The Long Riders' Guild

Stories from the Road

 

Asia

Canadian Long Rider Bonnie Folkins first travelled to western Mongolia in 2007, where she discovered a Kazakh minority living in the remote Altai Mountains. She discovered that the Kazakhs were not only still mounted, they had also retained their ancient tribal custom of hunting wolves in winter with the help of specially trained golden eagles. The Kazakh eagle hunter, Dalaikhan (above), is one of the nomads Bonnie photographed. Photo copyright Bonnie Folkins.

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Journey to the Western Regions
This is the oldest known example of a Story from the Road. In 1414 a Chinese diplomat named Chen Cheng was ordered by Emperor Yongle to undertake a hazardous equestrian journey to the distant city of Herat. Located in today’s modern Afghanistan, Herat was then the capital of the Timurid empire. Chen Cheng’s mission was to deliver precious Chinese silks to Emperor Shahrukh. In exchange, the Chinese Long Rider was ordered to obtain a large herd of the valuable horses used by Shahrukh’s legendary mounted archers.  Though a handful of scholars were aware of Chen Cheng’s journey, Dr. Sally Church completed the first translation of the Long Rider’s diary. The result is a day to day account which has the ring of authenticity about it. Chen Cheng, runs into many problems, all of which he records. While these include snow storms and bad trails, one of the most telling is the brief account of how the horses drown trying to cross the river.  (PDF)

 

Samurai Warrior – Broken Heart
The most noted Japanese Long Rider was Baron Yasumasa Fukushima. This descendant of a noble Samurai family was sent to Berlin, Germany on military duty in 1892. When the time came to return home, the Japanese horseman elected to ride his horse Gaisen, (Triumphant Return) 14,000 kilometres from Berlin to Tokyo. A fellow soldier, General Rafael de Nogales, described the equestrian explorer thus, "Fukushima’s courage, drive and exuberant cheerfulness were amazing.  For a man like this nothing was impossible." Yet even Samurai warriors must suffer emotional hardships on the long grey road, as is evidenced by the heart-breaking account the Baron wrote regarding the loss of his beloved horse, Gaisen.

 

Riding Across Korea
Though Korea is now separated into two hostile nations, in 1894 it was a kingdom where ancient customs still held sway. Having already ridden in Hawaii, Persia, Japan and Tibet, Isabella Bird was determined to put her saddle on one of Korea’s notoriously savage horses and set off in search of more adventures.  The first woman to be made a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, and one of the most celebrated travel writers of the 19th century, Bird’s account of Riding Across Korea provides a glimpse into a lost age.

 

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My Rascal of a Pony
Ask any Long Rider and they will tell you that equestrian journeys have a way of hardening your soul against adversity. You learn to dig down and push on when your road is a long one. This type of travel requires a special type of person, one who wishes to know the world intimately and to judge other people by first-hand experience. Though English Long Rider George Younghusband maintained a modest demeanour in this story, taken from his book "Eighteen Hundred Miles on a Burmese Pony", he was anything but the "ordinary British Subaltern" as he described himself. The small equestrian travel book he wrote at the conclusion of this trip did not profess to be any sort of literary classic. It was, like George, a modest, faithful, and cheerful account of new countries encountered with the iron-grey pony he rode to Siam in 1897.

 

Long Riders on the Roof of the World
In spite of its peaceful reputation Tibet has the dubious honour of being the only country the Guild is aware of where Long Riders were repeatedly murdered.  A special study, investigating Tibetan equestrian travel history in the 19th and 20th centuries, demonstrates some of the most astonishing and dangerous horse journeys ever undertaken came to tragic conclusions in what was once known as “the hermit kingdom.”

 

A Caravan Journey Across Tibet
In 1940, Thubten Jigme Norbu, oldest brother of the Dalai Lama and himself a reincarnated lama, wanted to travel to Lhasa to visit his brother. He asked his father's permission several times, meanwhile making the wildest plans to travel to Tibet on his own. Eventually his father sent permission, and Norbu's retinue plunged into preparations for the long journey to Lhasa. This story recounts the four-month caravan trip, most of it through empty and debatable lands, undertaken by the Tibetan Long Rider.

 

Across Tibet from India to China
In the Spring of 1942, when the war looked grimmer day by day to the Allies, and the Burma Road was lost, Count Ilia Tolstoy was given the assignment of crossing Tibet from India to China.  Armed with a letter and precious gifts from President Franklin D. Roosevelt to the Dalai Lama, Tolstoy and his companion, Captain Brooke Dolan, crossed Tibet. Although they were treated like royalty, there was always the threat of bandits lurking in the dangerous terrain.

 

To Save a Country
The Khamba warlord in Tibet had given George Patterson a deadly mission - carry word to the outside world that the Chinese Communists were about to secretly invade the mountain kingdom. The problem was that the winter of 1949 had turned the mighty Himalayas into a wall of ice and the only trail leading to India had never been travelled by horsemen! Could the Scottish Long Rider and his horse survive the snow covered journey and bring back help to his adopted homeland?

 

Death in Tibet
In 1950, CIA agent Douglas MacKiernan (left) and his young friend, former student turned espionage agent, Frank Bessec, found themselves being hunted across the Takla Makan desert by armed Chinese communists.  Their daring horseback escape across Western China and into Tibet, which they thought had led them to safety, ended in tragedy.  After fifty years, the Top Secret diary which Bessec kept during this amazing equestrian journey has been declassified by the American State Department and is offered to the public for the first time by The Long Riders' Guild.

 

Escape Across Tibet
In 2002, after the death of his spiritual advisor, New Zealand Long Rider Ian Robinson vowed to deliver his mentor’s ashes to Mount Kailas, Tibet's most sacred mountain.  Fighting cold, exhaustion and runaway horses, he camped in high mountains with wolves, dicing with the elements and altitude sickness. Then things really got bad. Ian was pursued across Tibet for three weeks by Chinese police intent on capturing and expelling the Long Rider.

 

Lasting Impressions – Mongolia from the Saddle
Kathrin Nienhaus made a series of accurate observations when she rode across part of Mongolia in 2004. Horses, nomad life, lack of privacy, all these and many more are recounted in her article.

 

Long Ride in Central Asia
In 2007 French Long Rider Nicholas Ducret left on an equestrian journey. His intention was to cross Central Asia from Kazakhstan to Afghanistan. After months of hard travelling, he reached Kabul.

 

Riding with the Eagle Hunters in Mongolia
Beginning in 2008, Canadian Long Rider Bonnie Folkins’ mission was to use her horse and camera to arrive at a deeper understanding of Central Asia’s remaining nomads. Though she has travelled and photographed in Italy, India, Australia and Latin America, the impassioned Long Rider has been repeatedly drawn back to the land of horses and free riders.  In this interview, Bonnie explains her quest to understand nomadic culture.

 

Colic in Mongolian Horses
Taking a keen interest in the natural world is one of the treasured traditions of equestrian explorers. Carl Linnaeus, who devised the system used to classify all living beings, rode across Lapland in 1732. Before he wrote his famous book, Charles Darwin rode in South America, Australia and Africa. British Long Riders Tim Mullen and Sam Southey also rode in search of answers. During their journey across Mongolia in 2013 they undertook a survey of the incidences of colic among Mongol Horses. The first “Mongol Colic Study” reveals surprising discoveries.

 

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