An Equestrian Travel Classic
Many children dream of riding a pony and setting off an exciting adventure later in life. Verne Albright was one such child. His equestrian adventures began at the age of eleven, when his father gave him Trixie, a mustang mare captured in the Nevada desert. It didn’t take long for the lad to make a 100 mile ride as a child.
By 1966 Verne had made two discoveries that changed the course of his life. He had read a book and found a breed of horse that lit his heart on fire.
Like thousands before him, Verne had read Tschiffely’s Ride, the most famous equestrian travel book of the 20th century. It recounts how in 1925 Swiss Long Rider Aimé Tschiffely rode 10,000 miles, from Buenos Aires to Washington DC, to demonstrate the strength of Argentina’s Criollo horses.
Inspired by Tschiffely’s example, in September, 1966 Verne went to Peru at the age of 25. He was determined to obtain and ride two Peruvian Paso horses back to the United States.
Verne had $2,000 and a dream. The only problem was that 10,000 miles of unforeseen problems lay ahead.
Once in Peru the National Breeders Association offered support, gave him an official letter of support and helped him find suitable horses.
Verne’s mares, Hamaca and Ima Sumac, had “gigantic lungs, huge hearts, legs of iron and hooves of steel.”
His plan was to follow the Pan-American Highway, the western hemisphere’s best known road. Yet as all Long Riders learn to their cost, maps are flat faced liars.
He anticipated heart-stopping adventures and the challenge of a lifetime, but soon discovered he had greatly underestimated the difficulties and dangers.
Even before he began he was warned in Peru to place sabila, a succulent spiny aloe, near the horses at night in order to repel the vampire bats that could infect them with rabies.
Just like Tschiffely before them, the trio suffered crossing the Matacaballo (Horse Killer) Desert and narrowly escaped being robbed by bandits.
In Ecuador a road grader driver tried to run down Verne and his horses.
Malaria, typhoid, cholera, and bubonic plague hadn’t disappeared in the years since Tschiffely rode through. In Panama Verne built smoldering fires at night to keep millions of disease-carrying insects at bay.
In Costa Rica he crossed the Peak of Death, where travellers had been slain by the intense cold.
In Nicaragua, days after a violent revolution, he entered a country where even his hero, Aimé Tschiffely, had feared to go.
In Mexico Verne ran out of money and became a fugitive from the law.
|Verne’s route from Chiclayo, Peru to Los Gatos, California.|
But in addition to hardship and danger, as Verne rode north he also encountered Long Rider history.
One evening in Ecuador he was for the first time unable to find lodgings for himself or his horses, until an excited man beckoned them into his ranch. The horses were safely lodged in a corral and Verne was ushered into the house. The Long Rider was told that, when he had been a boy, another man riding to the USA had stayed with his family. He couldn't recall the name of the man, but he remembered that the horses had been called Gato and Mancha. "Not only was I following in the footsteps of A. F. Tschiffely, but my mares were lodged in a corral where Mancha and Gato, two immortals of the equine race, had once spent a night," Verne wrote.
In March of 1967 Verne rode into Los Gatos, California, bringing to a conclusion an extraordinary overland journey.
What Verne hadn’t foreseen was that he had accidentally ridden into a position to influence Long Rider literary history for decades to come.
In an age where millions of books are available on-line via the internet, it is hard for younger people to realize that equestrian travel literature nearly went extinct in the late 20th century. Equestrian travellers were very rare and books about the topic were nearly unobtainable.
For example, DC Brown rode across the Arctic Circle in 1953 and wrote a book. Likewise William Holt rode across Europe in 1965 and also added another slim tome to a body of knowledge that was about to flicker out of existence.
After he returned to California, Verne made the important decision to write a book about his overland adventures.
The 20th century inspired the creation of three equestrian travel books that documented the adventures of Long Riders who rode northwards out of South America.
Aimé Tschiffely’s book, Tschiffely’s Ride, began the movement when it was published in 1932.
In 1950 Ana Beker rode from the capital of Argentina, Buenos Aires, to the capital of Canada, Ottawa. Her book The Courage to Ride was released in 1954.
The third title in the South American Trilogy was written by Verne Albright.
“In the Saddle Across the Three Americas” was released in 1969 and immediately began to gather attention from the growing number of people who had become interested in Peruvian Paso horses.
A second edition came out in 1974.
Thirty-three years after he swung down from the saddle, in 1999 a third edition
of the enduringly popular book was released.
The new fourth edition which has just been published is entitled Horseback Across Three Americas. This version is longer, illustrated and contains far more detailed information about the historic journey.
Verne wrote to the Guild to explain, “I came to dearly love the wonderful culture and people in Latin America. I have never revealed as much about myself as I do in this book. People who read it will know my inner workings far better than they did before.”
When asked to reflect on the historical impact of his book, Verne replied, “What has most touched me was hearing from men and women who were boys and girls when I made my ride and thought of me as a hero, an impression I never had of myself since my achievement was so very inferior to what Tschiffely did.”
Spoken like the famously modest Tschiffely indeed!
Yet what modern reader/riders must understand is that even before the onset of the Covid 19 global pandemic, the world which Tschiffely, Beker and Albright rode across had already been forever changed by the on-set of hostile government regulations.
First Panama forbade Long Riders to cross their country going either north or south. Ironically Peru also imposed restrictions so severe that Long Riders are no longer allowed to ride across that country. Mexico, the USA, and the list goes on, the countries that once welcomed the three brave Latin Long Riders have now threatened to kill a foreign horse found on their soil.
This distressing fact gives a new dimension to Verne’s book.
It has always been a well-written book, full of enough mounted adventures to satisfy any would-be Long Rider. Yet now there is a difference which adds special significance to this new edition.
The world which Verne, Ana and Aime rode across is now a memory. Brave children can still dream about setting off to explore the world on a horse. The difference is that they will be riding towards a future which doesn’t resemble the one which Verne boldly explored 54-years-ago.
Because of Verne’s unique contributions to equestrian travel and literature, he was designated as one of the Long Riders’ Guild’s rare Living Treasures in 2020.
Verne contributed a famous Story from the Road which recounts an amusing incident during his journey.
And the Guild preserves news articles about Verne’s ride in the LRG News Archive.
O’Reilly is an investigative reporter who has documented and written about
equestrian travel for more than thirty years. He devoted six years to writing
Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration,
the most comprehensive study of horse travel ever created. After having made
lengthy trips by horseback across Pakistan, he was made a Fellow of the Royal
Geographical Society and the Explorers’ Club. O’Reilly founded the
the world's first international association of equestrian explorers. The
organization has Members in more than forty countries, all of whom have made a
qualifying equestrian journey of at least one thousand miles. The Guild has
supported or advised equestrian expeditions that have crossed every continent
Explorers’ Web described CuChullaine O'Reilly as “a living legend.” He is the author of Khyber Knights, an equestrian travel tale described as a “masterpiece” and the author as “Jack London in our time”. As Director of the Long Riders’ Guild Press, he has preserved and published hundreds of the most important equestrian travel books of all time. The author is married to the Long Rider, Basha Cornwall-Legh, who rode her Cossack stallion, Count Pompeii, from Volgograd to London, becoming the only person in the twentieth century to ride out of Russia. The O’Reillys are the webmasters of The Long Riders’ Guild Academic Foundation website, the repository of an immense collection of equestrian wisdom, history, research and images.
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