The Long Riders' Guild

That rare thing, the Road Horse

by Basha O'Reilly FRGS


The Romans had different categories of horses; venedi for hunting, cantherii for pleasure riding and itinerarii for travel.

 In 1889, the legendary Cossack Long Rider, Lieutenant Peshkov, rode his Yakut pony, Seriy, an average of thirty-eight miles a day during their 6,000 mile journey from Blagoveshchensk, Siberia to St. Petersburg, Russia.

Can there really be a dramatic difference between a hard-working horse and one who is slightly ridden? Long Rider Roger Pocock proved it at the dawning of the First World War.


With the Kaiserís German cavalry obviously preparing for combat, this intrepid equestrian traveller urged the British government to take equestrian action. For the purpose of isolating the several factors in horsemanship, Pocock managed to organize a series of tests on English highways. In each test two groups of four horsemen apiece, working in rivalry, rode fifty miles on a Saturday, then back again on the Sunday. Afterwards a veterinary surgeon reported that all of the working horses, who normally spent their days drawing Londonís wagons and cabs, used by Pocockís riders finished fresh and on time but the pleasure horses broke down and had to come home by train.


What is a Road Horse?


The term ďRoad HorseĒ was once commonly used to describe an equine capable of successfully completing extended journeys under a variety of conditions, across any type of country, in any type of weather.


In 1847, author and equine travel expert, Rollo Springfield defined such an animal.


ďThe Road Horse is a strong, vigorous, active kind, capable of enduring great hardship; its stature rather low, seldom exceeding fifteen hands; the body round and compact; its limbs strong,Ē Springfield wrote, then went on to say, ďsadly this breed has of late been neglected by those preferring fashion instead of utility.Ē


Basic requirements donít change. In 1847, English author, Rollo Springfield described the type of horse needed by todayís Long Riders. ďThe Road Horse is a strong, vigorous, active kind, capable of enduring great hardship; its stature rather low, seldom exceeding fifteen hands; the body round and compact; its limbs strong.Ē That explanation could have been written to accompany this illustration from the 1908 British cavalry manual.

The renowned African game ranger, Nick Steele, not only made many long distance journeys in South Africa, aboard one such horse, his gelding, Nero, the brave duo also tracked, sedated and captured rhinos in the bush together.


Your Own Horse


While it is correct to assume that it helps to be mounted on a horse you already trust and ride, you must not allow love to overrule logic. What is needed is a merciless evaluation of the animalís strengths and weaknesses.


Does the horse have the physical strength required? Does he have the temperament needed to face a vast array of emotional obstacles? Can he adapt to a spending the night is a variety of strange places? Can he travel through traffic calmly? Is he a hearty eater?


If you already own such a horse, fine. However, if you have any doubts about the horseís suitability, look for another mount. Any journey requires a horse to tap into its deepest reserves of emotional courage and physical fortitude. Therefore do not be blinkered by misplaced loyalty into placing an animal you deeply love into a situation which he cannot withstand, overcome or survive.



Thatís not to say that Long Riders are not strong believers in the vigour and resilience of resident breeds. Many Long Riders have used native horses in all parts of the world.

Do not fall under the misconception that all locally bred horses are either tremendously strong or error free. While it is true that too many horses in Europe and North America are large but soft-muscled, this isnít to say that overseas horses are not without their drawbacks too. Many countries such as Tahiti, Kyrgyzstan and Japan possessed small horses which were anything but perfect.

The most important criterion is to pick the horse from a breed that has the correct model and a body weight in accordance with the Long Rider and his equipment. Such an ideal road horse is one who enjoys travelling, can eat and drink anything, has good, strong feet and is happy being in a new place every day. 

This is a state of mind, not a breed.

Climate and Terrain

Think climate, not papers.


Function versus beauty. This Siberian horseman, who is seventy-five years old, routinely rides his Yakut horse in minus 64 degree Fahrenheit weather, as seen in this photo taken by the Swedish Long Rider, Mikael Strandberg. 


In stark contrast to the Siberian is the Shah of Persia, who is an excellent example of the philosophy of prestige transport.

It is imperative that the horse chosen for any journey must be suited to the local conditions as far as possible. For example, donít take a tropical horse into the mountains, as horses do not adjust well to radical changes in climate and terrain. 

Therefore, fear terrain, not a lack of social standing. Consider if you will be riding through rugged country or alongside more sedate roadways.

Remember, a modest exterior can contain the most dazzling of talents. For instance, during the Second World War the German army adapted the scrappy-looking little Russian panje horses for their winter campaign because it could be fed for weeks on end with straw taken from house roofs. It was also noted that these tiny, but tough, horses had a highly developed sense of direction.



Horses and sex?


Mares, geldings or stallions?


Can the gender of your mount influence the outcome of your trip?


A resounding ďyesĒ.


Rest assured, itís a tricky subject, as you canít make a decision based simply on biology. Are you riding with a companion? What they ride affects the equation. Are you riding in a country that denounces or prefers riding one gender more than another?


The first thing to realize is that all horses, regardless of their gender, have the potential to become good road horses. For instance, D.C. Vision rode his Shire mare, Louise, 14,000 miles across the United States, George Younghusband rode his gelding, Joe, across the jungles of Burma and I rode my Cossack stallion, Count Pompeii, from Stalingrad to London.


The final deciding factor regarding stallions and entires is whether you will be crossing international borders.  Whereas it is difficult to cross any border with a medically certified mare or gelding, it is ten times more complex to attempt this with a stallion.

The worst problem of travelling with a mare though is that she runs the risk of becoming pregnant during the journey. This occurred to mares belonging to several equestrian travellers, including North American Long Rider Katherine Boone who journeyed through Spain. 



The English are credited with having been the first to say, ďA good horse can never have a bad colour.Ē This is only partly true, as while no good horse is a bad colour, itís equally correct to point out that there are inefficient colours, especially if youíre a Long Rider.

What you need to consider is that a lack of pigment makes a horse more prone to sunburn. This is especially true about horses with pink noses and pale skins. The other drawback of having a light-coloured horse is that as and when they roll in dung, you find your pretty pony is now adorned with a garish coat of green.


The Long Riders' Guild always recommends that equestrian travellers not set out on a journey unless the horse is at least six years old. This is because it is essential that the horse be fully grown and the skeleton is solid and completely finished in its shaping.  


While your efforts to locate a suitable road horse may be fraught with difficulties, and inevitable disappointments, there are several points which you should always keep in mind while undertaking your search.

Donít forget, sore backs, youth and pregnancy are the chief things to avoid.

Don't begin your ride with an exhausted or under-weight horse.

Donít accept any dangerous stable vices, such as rearing or biting.

Don't underestimate the importance of a rapid, ground-covering walk.

Donít place beauty before wisdom and a large appetite.

Donít overlook the need for the horse to stand when mounted, lift his feet for the farrier and behave sensibly  in traffic.

This article is a short extract from the "Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration " by CuChullaine O'Reilly.

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