The Long Riders' Guild

 A Word from the Founder

Those Who Dare -
The hidden dangers of Latin America


CuChullaine O’Reilly

Seventy two years ago a quiet, unassuming Swiss man with no previous equestrian experience set the gold standard against which all equestrian exploration is still rated.

From Canada to China men and women have been mounting horses and risking their lives for seven decades because of this one man – Aimé Tschiffely !

His remarkable three-year, 10,000 mile equestrian trip from Argentina to Washington DC was THE watershed event of 20th century equestrian travel. The resulting book, “Tschiffely’s Ride” is credited with inspiring four generations of equestrian travelers.

Unlike so many of the great Long Riders who have slipped into obscurity, Tschiffely has never given up his position as the most influential equestrian travel writer and traveler of the last century. I cannot stress enough the importance of both the man and his mission.

Even now, from the vantage point of this new century, we can clearly see that Aimé's message is still sending out his siren call.

Along with his famed Criollos, Mancha and Gato, Aimé still beckons would-be Long Riders to answer the primal pull of the seasons. He still whispers to us to move from the horizons that we know, to those just beyond our grasp. He still urges us to ride our horses away from the artificiality of the show ring and seek instead a return to equestrian authenticity.

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Famed Swiss Long Rider, Aimé Tschiffely, and his two Criollos Mancha and Gato, made a legendary 10,000 mile ride which took them through the mountains and jungles of South and Central America.

The danger in following this Pied Piper of Equestrian Travel is that many would-be Long Riders no longer fear the long grey road. In this age of Global Positioning technology, cell phones, and equine travel insurance, amateur adventurers saddle up and set off under the delusion that the hazards which Aime Tschiffely encountered back in 1925 no longer exist.

Nothing could be further from the truth !

Two Types of Latin Long Riders 

There are currently two types of Long Riders traveling in Latin America. The first type is best illustrated by Saskia Machaczek, a young German woman who is riding solo in Argentina. The accompanying photograph shows Saskia with one of the Criollos she is traveling with. If you needed any other evidence to decide how Saskia’s trip is going, a quote from her recent email should sum up the situation.

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I am well and making the most of my freedom, my free time, my life.  I am very much aware of this opportunity, so I try to live each minute and make the most of every moment."

Saskia Machaczek and Luna.

Saskia  has two overwhelming factors in her favor. First, she is riding in Argentina, a country with a powerful equestrian history. The people she encounters in that beautiful land have a cultural appreciation for the horse. Secondly, she is staying within the boundaries of one country. By doing so Saskia has kept herself away from one of the most pernicious problems which affect the other type of Long Rider currently traveling in Latin America.

Which brings us back to Aimé, and finally, to the point of this story. There are Long Riders, and then there are LONG Riders.

Here at The Guild we are in touch with men and women from all parts of the globe. They have all ridden more than 1,000 continuous miles in the saddle or they wouldn’t qualify to belong to this elite group of “equestrian astronauts”. All of these people have made great sacrifices by riding away from financial, physical, emotional and geographic safety.

Yet there are four Long Riders currently in Latin America who epitomize what The Guild stands for.

Günter Wamser and Barbara Kohmanns are riding from Patagonia to Alaska, on an estimated 18,000 mile long trip. They are currently in Panama.

Meanwhile, further south, Howard Saether and Janja Kovacic are making the first recorded equestrian trip from Uruguay to Texas, a journey they estimate will take them three years to complete.

All four Long Riders are proving on a daily basis that the dangers, terrors, hardships, and sacrifices which Aime Tschiffely discovered back in 1925 are still very much in evidence.

It is to salute this brave quartet, and to warn anyone else who is planning to set off across Latin America, that this article is being written today.


Historically there have been three major factors to consider when riding through Latin America. Emails from both of the above named expeditions prove that these perils - equine disease, corrupt bureaucracy, and physical violence - are alive and lying in wait for any Long Rider who attempts to make a multi-national equestrian trip in that part of the world.

Equine Disease

“Please advise everybody who plans to travel with horses down here to have all their health papers ready,” Howard wrote from the jungles of Paraguay, the third country he and his horses have crossed so far. The Norwegian Long Rider went on to describe a variety of equine ailments, all of which will prohibit a horse from traveling from one Latin America country to the next.

“Here in the Chaco jungle of Paraguay, many of the horses have Piroplasmosis. They get it from a tick. Parasites then enter the horse’s blood stream and eat away all the red blood cells. Another scary thing here is that almost all the horses in the Chaco have Equine Infectious Anemia. There are no vaccines against it, and it is incurable. To cross borders our horses need to have a certificate that states they are free of this anemia, because for instance in Uruguay and South Brazil they kill all horses infected, without pardon. You will need certificates for your horses, updated every two months, which state they are free of these diseases.”

In addition both expeditions have written to report that every poisonous insect and blood-sucking animal that chewed on Aime Tschiffely in 1925 is still alive, and anxiously awaiting the arrival of more Long Riders.

Guenter wrote from Panama to say that their entire expedition is being eaten alive.

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"Not long after we arrived in Panama, Gaucho fell sick with Piroplasmosis, a disease caused by ticks. He got high fever and here Günter and Enrique, our host in Panama,  give the Criollo an infusion."  Barbara Kohmanns

“We had hardly started training when our horses started itching and lost the hair on their faces and necks, and they had watery, inflamed bites on their legs and under their tails. Barbara and I, as well as our dear dog Liesl, are also covered with these bites. These unwanted insects have the charming name of “Coloradillas”. They are small blood-sucking creatures which lie in wait for us in the grass. We have to get up in the night because the terrible itching prevents us from sleeping. There were times when I could have torn my skin off”!

Physical Violence

When Aimé Tschiffely rode out of Buenos Aires, all those years ago, tucked away in his pack saddle were a .45 caliber Smith & Wesson pistol, a .44 caliber Winchester rifle, and a 12-gauge shotgun.

Though the Swiss Long Rider managed to outwit serious trouble, others have not been so lucky. Robert Horiguichi of Japan was ambushed and nearly killed riding through Mexico. 

Many areas of Latin America are still incredibly perilous, with Columbia and its average of six kidnappings a day topping the list.

Günter and Barbara flew their horses out of Ecuador and on into Panama to avoid this danger. The German couple are traveling unarmed, hoping in the words of our friend, famed British Long Rider James Greenwood, to get along with “No Guns – Big Smile”, as James did on his own South American expedition.

Further south however, Howard and Janja have armed themselves against trouble, some of which they have already narrowly avoided.

“When we rode into Brazil we went to the Federal Police to ask if we, as foreigners, could buy guns to protect ourselves?

‘Oh yes, they replied, no problem. Just go down the street to that shop right there.’

‘Well that’s great; it will be legal with papers and so on?

‘Oh no ! That is impossible. As a foreigner you can only possess illegal arms.’”

Later, in Paraguay, both Long Riders were allowed to purchase legally both a rifle and pistol which they now carry with them through the dangerous portions of that country.

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Due to the violence in many parts of Latin America, Norwegian Long Rider Howard Saether has decided to ride armed on his journey from Uruguay to Texas.

“Paraguay in general is a country in total disorder and with a history of violence. It is very corrupt and there are a LOT of robberies and murders around. Most people are heavily armed, so no one has asked why we are carrying guns. In fact a few wonder why Janja isn’t wearing another gun, in addition to the ones we already have. On the estancias, for example, they have a lot of problems with cattle thieves. So almost all of the cowboys down here are still armed,” Howard wrote.

Corrupt Bureaucracy

Finally we come to the most torturous part of crossing Latin America by horseback – dealing with the people in power who envision equestrian travelers as saddle-borne persons of privilege ripe for pillaging.


Howard and Janja gave up their original plan to ride from Brazil into Argentina, and then proceed north, when they discovered that corrupt Argentine border officials wanted to charge them exorbitant fees to “inspect” their four horses prior to allowing them into the country. The Europeans headed north through the Chaco jungle instead of paying the bribes.


Sadly, and further north, Barbara and Günter were not so lucky. They have been plagued with one paperwork entanglement after another.


When they decided to travel around the dangers of Columbia, the Germans discovered that cargo ships no longer carry horses directly from Ecuador to Panama, going instead first to the United States and then back to Latin America. In order to avoid this long and unnecessary trip, they opted to fly their four horses from Quito, Ecuador to Panama City, Panama.


After spending two months stranded in Ecuador trying to make these arrangements, the hardy German Long Riders showed up at the airport with their mounts. Only when the horses, dog, saddles and luggage were on board did the pilot inform a stunned Günter that there was only room on the plane for one passenger.


Barbara, he said, would have to be left behind!


Faced with a desperate decision, to rescue the horses or remain marooned in Ecuador, the German Long Riders made their minds up then and there on the tarmac.  Günter flew away with the horses, leaving Barbara stranded.


“Just as I was walking on to the airplane”, Barbara wrote, “the pilot said ‘No, she can’t go.’ So I was left there in Quito with no luggage, no clothes, no nothing, only the clothes I had on me and a little money.”


Luckily Günter had taken the precaution of getting a written contract from the cargo plane company. After a four-day wait, and with the aid of a local lawyer who used the document as evidence, Barbara was able to force the plane company to fly her on to Panama.


Her fellow Long Rider, however, had flown into more than enough trouble on his own.


“The plane stopped in Bogota, Columbia for a layover which they said would only last three hours. I off-loaded the horses thinking it would be a short rest stop. But for eight hours I stood alone with the four horses and our dog in the middle of the airfield ! We finally left Bogota in a terrific storm which shook the aircraft. We didn’t land in Panama until after midnight. It had taken me more than twenty hours to travel from Quito, Ecuador to Panama City. I was carrying tranquilizers for the horses in my bag, but they were so cool they didn’t need any – although I considered injecting myself.”


Even after the distressed team reunited in Panama, they wrote to say that their bureaucratic run-ins weren’t over. Local health authorities arbitrarily announced that the horses and dog would have to be placed in quarantine.


The charge ?


More than $800 for the horses alone.


“The woman from the quarantine department kept finding some reason or another to delay the release of our animals. Another paper. Another document. Another certificate. It is incredible how many people don’t do a thing and still stay busy doing nothing. We learned that in Panama there are no clear guidelines or rules. Everybody makes up their own rules, improvises some lunacy, and demands a lot of money for everything. My nerves are shattered. It is a permanent paper war down here – do journeys in all countries have to be like this?” Günter asked.


Meanwhile the costs keep adding up, financially and geographically for our German friends.


Horses that were originally valued at less than $1,000 are now worth more than $3,000 each due to the expensive paperwork.


And the Transhumanica Expedition?


In the last three months Barbara and Günter have not covered a single kilometer apart from the flight from Quito to Panama City.


The Double Edged Sword of Aimé Tschiffely’s Legacy


Before arriving in Ecuador Günter had already ridden across the great horse countries of South America that stretch from the tip of Patagonia to Ecuador. Barbara rode in the Rocky Mountains of Canada. Plus Howard and Janja were seasoned world travelers before they began their equestrian trip. Yet all four are now up against an often hostile, and tradition-encrusted, portion of the planet.


What Günter and Barbara, Howard and Janja are now discovering is what Aimé Tschiffely already knew back in 1925. If you travel on horseback, out of the great equestrian cultures of the South towards Norte Americano, then no cell phone, no global positioning technology, and no equine health insurance is going to guarantee you safe passage.


For what holds true to these four determined Long Riders today is what will hold true for you as well if you decide to mount up and go tomorrow.


What defines a Long Rider today is no different from what it was seventy years ago when Aimé cantered out of Buenos Aires. Its not about technology. Its about something far more ancient than that.


But let Aimé tell you the secret of what makes a successful Long Rider, like he did back in 1929 when he finished his legendary trip by riding into Washington DC and meeting President Calvin Coolidge.

“Eventually there was only one thing to do: screw up my courage, burn all the bridges behind me, and start a new life, no matter whither it might lead.  Convinced that he who has not lived dangerously has never tasted the salt of life, one day I decided to take the plunge.”

I couldn’t have said it better myself.


See you on the trail, Saddle Pals.



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