The Long Riders' Guild

 A Word from the Founder

September 13th 2001

I am not in the habit of explaining my writing. Yet these are strange and dangerous times we are living in. Several people have urged me not to publish the opinion piece which you will find below. I have been told that this is not the time to voice so strong a personal view. Others have cautioned that this website was designed merely to promote equestrian travel and therefore has no place for my personal views on life, horses, and the world in which we live. 

As a result, for the first time in my life as a writer I am including, not an apology - for I do not apologize for what I have written, what I believe, or what I stand for - but this explanatory note in which I clearly mark out the difference between the words below, which are solely mine, and the overall mission of The Long Riders' Guild, which is to promote equestrian exploration.

Horses and the World of Islam


CuChullaine O'Reilly

I have something to tell you.

I am a Muslim.

But wait.

There’s more.

I fought in the Afghan Jihad against the Soviet Union, did my best to take other men’s lives, taught Afghan resistance fighters how to be journalists, and wallowed in the warm comforts of self-deluded nationalism that afflicted my Cold War generation.

During the course of my overseas life I took on a new name, Asadullah Khan - The Lion of God, and proudly wore the trappings of 1980s militant Islam. I strapped on a sword, wore many guns, wrapped a fine turban, and believed in my heart that I was doing God’s Will by fighting the Red Menace.

Life on the North West Frontier Province of Pakistan in the 1980s was frequently  short, and often punctuated by violence.  Asadullah Khan, a.k.a. CuChullaine O'Reilly, is seen on his horse Pasha as they made their way across Northern Pakistan.


Throughout those adventurous years I rubbed shoulders with a plethora of killers, conspirators, rebels, spies and militant Arab fundamentalists including, I now realize, friends and close associates of Osama bin Laden.

I did all these things in the misguided belief that I was enlisted in a noble cause, that I was helping to liberate an enslaved people, that I was serving God.

In fact I was merely an adventurer cloaking my actions in a disguise of religious righteousness, never understanding that I, and the many others like me, were being manipulated from the background by shadowy governments and dubious men.

To make matters worse, though I publicly adhered to Islam, I was, to be brutally honest, a cultural Muslim and never a spiritual one. I was intoxicated with the strangeness of it all, the Oriental mystery, the forbidden, the obscure. So though I bent my knees in prayer, I never unlocked my heart to the true ideals of the religion I had ostensibly adopted, namely mercy, kindness, forgiveness, and the belief in the universal brotherhood of all humanity. I was, by today's definition, a misguided young religious zealot, fuelled by hate, and convinced of my own spiritual self-righteousness.

And now, many years later, my eyes have been opened by a host of personal events, and a series of good people, to a new point in my life where I quietly practice the religion which I publicly acclaimed more than twenty years ago in a long-gone and war-free Ashvagan (the Persian word for Afghanistan, meaning "Land of Horses"). I no longer wear guns. My sword collects dust and sleeps with her memories. But most importantly, I try in my daily life to put into practice what the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) taught, mainly to love my fellow man and to worship naught but God.

Alas, if my own eyes have been opened, many still have not.

I see a new generation of misguided, idealistic, naïve, religiously fervent young men preparing to lay down their lives in what they deem is a new Jihad, in what they say is a new war against oppression, in what they do not recognize is instead only the newest manipulation of their need to believe and belong.

For they, like I once was, are equally misguided and will be equally misused by another crop of village mullahs. These priests of discontent are the same type of men I knew in the 1980s, still distorting a great religion, still forgetting the word “forgiveness”, still too filled with hate to ever practice mercy.

I speak for all young men, some dead in that war, some doomed to die in this new one, when I say that though the year on the calendar has moved on since I left Afghanistan, one thing remains the same. This current lot of believers resemble me and my generation in that like us they are not able to distinguish at a glance the difference between political shadow and spiritual substance.

You ask, what does this have to do with horses and The Long Riders’ Guild? 

So I will tell you.

For horses, like religion, have once again become misused tools of mankind’s collective unhappiness.

Unreported in the Western media is the overlooked fact that Osama bin Laden is a keen horseman. The Arab militant owns several horse farms in Afghanistan. Soon after the New York attack on September 11th, Osama bin Laden took an oath of allegiance from 500 of his die-hard supporters. Surrounded by these loyal bodyguards, the Saudi radical then disappeared into the Afghan countryside, mounted on one of his many fine steeds.

Meanwhile, further north in that same unhappy country where I once rode, the Chesterson family were also swinging into the saddle in an attempt to escape the current war. The four New Zealanders had been working for an international aid agency in Faizabad, a small town in northern Afghanistan. Soon after New York was attacked, the Kiwi refugees heeded local advice and fled across the treacherous Hindu Kush mountains of Afghanistan.  They rode south on the only road open to them, hoping to reach the relative safety of Pakistan. Once again, it was horses that changed the course of their lives.

Mujahid-horsemen.JPG (115278 bytes)

This rare photograph shows mounted Afghan tribesmen riding into combat against the Soviet Union in January 1980.  They are shown leaving Herat, located near the Persian border, a stronghold of equestrian Afghan warriors led by famed Mujahadeen Commander Ishmael Khan.

Just a few hours ago a report crossed my desk that the famed Afghan mujahadeen leader, Abdul Haq, had been captured and assassinated.  I never met Osama bin Laden. I never met the Chesterson family. I met Abdul Haq several times when we both lived as exiles in our adopted home of Peshawar, Pakistan. Abdul was famed for outwitting the Soviets. He was captured fleeing from the Taliban on horseback. 

Now he is dead and more are doomed to die.

Thus it would be easy during this time of global crisis to overlook the enduring truth that binds humanity and the equine species in a tradition of mutual need stretching back 30,000 years.

Yet in these days of murder and outrage we need look no further than to Islam, that oft-misinterpreted religion, to find help in understanding why men and women of all faiths, of all countries, of all political persuasions still seek comfort in the presence of these fine animals that so enrich our individual lives.

The Muslim holy book, the Qu’ran calls the horse, “El-Kheir”, the supreme blessing.

According to Muslim tradition, Allah created the horse from the wind as he created Adam from clay.  Allah said to the south wind, “I want to make a creature out of you. Condense.”  And the wind condensed.  He then said to the newly created horse, “I will make you peerless and preferred above all the other animals and tenderness will always be in your master’s heart. You alone shall fly without wings, for all the blessings of the world shall be placed between your eyes and happiness shall hang from your forelock.”

God created horses from the wind for our benefit and pleasure.

Sadly, we now see horses, these instruments of God, turned once again into puppets of war.

We have a saying in The Long Riders’ Guild.

It was invented by Gérard Barré, that fine French horseman and equestrian philosopher.

“We should speak no language except Horse,” he informed me when a handful of us first formed the Guild.

Those simple words have collectively guided our efforts as Long Riders from a host of nations reached out for the first time in recorded history to form an international network of equestrian travelers residing in every part of the globe.

For in one sense, we Long Riders have no religion, no nationality, and no home except our saddles.

We wander the world with our horses in search of superficial adventure, all the while searching for a deeper spiritual meaning to our lives.

We talk beside our campfires with other travelers about the hard road ahead, and the mysteries we have seen on the trail behind.

For unlike those who restrict themselves to show rings, or other forms of equestrian prestige transport, we Long Riders know that the higher we ride the further we see.

As I write this there are more than a dozen Long Riders scattered on obscure trails from Africa to Argentina. While the majority of people sit panic-stricken in front of their televisions, these brave equestrian explorers are risking their lives during these perilous times, determined to continue their global journeys to discover more about themselves and their horses.

None of these Long Riders are preoccupied with politics.

Like our ancestors, they are seeking ancient needs – Grass, Water, Food, Shelter.

A wise man named Yusuf Ali, once wrote, “Through all my successes and failures I have learned to rely more and more upon the one true thing in life – the voice that speaks in a tongue above that of mortal man.”

Wanderer that I am, it took many years for those simple words to sink into my war-hardened heart. There was a time in my earlier life when I only had physical courage. But I now believe that what is more important is the spiritual courage required to dare all in a cause which is dear, so I have laid aside my sword and taken up the pen, hoping to place before you today a faint reflection of my own spirit and beliefs.

Asadullah-sword.JPG (35165 bytes)

Asadullah Khan, a.k.a. CuChullaine O'Reilly, at the peak of the 13,696 foot high Babusar Pass, located between Azad Kashmir and Yaghistan, the Land of Murder.

I trust in this time of global conflict, religious suspicion, political intolerance, and individual cruelty that we, the Long Riders of the world, will serve as a beacon of what remains good in the human race, that we will show by our love of our horses and fellow human beings that we reject the hysteria and signs of war that currently entrap our brothers, that we will collectively pass beyond any limitation in the free spirit that defines us individually.

We stand at the threshold of a new Renaissance of Equestrian Travel, one which will sweep away the cobwebs of past political problems and let in the full light of international understanding.

I believe that this will occur because as our planet grows smaller, a brotherhood of men and women who belong to the saddle will cement that unity by our belief in a common goal -  the right of free travel anywhere in the world on our horses.

For the first time in equestrian history it no longer matters where you were born, or how you worship God. The Long Riders’ Guild represents a safe haven for all adventurous spirits who yearn to seek the horizon from the back of a horse.

Some day these tragic events which weigh upon our souls today will be naught but a footnote. Empires fade. Wrongs will be righted, and the Qu’ran is still right when its says:

“But God, in His infinite mercy and love,
Who Forgives and guides individuals and nations,
And Turns to good even what seems to us evil,
Never forsakes the struggling soul that turns to Him.”

During these troubled times mankind’s interdependence with the horse will remain to strengthen those of us who understand the serenity to be found on the back of this equine blessing born of the wind.

Borak.JPG (145429 bytes)

According to Muslim belief, in the year 622 the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH) journeyed from Arabia to Jerusalem and back in a single night.  He was mounted on the Borak, a mythical creature, half human and half equine.  This illustration shows the Borak flying over the Dome of the Rock in Jerusalem, one of Islam's holiest mosques, while behind her is the Tomb of the Prophet, located in faraway Arabia.  Among other things, the Borak represents the attainment of an impossible journey, and thus is a fitting symbol for the challenges and rewards of equestrian exploration.

Thus I conclude with this thought.

We Muslims believe that our deeds are personified, that they are witnesses for or against us. Many of my previous deeds were dark ones born of war and misunderstanding.

Now, after many years, after many struggles, after many lands, I have ultimately come to believe that I am only three things.

I am a Sufi, a Scholar, and a Horseman.

Anything else is but the dust and mirage of this fleeting image which we call life.

See you on the trail, Saddle Pals.

Asadullah a.k.a. CuChullaine

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