Jon Hare takes a look at The Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration, an exhaustive new book chronicling some of the greatest rides ever taken on horseback.
In 1755, after nine years of intense labour, Samuel Johnson published his English dictionary and it endured as a standard work for more than 150 years. Dr Johnson strove to put in every word, to leave absolutely no gaps. It was to be a last word on the English language and was an immense one-man achievement.
In similar vein, the three volumes of CuChullaine O’Reilly’s The Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration (published by The Long Riders’ Guild, Vols 1 and 3 priced at £40; Vol 2 priced at £48) are a last word on horsemanship and equestrian exploration. They chronicle not only the fascinating accounts of historical and contemporary long riders – those who have undertaken journeys of more than 1,000 miles on horseback – but also, in great detail, every possible circumstance or hazard the long rider may encounter, whether he or she is travelling in Arctic wastes, the desert or the Tropics.
The reader embarks on a study into why people are lured into undertaking equestrian journeys, the practicalities of such things as choosing a horse and comprehensive horse management, including every possible aspect of looking after the welfare of the animal. Readers are then asked whether they’re prepared for a long ride and given numerous pointers to equip themselves mentally and physically.
Horse management and welfare have long been written about, but not in such detail. The author imparts his vast knowledge of horses, culled from every corner of the world, and holds the reader’s attention by interweaving through his practical text real-life stories and experiences of long riders in every possible environment.
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All this is illustrated with wonderful black-and-white photographs and drawings, some faded yet full of drama, others visually depicting priceless information.
As technology and the ‘infernal combustion engine’ increasingly dominate the lives of people in every country, removing them ever further from reality, these volumes ensure that the rare and valuable insights and knowledge of previous generations will not be lost. They comprise a beacon of sanity lighting the way ahead.
They also explore deeper depths. As long rider Jeremy James notes: ‘A man’s inner instincts are minutely recorded by horses. The voice the horse hears is not the outer but the inner one. It is the inner voice to which the horse first responds and then to the outer.’
Anyone who has seen the response of a horse to the inner qualms of a nervous rider knows exactly what he means.
And then there’s the indescribable thrill when the horse asks man’s inner voice ‘Can we do it?’ and, through pressure from his legs, the rider’s inner voice replies ‘Yes, we can’. In a split second, instant communication between rider and steed is achieved.
In 1937, Country Life and Riding magazines organised a long-distance ride. Starting from eight separate points, the riders, whose ages ranged from 11 to 76, converged on Lewes and then completed the final leg to Eastbourne. The greatest long rider of them all, the Swiss Aimé F. Tschiffely, who had ridden 10,000 miles from Argentina to New York City, was there to greet them.
Tschiffely had recommended the formation of an Equestrian Touring Club; this recommendation inspired CuChullaine O’Reilly to establish the Long Riders’ Guild. These three masterly volumes are a result of a link between Tschiffely, Country Life and the Guild. A comprehensive work, it will be treasured by future long riders and seen as a unique treasury of horse and human wisdom.
- The Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration by CuChullaine O’Reilly is published by The Long Riders’ Guild in three volumes. Vols 1 and 3 priced at £40; Vol 2 priced at £48.
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