my review for Volume I.
Volume II, the lengthiest of the set,is pure adventure related to travel on horseback. It describes the challenges Long Riders have faced around the globe. This is where horse and rider meet five-foot long electric eels, attack condors, the stalking lion or a pack of screaming hyenas. This is where you think you’ve heard it all, and the next page brings yet another hair-raising story. And - it’s all true.
I could not read this volume before going to bed, for all I could think of was Aimé Tschiffely’s horse, Gato, sliding off a cliff towards certain death, saved only by a lone, solitary tree. Or the horse that plunged through the slats on a swinging bridge, held fast by the panniers on his packsaddle. Or the horse stuck in quicksand, too exhausted to keep his head up. These are the predicaments that have plagued horse travelers for centuries. What would a rider do in such a situation? This is what O’Reilly asked himself, and the Encyclopaedia is what came of it.
O’Reilly is a master story teller and he keeps you on the edge of your seat throughout this 780-page volume. This is the adventure of the journey, the experience of riders across the globe, both now and through written history, compiled from decades of research and communication with modern day travelers. Horsemen who are also explorers have an innate desire to be on the move, just as their horses do. O’Reilly calls them Long Riders.
The author, a Long Rider himself, has devoted the last couple of decades to helping riders help their horses by being prepared. This book imparts valuable information, but it’s the stories that the Long Rider will carry with him on the trail. The author is not telling us what he thinks we should do. He conveys the stories of those who rode before us. He provides historic perspective. He gives us the research. He inspires us to think ahead, and think of our horses. If the stories don’t do it, the poignant photos at the end of each chapter will for sure. Can you imagine winching your horses across a deep ravine when the bridge is out? There is a photo showing how a Long Rider did it.
What a Long Rider on a journey will soon notice is the unique trust that develops between himself and his horse. The traveling horse develops a sense of calm unity with its rider, the author explains. For example, rather than panic, Gato remained perfectly still while his rider rescued him, though the horse was neighing in desperation and fear. Luckily Tschiffely had the gear he needed and another horse to pull Gato to safety. The bonds developed both ways are strong. Another horse, Gandy, stood over his unconscious rider and then tried to climb into the ambulance when help arrived. When the author himself slipped from the saddle in delirium, his mare, Shavon, stood by her rider’s side. After he regained consciousness, she carried him to safety unguided.
In this volume, we are exposed to suffering and even death on the trail. It is heart wrenching. The author noted how many Long Riders resorted to prayer when in grave peril, though they were not particularly religious. Those were the Riders whose prayers were answered. Long Riders and their horses are the heroes in this volume, but I couldn’t help but wonder how the author managed to write this volume and retain his sanity.
The author himself is no stranger to perilous adventure. In the 1980’s he made several horseback journeys into the remote mountain regions of Pakistan, including a solo adventure into the Northwest Frontier, one of the most dangerous places on earth. Described as a “living legend”, O’Reilly is a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society and the Explorer’s Club. His adventures into these hidden medieval cultures (related more fully in his book, Khyber Knights, 2001) are some of the most captivating I’ve ever read. No wonder this Long Rider carried a sword, a dagger, AND firearms.
The chapter called ‘Attacks and Arrests” left me shaken. There are so many considerations to carrying a weapon. Horses can be stolen. Cultural differences can lead to unsavory surprises. We get some insight into why border crossings are often such a nightmare. Consider who will take care of your horse if you are incapacitated by accident or sickness. Or sexually assaulted. Or kidnapped. Or mistaken for an evil spirit. It’s all in the stories. There’s a reason that it takes 50 pages to cover insects. Aside from the abject misery they can inflict, insects canstop a well-planned journey in its tracks.
Long Riders may be prepared for bears, snakes, bulls, or protective dogs. I doubt they ever considered that horses themselves can also be deadly. Wolves have their own chapter, and I will never forget the image of a horse and rider galloping full bore for the safety of the village, the rider slaying attacking wolves, one after another, with his sword. This was back in 1903, when wolves were so numerous it was unthinkable to ride alone through a northern forest. “My horse was sobbing by now,” the rider wrote. Wars have been stopped just to fight wolves, the enemies working together to combat them.
Reading the Encyclopaedia will rock your world. We think we know all about the Scott and Amundsen rivalry to reach the South Pole. O’Reilly, a connoisseur of adventure travel, relates the true story. It includes meat-eating horses and one of most amazing rescues I’ve ever read. During preparations, Scott’s team members had to travel on sea ice. One night, breaking ice flows separated the men from their horses, leaving the ponies stranded and drifting out to sea. It was common sense to let them go. But the men couldn’t bear it. Then, just when you think things couldn’t possibly get worse…..
What I note in these amazing stories is that horses don’t give up. It seems they take on their human companion’s desire to live.
Reading this volume is an experiential course in geography. You learn where the equestrian cultures are and how the use of horses has shaped civilization. Would you expect to find a horse culture in Siberia? Reading the Encyclopaedia, I know the Darien Gap jungle better than I want to, a place horses should never go.
After reading Volume I, I had to wait to begin Volume II. Reading again, I was once again amazed at the skill of the writing. I read a lot of non-fiction, and truly, I don’t know of a better writer. The flow is like following water to the sea. O’Reilly’s writing has been described as “unbound”, “unfettered”, like our horses the way we imagine them. As a Long Rider myself, I felt as though I was coming home. Chapters about horse health, feeding, and keeping a back sore-free are just as good a read, for O’Reilly provides just what a rider needs to know, in a way it can be remembered on any trail.
After reading this volume, would a prospective Long Rider dare to leave the safety of their own barn? The author need not worry, for what he portrays is the full human experience. Long Rider’s are the kind of people who want that experience. You don’t have to be a Long Rider to appreciate these volumes. Traveling on the back of a horse at three miles an hour, for weeks, months, or even years, connects a rider with every aspect of humanity as well as the natural world. What is important to the Long Rider is the horse he shares the experience with. If you are human, it is simply a great read.
It would be normal to feel sorry for the unlucky horse that was chosen to endure such a journey. Reading this volume will give you some different thoughts. Tschiffely and Mancha and Gato were nearly inseparable at the end of their 10,000 mile journey. They are now immortalized in a statue of the three of them in their home country of Argentina. The last chapter, called “Death”, deals with the unspeakable, but also the inevitable.
You cannot finish this volume without the third volume in hand, for this is where the author writes of the day- to- day experience of the horse traveler. Volume III is the wind-down from high adventure. It is the thought-provoking part of the journey, the part that feeds the soul. If you get through Volume II, you’ll need the final volume. I highly recommend all these volumes to past, present, and future Long Riders as well as anyone who has the desire to move beyond the world they know.
Long Rider, USA
Volume II on Amazon.co.uk