The Long Riders' Guild

 

A Word from the Founder

 

Sikunder’s Law

An Appeal for Equestrian Justice

by

CuChullaine O'Reilly

The mission was simple – become the first people to ride horses round the Earth. Though twelve men have walked on the moon, no human being had ever ridden a horse around the planet. That’s why my wife, Basha, and I set off to ride 12,000 miles along the Equestrian Equator that girdles our globe.
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It wasn’t designed to be a race. It was to be a slow mounted investigation of the world. Nor was it bandits or bureaucrats that waylaid us. ’Twas cruelty to our horses that halted the World Ride.

 

But I run ahead of myself and my tale has to be unfolded carefully in order to bring clarity to the chaos of my life, for I have spent sleepless nights trying to understand the meaning of recent events, which Aristotle himself, if he came back to life for that purpose alone, would be hard pressed to decipher.

 

After having spent ten years constant labour creating the Long Riders’ Guild, its library and scientific foundation, Basha and I were hardly abandoning the downy bed of idleness. But having helped more than a hundred equestrian expeditions take the field, we believed we had delayed our own nirvana long enough. In the Spring of 2010  we sold everything, placed all of the Guild’s wisdom into military grade laptop computers, then set our eyes on France.

 

The first step was for Basha to fly there from the United States, accompanied by Count Pompeii, her famous Cossack stallion who serves as the flying logo of the Long Riders’ Guild. Thanks to a strong recommendation from France’s most famous Long Rider, upon their arrival Basha and Pompeii were taken to the farm of a horse trainer whom we were told we could completely trust. Meanwhile, I also departed from America, only I took the saddles and headed for England where my new horse was awaiting me.

Sikunder the Mile Eater

Prior to our departure I spent fruitless months searching for a suitable mount. Retired police horses and a host of other choices were deemed unsuitable for one reason or another. Finally I found a horse in England whose face was a blessing, a Criollo gelding I named Sikunder the Mile Eater. He stood quietly while being groomed, saddled and shod, had been extensively ridden by at least fifteen different riders and was described as being scared of nothing. After passing a stringent vet check, a trusted English Long Rider rode Sikunder for me and reported that the horse was bomb proof in traffic. So upon my arrival in England, I confirmed what a superb horse I had purchased for the World Ride.

 

The tribal elders of the Long Riders’ Guild say that each man is the child of his deeds. Therefore before I left America I counted myself lucky, impervious perhaps to any future harm, because I had already survived deadly diseases, kidnappings, torture and false imprisonment during the course of my equestrian exploration career. Being so well versed in misfortune, how could I have foreseen that none of the challenges which I had previously overcome would cause Sikunder and me as much grief as the accursed French farm which awaited us.

 

Trouble in France

My horse and I were drawn to this unlikely place because our trustworthy Long Rider friend had suggested the farm would serve as a ideal logistical headquarters, while the World Ride expedition prepared for its departure.

 

Because of this strong personal endorsement, Basha left Count Pompeii in the care of the trainer and flew to England to meet me. Having inspected and approved Sikunder together, we next arranged for him to be professionally transported to the farm, to await our arrival alongside Count Pompeii, while we attended to urgent matters at the Royal Geographical Society in the United Kingdom. With both horses now at the French farm, what we couldn’t have known was that we had walked into a trap.

 

Terror Stricken

Prior to my recent purchase, Sikunder had been described by his previous owner as “brave and scared of nothing.” Imagine my surprise then upon our arrival in France to find the formerly quiet Criollo was terrified of everything, could no longer be mounted and would not allow anyone to come near his right flank.

 

How had this horse, who had previously been described by both an English vet and experienced Long Rider as being ready to journey around the world, changed so drastically in the short time since his arrival from England to the trainer’s farm? Why would Sikunder’s owner have sold me a damaged horse, knowing such an act would result in tremendous negative publicity? Was the animal damaged during transit, I wondered? But a call to Britain’s leading equine transport company revealed that Sikunder had “travelled like an angel” all the way to the farm.

 

Lacking any answers, I set about establishing a deep sense of trust with my new horse. This included avoiding any type of confrontational behaviour, aggressive actions or loud speech.

 

Using the ancient principle of positive reinforcement, I was making strong progress replacing Sikunder’s fears with a constant stream of kindness. However, with our departure time looming, I was aware that it might take weeks to rectify Sikunder’s mysterious emotional affliction. The trainer, meanwhile, had volunteered the information that she could fix my horse’s problems in the remarkably short time of only a few hours.

 

Inexplicable Behaviour

My suspicions about this woman should have begun the moment I arrived, when our hostess immediately denounced Sikunder as being unrideable.  How did she know, especially as we had issued orders that our horses were not to be tampered with in our absence? Imagine my shock then when I later learned that she had bragged about either tampering with or extracting my horse’s teeth without my knowledge or approval.

 

Had this woman, who bought and sold horses for a living, deliberately interfered with Sikunder prior to my arrival? Was it her plan to make the beautiful gelding temporarily unrideable in the hopes that I would give Sikunder to her? It’s not a far-fetched idea when you consider how she revealed that many of the horses she “trained,” and then sold for a profit, had in fact been donated to her by their owners. Though that doubt remains unresolved, she promptly tried to sell me another mount to replace Sikunder.

 

When I refused, she suggested instead that I allow her to work Sikunder in a round pen, claiming that because of her great skill as a clinician, and with her long list of satisfied clients, she could quickly prepare my horse for our journey.

 

The Trap Closes

How could I have known that this woman had recently destroyed two horses belonging to a local endurance rider, turning them into gibbering wrecks after cruelly mistreating them in her round pen? Thus, as the World Ride was already unavoidably delayed, I reluctantly agreed. At that moment I was taken in by one of the longest running scams in the horse world, believing that a smooth-talking phoney could help heal my horse. But it was Sikunder who physically suffered because of my trusting ignorance.

 

The trainer is an advocate of what she calls “de-sensitizing” horses. This is not a new concept, as historically trainers, such as the legendary Negro American, Tom Bass, knew that a horse could be taught to overcome any individual fear. Bass, for example, used to train horses not to be frightened by the recently invented steam locomotive. He did this by exposing the horse to trains, all the while calming the animal’s fear. The result of this gentle persuasion was that Bass won more acclaim than any other trainer of that era. Sadly, the woman in France had not taken this basic lesson on board.

 

What happened next should be against the law.

 

The Toxic Trainer

Armed with a strong plastic baton, the toxic trainer pulled on Sikunder’s fetlock with one hand, all the while she hit his canon bone harder and harder with the baton until the horse picked up his hoof so as to avoid the infliction of constant pain.

 

After confining him in her small round pen, she then violently invaded his space when he refused her commands. With the halter rope in one hand, and with her stick in the other, she chased Sikunder around the enclosure, shouting at him in a loud voice and effectively terrorizing him until he stopped retreating.

 

Next, while holding on to his halter rope, she ran a second rope under Sikunder’s tail, then sent him running, which in turn caused him to buck in panic. She tied long flexible plastic pipes to the saddle, then chased Sikunder around again, while the noise and unexpected feel of the pipes scared him.

 

My objections came too late.

 

Because of these terrible experiences, when I tried to mount  Sikunder, he nearly dragged me to death.

 

To make matters worse, having admitted she couldn’t train Sikunder after all, she urged me instead to send him to her guru, a man who was prepared to charge me a hundred dollars an hour to further torture the poor animal in another round pen similar to the one seen in this photo.

 

I refused.

 

Nevertheless, because of her cruel technique, the kind hearted Sikunder cannot be mounted or ridden for the foreseeable future.

 

Starving Count Pompeii

Sadly, it was not only my horse who suffered. My wife’s Cossack stallion, Count Pompeii, is the flying mascot pictured on the spine of the 400 books published by the Guild.

 

This beautiful animal had been flown at great expense to France from America, arriving at the trainer’s farm in perfect condition. (Left)

Imagine our horror then, when we discovered that prior to our arrival, this legendary stallion had been systematically starved by the toxic trainer, and as one editor said, looked like a bag of bones. (Right)

 

Denouncing the Devil

Thus, having left America with the highest hopes, I found myself unexpectedly in the Devil’s grip. What’s worse, though I’ve documented centuries of equestrian travel, ours was the first journey to be sabotaged because the horses were brutally injured in this way.

 

With our dreams shattered and our horses in peril from the increasingly hostile trainer, we fled with our animals and were given protection and shelter by kind local horsemen who were horrified at what had been done to Sikunder and Pompeii.

 

Once we were safe, I sought advice and assistance. Emma Kurrels is an expert who helps horses injured by violent trainers. Before she made an emergency visit from Wales to France, Emma emailed to say, “The toxic trainer who wounded Sikunder has no idea what she is doing and should be stopped by the authorities - because what you describe is not training but ignorance personified. When working to regain trust your aim is NEVER to desensitise - but to allow the horse to gain confidence.”

 

Upon her arrival, Emma confirmed my fears. The memory of the abuse had left Sikunder temporarily unrideable.

 

The French Speak Out

Upon the advice of local authorities, I also contacted Jean Claude Barrey, a French academic who has authored dozens of books and scientific articles regarding equine behaviour. In one report, he wrote, “The practices of horse whisperers are not scientific, endorsing instead the fantasises found in children’s books. They use words like respect and trust, though they should be talking about alienation and brain washing. They denounce the predator/prey model, yet chase the horse like a hunter primate armed with a carrot stick. They ignore the fact that any submission achieved by a join up method is provoked by putting the horse into flight and then repeatedly blocking him. They are efficient manipulators of horses and humans, who don’t bother about the basis of their practices so long as they obtain rapid results. One could write a book about what they don’t know, yet teach with self-created diplomas.”

 

Monsieur Barrey concurred with Emma, saying that because Sikunder had been cruelly treated, he needed long term rest.

 

Misplaced Trust

 

The best term to describe what occurred to Sikunder is “iatrogenic” – i.e. harm caused by the healer.

 

And though I did what I thought was right – it was wrong !

 

Nevertheless, you must be asking yourself, why did I make this decision?

 

The answer is that I had a horse I loved, we were in trouble and I thought this person was a professional whom I could trust. That’s why I agreed to let a stranger handle Sikunder, even though I had never witnessed the round pen method.

 

What I could not know was that by placing Sikunder’s fate in the hands of this unlicensed and unprincipled person, I had involuntarily joined the legions of kind-hearted horse owners who had naively surrendered their animals, money and trust to a charlatan posing as a professional.

 

Plus, not only had the toxic trainer destroyed Sikunder, she also presented me with a fraudulent receipt. However, unlike the world’s veterinarians or farriers, the horse training industry lacks a regulatory body capable of investigating animal abuse or financial fraud. Thus, even though French authorities declared the receipt invalid, there was no international governing body to which I might complain. Though I had set off in search of mounted adventure, I had instead encountered an unprecedented type of equestrian adversity.

 

A History of Deception

What is especially concerning is that these sham trainers disguise their efforts by telling a naďve public they are actually doing a kindness to the horse by forcing it to endure such an unnatural methodology. What I witnessed in France is a perfect example of this abusive technique and its corrosive effect.

 

Yet it may surprise the so-called horse whisperers to learn that for the past seven years the Long Riders’ Guild Academic Foundation has been quietly gathering the largest collection of historical documentation connected to the history of horse taming and training. Armed with this treasure-trove of wisdom, the ground-breaking study serves as the basis of a new history book commissioned by the Long Riders’ Guild Press. Not only does it provide overwhelming evidence proving that there is a systematic history of deliberate deception, past and present, being practised among many of the horse trainers, the project will allow the reader to see how tired concepts and devious con games have been dusted off and used time and time again.

 

John Rarey - The Father of Fraud

One of the most startling discoveries came when the Long Riders’ Guild Academic Foundation uncovered proof that the most famous nineteenth century horse trainer, John Rarey, perpetrated a colossal hoax on Queen Victoria. This occurred when Rarey faked the horse taming demonstrations he gave before the queen, the Duke of Wellington and other trusting members of the English aristocracy. This pivotal deception marks the moment the horse whispering industry was born, and like its lawless offspring of today, that original event was cloaked in dishonesty.

 

According to legend, John Rarey supposedly tamed a man-killing horse named Cruiser before an astonished crowd. Yet thanks to a recently discovered interview given by Rarey’s partner, the LRG-AF learned the episode was faked so as to hoodwink the royal family. Instead of taming Cruiser, and other supposedly wild equines, Rarey tied their legs up, threw them onto their sides, then left them to suffer overnight. Thus, instead of being kind to horses, Rarey’s hitherto secret method sometimes deprived the strongest willed animals of sleep and rest for up to two weeks prior to his demonstrations so as to completely crush the animal’s spirit.

 

Having become a wealthy man in England thanks to his dishonest tactics, Rarey shipped the supposedly once wild Cruiser back to America, as seen in this photograph. There the unscrupulous American, showed a gullible public an iron muzzle which Rarey claimed Cruiser had worn. Yet in the newly discovered interview, Rarey’s partner admitted, “That was all advertising deception. There was no muzzle at all on him.”

 

A Legacy of Deceit

Rarey understood that, like today’s horse owners, everyday people are anxious to help their horses. Thus his popular appeal grew to such a level that after his return from Europe his American lectures were sold out. Thus it was John Rarey who made two critically important discoveries which are still being exploited by equestrian charlatans today.

 

One, Rarey  was the first to use a type of emotional con game known as affinity fraud, which relies on drawing in at least one prominent figure, so as to deceive the general public. For example, once Rarey received Queen Victoria’s endorsement, two thousand English nobles paid the American ten guineas each to be cheated, and audiences at the Crystal Palace averaged 8,000 a night. Consequently Rarey misused the monarch’s trust to orchestrate the world’s original successful equestrian media campaign, thereby becoming the first master of self-promotion.

 

And two, Rarey understood the immense financial potential involved in his work. We must remember that in an age when everything was powered by horses, including the national defence and all major land transport, the knowledge of how to handle horses was considered of extreme personal and national importance. This fact is confirmed by the discovery that Rarey offered to sell his equestrian secrets to the French government for $25,000, a sum nearing 25 million dollars in today’s market.

 

Hoodwinking the Public – Now and Then

An English Queen, an American horse whisperer and questionable equestrian training methods. Sound familiar?

It should, because the principles are still the same. Find a famous person. Get them to endorse you. Then use their testimonial to entice the public into trusting you, all the while peddling pseudo science and emotional trigger words. Rarey’s original technique was so successful that it was repeated by all of his nineteenth century successors, men who glorified in calling themselves Professor This or That. The same technique is still being practised today by the stars of the animal entertainment industry commonly known as horse whisperers.

Moreover, also like Rarey, the toxic trainer who injured Sikunder uses testimonials to lure in the unwitting onto her website and to her clinics.

Money not Horses

But this loyalty to money is nothing new. It was revealed in print for the first time back in the 1890s when Britain’s greatest equestrian academic, Captain Horace Hayes (pictured left), went to London to meet the infamous American horse tamer known as Professor Sample.

 

Silas Sample claimed to have invented a horse taming machine designed to spin four wild horses at once into a state of submission. The machine was a fraud and so was the so-called Professor.

 

When they met in London, before Captain Hayes could ask a single question, Sample said, “I don’t care what you know about horses. What I want to know is how much money you made last year.”

 

Sadly, this philosophy of greed is still prevalent, as demonstrated in a recent interview when the most infamous American member of this privileged priesthood was quoted as saying, “A horseman’s talent is reflected in his bank account.”

 

Thus throughout history, far too many horse trainers have based their actions on self-interest.

 

Moral concerns

Horses suffer without fault or choice. Or is it our fault and our choice?

For at least 6,000 years humans have had a fraught relationship with horses. They are our companions and our chattel. We love them and cage them, admire them and abuse them.

We cloak our sense of superior species chauvinism by repeating the old lie that horses are ours to do with as we please because they don’t suffer the way we do, don’t think in a significant manner, don’t worry or love, have no sense of the future or their own mortality.

What we love to forget is that the ability to suffer is a great cross-species leveller and by allowing cruel training to continue without any legal safeguards we are aiding and abetting those who torture our horses and pretend to call it education.

 

Sikunder

As any Long Rider will tell you, there is a timeless mystery involved with the duality of horses and humans. That’s why, when my dreams of making the first World Ride were suddenly facing a tragic and premature demise, I found myself seeking the solace of an unexpected teacher – Sikunder.

This was my fifth equestrian expedition and though Basha and I are two of the most experienced equestrian explorers alive today, neither of us have ever encountered this unprecedented situation, wherein someone effectively derailed an equestrian journey through gross neglect and deliberate mischief.

Yet, I asked myself, what happens when you remove the lyrical aspects of Sikunder’s life? What could I do to those who robbed him and other horses of their moments of majesty?

You have to respect the horse, as there is no dialogue, only silence, which leads to a bond between horses and humans who find a kindred spirit. Thankfully, after weeks of patience, this compassionate horse is beginning to make emotional progress.

Meanwhile, though his actions indicate that he harbours no sense of recrimination, I would like to believe that Sikunder knows I did not intentionally cause him pain. Perhaps in his wisdom, he will someday forgive me for what I allowed to occur?

 

Profits before Principles

Yet while I struggle, recent experiences prove that equestrian hypocrisy watches for an opportunity to turn any event to its own advantage.

Every time we surrender to evil, we encourage it. When government retreats, crime fills the space. Though history proves that there are countless worthy equestrian trainers, when it comes to the super-stars of the horse whispering entertainment industry, fame matters more than talent. Regardless of where they pitch their tent, they speak the language of money. Their loyalty is to profits, not principles. They should not be our teachers.

Nevertheless, during the last decade there has been an alarming expansion of such unlicensed individuals who claim to be responsible equine trainers. By attending a clinic, watching videos, or even claiming to be divinely guided, these people can tell a trusting public that they are knowledgeable horse trainers.

This is amazing when you consider how strict regulations are for example in England, as ironically, according to Britain’s 1996 Veterinary Surgeons Act, by law any therapist treating an animal, especially one receiving money for that treatment, must have the prior written consent of the owner’s veterinarian surgeon.

Yet will anyone have the courage to call the police and put this law in effect in October? That’s when one of America’s most famous horse whisperers will ignore this existing English legislation before another packed audience. Will someone also please remind the British authorities that the English organization DEFRA, which oversees rural affairs, has long called for the urgent regulation of unlicensed trainers, who champion their own economic interest rather than the welfare of the horse.

Stop Pretending – Start Legislating

Sadly, the equine trainers are not required to obtain any type of official training, nor are they regulated by any governmental overseers. The result is that horses like Sikunder are routinely destroyed by unscrupulous trainers.

These people are on a par with carnival con men selling phoney medicine.  Yet whereas those cruel charlatans have been regulated out of business, the horse whisperers continue to act as though they are above the law of every nation. That’s why it is time to stop pretending and start legislating, because, as Sikunder proves, there is an urgent need to regulate this lawless industry.

So the LRG-AF is calling for the formation of an international alliance of horse owners, ethical horse trainers, academic experts and national governments all working to halt these so-called healers who are hurting our horses.

 

United Action

It may be true that a man can only see up to the horizon of his own life and that good ideas struggle to find support. In spite of such limitations what is certain is that only an unprecedented alliance of knowledge and virtue can dispel this entrenched evil.

 

Luckily a similar movement is already afoot in Britain, where the Animal Behaviour and Training Council is working with the RSPCA to regulate dog training. This action is being taken because unscrupulous dog trainers are relying on flawed research to justify their methods, all the while enriching themselves at the expense of our animals. Likewise, horse owners need to muster their courage and call for global change.

 

Nor is the criticism confined to the mounted community, as scientists around the world have been speaking out for years. Sadly these experts have been effectively ignored by a subservient equestrian press. This came about in the late 1990s when the world’s most infamous horse whisperer lodged a ten million dollar lawsuit against an American horse magazine which had dared to investigate a host of scandals attached to his personal life and public actions. Though the magazine’s story was deemed to be accurate, the legal action was settled out of court, with both parties agreeing not to reveal any details of the case. As a result, the mere threat of being sued has frozen the editorial blood of the corporate-owned horse magazines. Predictably, this resulted in the animal entertainment stars being allowed to run rough shod over the public, all the while the truth was suppressed or ignored by weak-willed editors, timid journalists and corrupting advertisers who believe it is better to make money than rock the boat with the truth.

 

That is why it is vitally important that the equestrian press, which has long been in thrall to these hucksters in cravats and cowboy hats, needs to show their readers they’ve regained their editorial nerve and publish investigative reports detailing how the equestrian equivalent of blood diamonds has tainted the horse world.

 

Science not Superstition

Nevertheless the International Society for Equitation Science is one such group which has adopted ethical guidelines for the objective study of equine training. These  experts, who are critical of the fear-inducing practices used by unlicensed horse whisperers, need to encourage a new sense of social responsibility and share their findings without any further delay.

 

Dr. Debbie Goodwin, who is the President of the International Society of Equitation Science, warned, “When training fails, horses suffer and may pay the ultimate penalty with their lives. They can do nothing to remedy this situation. That responsibility is ours.”

 

Governments, who remain averse to risk and have allowed the horse world to become a battleground of doubt, must  pass laws which regulate the trainers just as veterinarians and farriers currently do.

 

And legitimate horse trainers need to lead this reform, thereby proving they prize equestrian ethics and personal compassion before profits.

 

Sikunder’s Law – An Appeal for Equestrian Justice

The LRG-AF isn’t singling out any specific horse whisperer or trainer for investigation We are instead seeking the immediate reformation of this entire chaotic and dangerous industry.

 

Thus, armed with the evidence of how these predatory humans are harming horses, bewitching the public and avoiding governmental controls, the LRG-AF is calling for the creation of a legal Code of Conduct for horse trainers, as well as the passing of Sikunder’s Law, which would make it illegal for horses to be cruelly treated while being trained.

 

It takes courage to stand up for our horses but tragedy can be turned to triumph if Sikunder’s Law is passed.

 

Finally – A Word on the World Ride

There are rhythms to a man’s life.

 

Thus in the beginning it was all saddles and hardship for me. But for the past ten years I have been the chronicler of my tribe, a witness, a story teller. That’s why I woke up one morning and mistakenly said, “World, I know you. You hold no more surprises.”

 

I had forgotten that equestrian travel isn’t akin to enclosing yourself in a flying machine that transports one like a lump of pedestrian meat to a distant beach. In contrast, as my recent experience proves, there is no guarantee of glory or even arrival when you swing into the saddle and set your eyes on a distant horizon.

 

Shackleton’s Compass

Consequently when we found Pompeii starved and Sikunder unrideable, when our hopes were shattered and our once proud expedition struggling to survive, I remembered Sir Ernest Shackleton, the extraordinary polar explorer who has so inspired my life.

 

Before I left London, Shackleton’s granddaughter granted me the rare privilege of holding the brass compass used by this greatest of explorers during his journey across Antarctica. Thankfully, when I did, I committed to memory Shackleton’s belief that blows which don’t break your back, strengthen it.

 

So it came to pass that when my life had reached its lowest ebb at that horrible French farm, I asked myself how Shackleton, who had survived more difficult, unjust and seemingly impossible challenges, would have reacted? Patience, love, generosity, endurance, humour, compassion and of course bravery, got him through. That’s when I knew that we too had to hold on, for having already overcome so many challenges to get this far, surely fate would loosen her bitter grip and allow us to ride on soon?

 

Ride or Die

More than half of all humans now live in cities. Yet we Long Riders are a solitary breed. That’s why though the Guild has expanded into forty-three countries, there are still so few of us, for ours are restless souls.

 

Yet optimism rests at our very core and a light remains shining within Basha and me which makes us want to explore the world around us.

 

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