The Long Riders' Guild

In Search of The Long Quiet

Basha O'Reilly FRGS

 

Tim Cope was the first Long Rider to use a satellite telephone. When his journey from Mongolia to Hungary was completed, he realised that his telephone represented a special kind of undetected threat.

All brave souls who venture deep into the unknown sooner or later make this discovery: there are two worlds; the physical world which can be mapped and that other world which lies just beyond the edge of everyday events.

Horace, the Roman poet, remarked more than 2,000 years ago: "They change their climate, not their soul, who rush across the sea."

DC Vision, a Founding Member of the Long Riders Guild, made a 14,000 mile ride in the USA. This mounted philosopher knew there was more to a journey than mere miles. He wisely said, “They either get it in ten miles or they never get it at all.”

What he was referring to is known as the Long Quiet.

Equestrian travel writers all too often focus on the external details. They tell you how to hobble your horse or which kind of saddle to use. While it is important to understand the mechanics of equestrian travel, these authors neglect to acknowledge the mystery which inspires so many people to undertake a Long Ride.

There have always been a few people who delight in overcoming hazards. Yet the majority of equestrian travellers do not set out in search of danger. Most of them are seeking the serenity which comes from riding through the countryside. The special silent inter-species relationship between horse and human enables us to venture beyond geography and to travel into an unknown country – ourselves.

Those who have discovered the Long Quiet have influenced events, literature and history.

Jonathan Swift is famous because he was the author of Gulliver’s Travels.

He wrote, “Vision is the art of seeing things invisible.”

What no one remembers is the equestrian event which inspired this wisdom.

Swift was a Historical Long Rider whose journey across Ireland inspired him to write Gulliver’s Travels.  Today a sanitised version of the original book is available as a sweet children’s story.  What is forgotten is that Swift’s original story was a bitter political satire which outraged the English establishment.

Most modern readers only remember the cute little people known as Lilliputians. What commercial publishers have long suppressed was the last of Gulliver’s adventures, wherein Swift recounts the tale of the talking horses.  It turns man's definition of himself on its head.

To draw attention to the evils of materialism and elitism, Swift had Gulliver visit an unknown island inhabited by two kinds of creatures. The naked, selfish, savage and warlike humans were known as Yahoos (yahous).  It was the horses known as the Houyhnhnms who enjoyed a peaceful society based upon reason.

Riding across Ireland on his beloved mare in 1725, travelling for long periods of time in peace and silence, inspired Swift to invent a land where talking horses were "the perfection of nature”.

It was the horses known as the Houyhnhnms who enjoyed a peaceful society based upon reason. Swift invented a land where talking horses were "the perfection of nature".

Had the author been walking or travelling in a coach, these profound ideas would probably never have come to him.

Nor was the impact of the Long Quiet restricted to literature; it is also linked to one of the greatest scientists of all time.

Charles Darwin led a life whose resonance is still being felt around the globe. It goes against the grain of common perception to think of this scientific titan galloping over the pampas of Argentina, exploring volcanic islands on horseback, and lying down to sleep on the bosom of the earth with his horse nearby.

Yet Darwin's diaries tell the story of not just a naturalist exploring the world searching for answers, they also reveal the inner man, the Long Rider who revelled in the freedom of riding on three continents, South America, Australia, and Africa.

Darwin wrote of "The pleasure of living in the open air with the sky for a roof and the ground for a table."

The young scientist discovered that long hours spent in the gentle rhythm of the saddle brought about unexpected ideas. Did his inner journey provide a sense of tranquillity that led to his reconsideration of science and evolution?

This introspection has practical applications, too.

More recently, the American Long Rider Len Brown also found inspiration in the Long Quiet. 

While he was riding across the United States in 1982, Len wondered how he could make his horse more comfortable. He told the LRG that it was the hours spent in quiet contemplation that inspired him to invent the now-famous Orthoflex saddle.

There are many more examples which prove the power of the Long Quiet.

You don’t have to be a talented author, a scientific genius or an inspired inventor to connect with this elusive part of the equestrian travel experience. Journeying through the countryside opens our hearts and souls to another world which lies beyond the accumulation of mere miles.

But a new kind of threat is making it harder than ever for equestrian travellers to connect with this imperceptible personal space.

These days most of us are assaulted by information during our waking hours. Television, radio, the Internet, mobile phones, SMS, Facebook, Twitter – they all conspire against tranquillity.

People addicted to social media, even if they ride a million miles, will never understand or attain the Long Quiet. 

Some equestrian travellers like these Mongols take the noise with them; they are so addicted to social networking that they are literally unable to disconnect themselves.

The British journalist, George Monbiot, wrote: "If you are too well connected, you stop thinking. The clamour, the immediacy, the tendency to absorb other people's thoughts, interrupt the deep abstraction required to find your own way.”

Australian Tim Cope learned the truth of that statement in 2003 when he set off to make an equestrian journey from Mongolia to Hungary. During the course of his 10 000 kilometre trip Tim became the first Long Rider to use a satellite phone.

While writing his book earlier this year, Tim realised that the phone represented a special type of undetected threat.

Tim wrote, “The phone could so easily become a crutch. I felt it was a disadvantage when it allowed me to vent and share feelings in moments of challenge that I would have otherwise had to overcome alone.”

Human beings are social creatures.  When confronted with a challenge, they have a natural tendency to search for solace from others. The most terrifying test most people ever face is to be in absolute isolation. Yet it is when you are alone, with no witnesses, that you start to learn about yourself.

Modern intrusions now tempt and threaten to undermine the tranquillity of the traveller. To appreciate how much communications have changed we must look to Antarctica for answers.

In the past, explorers underwent incredible hardships but were forced by a lack of technology to maintain a stoic silence.

In 1911 Sir Ernest Shackleton attempted to reach the South Pole using horses.  After that journey failed, he planned to make the first transcontinental crossing of Antarctica in 1914.  Once again, bad luck visited his expedition.

The Irish explorer’s ship was trapped in the ice and sank off the coast of Antarctica. For the next two years Shackleton and his men endured unimaginable hardship, starvation and suffering. Meanwhile, everyone in London assumed they were dead.

At first they drifted helplessly on an iceberg. Eventually they were able to escape and, using the ship’s lifeboats, miraculously succeeded in reaching an uninhabited rock known as Elephant Island. Isolated and marooned, they might as well have been on the far side of the moon.

Facing certain starvation, Shackleton took five men and set out in one of the small boats to seek help. After one of the most gruelling voyages in history, the men reached the tiny whaling station on South Georgia Island.

Shackleton and his crew had been "alone" on the ice from 1914-16, unable to communicate with the outside world.  His first question was “Who won the war?” He was shocked to discover the First World War was still raging in Europe.

Times and equestrian travel have changed dramatically since Shackleton returned. Technology now exists which permits a traveller to send daily updates of their difficulties, dangers and triumphs. This means that travellers are no longer in danger of being marooned. Yet the innovations which enable them to call for help in the case of an emergency are often abused on a daily basis.

The idea of a clinical disorder of internet addiction was first mooted in the 90s and is now regularly treated by doctors on both sides of the Atlantic. Attention is now shifting from compulsive internet surfing to the effects of the all-pervasive demands that our phones, laptops, tablets and computers are making on us.

The problem of electronic intrusion has also entered the world of equestrian travel.

Some equestrian travellers take the noise with them; they are so addicted to social networking that they are literally unable to disconnect themselves.

One recent example is a young man on a horse journey who updates his blog several times a day and constantly posts photographs of himself on Facebook.  He also uploads videos of his ‘adventures’ onto the Internet and has sent more than 7000 ‘Tweets’ in just a few months.

Parts of the problem are connected to his youth. At the age of 26 he cannot imagine life without the Internet and mobile telephones. Like many young people, the idea of being out of touch for any length of time is terrifying.

Long Rider Sea-G-Ryder is somewhere in the middle of the United States, and emerges from the countryside only occasionally to update her blog.  Sea recently gave a talk to a local school.

“One student asked how I manage to find time to do so many things in my life. My reply silenced the class: I told them I don’t watch TV.  I don’t spend time surfing the internet. I don’t text. I don’t play video games. They looked at me in disbelief. “

Sea continued: “For me, the computer is a highly addictive, mind and personality altering drug. When I’m spending a lot of time with my computer I’m less patient with people and my attention span is shorter in general”.

In addition, social media drives a wedge between you and the horse. He doesn’t inhabit, understand, or need the stimulus provided by an electronic device. He represents wind, weather, starlight and freedom.

This rejection of intrusive social media has been embraced by the North American Long Riders known as “Mountain Men”.

The original mountain men were fur trappers who lived and rode in the North American Rocky Mountains from 1810 to the 1840s. The search for furs required them to spend most of the year alone in the wilderness.

Today’s “Mountain Men” have normal jobs and families, but they spend time in the wilds with their horses. Like their ancestors they wear buckskins, carry muzzle-loader rifles, ride through remote country and revel in the silence they find in the wilderness.

Hawk Hurst and Clay Marshall are mountain men Long Riders who set out to make a ride from Mexico to Canada in 2012.  Soon after he began, Clay noted in his diary, “I love the feel of leather on my skin and a horse underneath me, packing everything I need to live and survive”.

Long Rider Hawk Hurst discovered that the solitude of a man and his horse is incredibly peaceful and invigorating.

After the journey was completed, Clay realised that, “There’s something to be said about the solitude of just a man and his horse. It is incredibly peaceful and invigorating . . . Some time in the future I look forward to taking my child out on a horse trek. What better way to get a kid away from the television and computer, to get them in touch with the outdoors, to instil self-confidence, to teach them to respect nature, to use what they have and not take modern conveniences for granted.”

In addition to trespassing on your serenity, an addiction to social media can put an equestrian traveller’s life at risk. When you are unwise enough to reveal every detail of your journey, you don't get to select the people who pay attention.

The first radio used in equestrian travel was taken into the Rockies in 1923. Modern communications now threaten to invade the traveller’s peace of mind.

Last summer an American woman rowing 1,500 miles to raise money for charity was sexually assaulted during her journey. When the rapist broke into her boat, he gloated by calling her by name. Police believe her attacker tracked her movements through her blog and Facebook.

As Shackleton proves, technology can serve and save us. Yet we should never forget the internal discoveries made by Swift and Darwin. Even today, modern Long Riders are uncovering secrets in their own lives which would be impossible to find elsewhere.

Pete Langford is currently riding through both islands of New Zealand.  After months spent alone in the wilderness, he sent this message to the LRG.

“I have found clarity where I didn't even know I was looking for it.”

We live in a new age. Thanks to social media like Facebook, it is easy to discover the hidden secrets of total strangers who lack the desire and discipline to retain a sense of dignity and mystery about their lives.

One of the Founder Members of the LRG, French Long Rider Gérard Barré, foresaw this danger. In 2000 he warned, “To cover miles for the sake of covering miles does not allow for contemplation, except the study of the map, the watch and the GPS”.   

What is important, Gérard wrote, is not the distance you ride. It is the emergence of your spirit.

One need not ride across the lonely steppes of Central Asia like Tim Cope did or venture into the remote Rocky Mountains like Clay Marshal. To find the Long Quiet one must swing into the saddle, disconnect from distractions, venture into Nature and explore one’s own soul.

The information in this article is a very small extract from the chapter on 'The Long Quiet' which will appear in the forthcoming “Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration” by CuChullaine O’Reilly.

 

Copyright (c) 2014 Basha O'Reilly

 


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