Trails and Borders
Long Rider Jeremy James (above) studies his maps intently, relying on traditional methods to plot his course from Turkey to Wales in 1987.
Gone are the days when a brave soul could swing into the saddle and canter along the ancient Equestrian Equator that once stretched across the Central Asian Steppes. Having summoned up the courage to make an equestrian journey, the first problem many modern Long Riders encounter is where to ride.
We have an old joke at The Long Riders’ Guild. While it’s true that the world’s equestrian explorers are participating in a Bronze Age activity, Members of the Guild are always eager to incorporate the latest 21st century technological advance into our equestrian journeys. Accordingly, the earth’s mounted explorers have long been using solar power, mobile telephones, digital imaging and internet advantages. This revolutionary adaptation of past and present often leads the Guild to tell reporters that being a Long Rider is a stunning mixture of “Genghis Khan meets the Matrix.”
An example of this mixture of saddle leather and satellite technology occurred in 2007 when Jeremy James used an early version of Google Earth.
“For a traveller on horseback Google Earth is of incredible value because it can provide an accurate topographical view of the landscape. This enables a Long Rider to see the terrain you will cross before you set out, including roads, rivers, motorways, mountains, villages, borders, tracks and paths.”
Using that technology, Jeremy was able to study the route he had taken during his ride from Turkey to Wales in 1988.
“I could see at an instant how badly wrong I went and where I should have gone instead,” Jeremy wrote.
The result, Jeremy believed, “could revolutionize the concept of equestrian travel and bring it slap-bang into the 21st century by demonstrating that anywhere can be safely mapped for horses.”
Jeremy’s prediction has proved to be correct. In the intervening years, equestrian travellers have used Google Earth to scout their Long Rider Routes. However other important developments have also been achieved.
Constructing a Social Network
Planning to undertake a long ride can initially be a very daunting proposition, especially if you are travelling in a foreign country where the weather, terrain, roads, traffic, even the law and the culture may all be alien. First, familiarise yourself with the terrain on your chosen route.
Depending upon what country you ride in, it also helps to create a support network prior to departure. Using the internet, locate the contact details for towns along the way. Either call or email the mayor’s office, the Chamber of Commerce, tourism office, county sheriff or a local tack shop. Explain your travel plans and ask if they know of somewhere you can stay around a certain date.
Threats to Travel
Every year that passes strengthens the power of the mechanical age and weakens the traditional rights of horse owners, riders and travellers.
North America is experiencing a variety of troubles.
The national government of Canada was inspired by Australia's BNT Trail to create a trail across their own country. But the trail was never officially completed and antagonism is now growing against horse travellers. The Guild has been informed that Canadian Conservation Officers are increasingly using stringent new Wildlife Park Acts to either prohibit the travellers from entering the national parks or escorting them out.
In the United States the rights of equestrian travellers are under threat from various repressive laws, antagonistic government agents and official neglect.
Long Rider Hetty Dutra recently set off to ride from Idaho to Canada along the famous Nez Perce Trail. Hetty had previously ridden the entire length of this trail twenty years before. She informed the Guild that in the intervening years this part of America's equestrian history has almost been destroyed by complete neglect.
Hetty wrote, "With the exception of roads and trails the cattlemen use, the trails are not maintained at all. I was not able to find the Cactus Mountain segment of the Nez Perce Trail in Oregon, and the General Howard Ridge section is impassable due to rain and a fire that left scads of dead trees fallen across the trail. You'd have to take a chain saw with you to get through. I got permission to go up Rocky Canyon, but it was so choked with wild growth that I had to dig rocks and dirt out with my hands in order to get my horses through it!"
Badly maintained trails are not the only problems being encountered by Americans.
The national parks are shutting their gates to horse riders and travellers. One case is the famous Yellowstone National Park, which recently refused a Long Rider permission to ride her horse into the park and threatened her with arrest if she tried to spend the night in the park with her horses.
Another Long Rider, Jayme Feary, wrote to the Guild to report on how the national government is trying to force horse travellers to hire a "guide" for the privilege of riding in national parks.
That is not the only problem faced by Americans.
In 2014 an elderly man was passing through a small California town with his mules when he was stopped by local police. When they realized that he had not actually broken any laws, the authorities seized the rider and took him to a local mental hospital for "observation."
When people are considered "crazy" just because they want to ride their horse and enjoy Nature, then we are all in danger of losing our traditional equestrian liberties.
The Guild also monitors the difficulties Long Riders encounter at increasingly-hostile international borders.
Latin America presents numerous challenges.
Peru has erected an artificial barrier to horse travel. Venezuela has created laws which make it nearly impossible for a Long Rider to cross that border. The border between Chile and Argentina remains closed to equestrian travellers.
Panama already had a bad reputation for unfairly halting horse travellers from riding either north or south. In one particularly infamous incident, Panamanian authorities threatened to shoot the horses belonging to French Long Rider Jean Francois Ballereau, if they were unloaded from the plane which had just brought them from Ecuador.
As a result of Panama’s antagonism, horse travel between countries in Latin America is in an alarming state; and equestrian journeys, like the historic ride from Patagonia to Alaska finished in 2015 by German Long Rider Günter Wamser, may become a thing of the past.
Filipe Leite, the Long Rider who travelled from Canada to Brazil, was the most recent victim of Panama’s hostility. He was halted at the border of Costa Rica and Panama in 2014. In his alarming article, “Nightmare at the Border,” Filipe explains how crossing international boundaries was the most difficult hazard he faced during his 10,000 kilometre ride through nine countries.
Knowledge of cross-border troubles has affected travellers in other parts of the world too. For example English Long Rider Michael Pugh, who rode from Russia to Romania in 2014, made arrangements to use different teams of horses in each country, so as to avoid interference from border officials.
Italian Long Riders Dario Masarotti and Antonietta Spizzo have spent years riding in Europe and Russia. They have shared valuable advice on how Long Riders can improve their chances of success at a border crossing.
Protecting Our Endangered Heritage
In 2012 the Guild joined forces with the German based VFD to encourage travelling with horses throughout Europe. The historic “Charter of Rights” created by the two organisations demonstrates how horse-humans from various parts of Europe have transcended the narrow definitions of "nationalism" and have joined forces to protect mankind's precious equestrian heritage.
Long Riders are encouraged to sign and support this important document.
To counteract growing governmental antagonism, the Long Riders’ Guild actively supports the protection of equestrian trails around the globe.
Long Rider Ed Anderson began this special programme in 2010 when he published potentially life-saving wisdom for those planning to ride the Pacific Coast Trail, which runs from the Mexican to the Canadian borders through some of the United States' most challenging mountain terrain.
As information becomes available, the Guild will publish information gathered by Long Riders who have ridden Australia’s Bicentennial National Trail, America’s Continental Divide Trail, Spain’s Way of St. James, France’s D'Artagnan Trail, Europe’s Iron Curtain Trail and other verified equestrian trails around the world.
While those trails have all been successfully travelled by Long Riders, a number of new trails are being used by pedestrian hikers but have not yet been proven to be horse-friendly. These include the American Discovery Trail, Canada’s Great Divide Trail, the Trans-Canadian Trail, and the Greater Patagonian Trail which has been created in Chile. Long Riders are urged to use caution with these trails.
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