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Saddle Pilgrims of the Long Riders' Guild
by Sharon Muir Watson

A young Frenchwoman, Laura Bougault, has just set out on horseback to follow her dream. She will face isolation, discomfort, fear and dangers unknown and at some low point, she will question her motives and search for answers deep within her soul. If successful, she will be the first woman to ride solo across the African continent.

Jean-Claude Cazade and Pascale Franconie return to France in the Winter of 1984.
Equestrian travel is not a modern trend restricted to people with a ‘horsey’ background. In 1925, Swiss school teacher and inexperienced horseman, Aime Tschiffely, bought two middle-aged, unbroken wild horses from a Patagonian Indian in South America. People thought him a lunatic doomed to failure, until he rode them 16,000km from Buenos Aires, Argentina, to Washington D.C. In an incredible adventure lasting two and a half years, Aime battled hostile natives, bureaucrats, landslides, rope bridges and vampire bats. He survived, and fell in love with his Criollo horses (wild descendants of horses imported from Spain 450 years ago).

Border formalities for Aimé Tschiffely, crossing
from Ecuador into Columbia. Aimé is holding his mount, 'Mancha', a border guard is holding 'Gato', the packhorse.
Whether inspired by the likes of Tschiffely or their own desire for adventure, people have undertaken equestrian journeys on every continent including Antarctica, where ninenteen Russian/Siberian ponies undertook a sled journey. Sadly, none of these ponies survived the expedition as they became trapped on an ice floe and were eaten by killer whales.

Aimé Tschiffely's horses 'Mancha' and 'Gato' crossing the Peruvian desert.

In 1994, a small band of equestrian travellers from many different countries and walks of life, discovered they had much in common. Their adventure may have begun as a ‘horseback holiday’, but somewhere along the way, the destination lost its importance and the journey itself became a sacred, life-changing experience. They had become ‘saddle pilgrims’ and forged a primeval bond of dependance and love with their horses.

They formed ‘The Long Riders’ Guild’, an international organisation with only one qualification for membership; a continuous ride of at least 1,000 miles (1,600 km).
Several Australians have become members, including Steve Nott, who rode 18,000km around our continent. The Guild has recently assisted Jacqui Knight, who rode the length of New Zealand, in publishing a book about her epic ride.

The oldest member is George Patterson (now 81), who rode across Tibet in 1946 and rescued the Dalai Lama from invading forces. The youngest riders were Bud and Temple Abernathy, who rode from Oklahoma to New York in 1910, then right across America from New York to San Francisco in 1911. They were only 9 and 5 years old when they began the first of their unchaperoned journeys!

CuChullaine O'Reilly at the Pyramids near Giza.
One of the club’s founders is American, CuChullaine O’Reilly, who set the record for the longest recorded horse ride in Pakistan’s history when he led the Karakoram Equestrian Expedition through five mountain ranges, including the Himalayas. For 20 years, CuChullaine has been collecting books and newsclippings on equestrian journeys and collated these into an ‘Equestrian Travel Timeline’.

This fascinating ‘who’s who’ of saddle pilgrims can be seen on the website www.thelongridersguild.com, together with entertaining travel stories from Long Riders around the globe. The Guild aims to use its collective knowledge to assist future equestrian explorers, inspire others to experience the freedom of horse travel and give a ‘safe’ armchair view to those who are unable or unwilling to ‘go there’. The website has links to travellers who are currently ‘out there’ and updating their sites with photos and reports.


“A man’s dying words should never be ‘I wish I had...’”

Dragging himself through the sodden, raindrenched Yukon scrub, Gene Glasscock felt like chewing up those words and heaving them out with the next nauseous wave of bile that scorched his throat. He’d left Alaska on horseback in summer to avoid the treacherous icy winter, only to get caught n torrential summer rain. His soggy boots fell apart and the heavy scrub tore his ankles to pieces. Once blood poisoning set in, his legs and feet swelled so that he could neither ride nor walk. His dream of riding from the Arctic Circle to the Equator had ended in a nightmare from which he barely escaped with his life.

Gene Glasscock and 'Cactus' are greeted by U.S. and Ecuadorian officials at the Equator monument.

Nearly 30 years later, mounted on ‘Cactus’ and leading his packhorse ‘Freddy’, Gene, at 49, was back for a second attempt, determined to ride 19,000 km to Quito, Equidor. Yet again, danger and difficulty were his companions. In Mexico, a drunken robber whacked him across the back with the blunt edge of a machete. Gene wrested it off him efore his accomplice could join in the fight, and the pair fled, leaving Gene bruised and shaken.

One of the high points was the kindness of the Mexican poor, who offered him food and shelter when they lacked enough for themselves. In Guatemala, Gene reached the depths of despair when a well-meaning native fed his horses spoiled fodder. ‘Cactus’ survived, but ‘Freddy’ died a slow and agonising death. Leaving most of his possessions behind, he crammed what he could into ‘Cactus’s’ saddlebags and headed south; right into the war raging in Nicaragua, where he witnessed executions and was jailed by the Sandinistas on suspicion of being a Contra guerrilla.

The most difficult part of the journey was the infamous Darien Gap where Central America joins South America. Gene hired an Indian to guide him through the 400 km stretch of almost inpenetrable, roadless, jungle. Using machetes to clear a trail, it sometimes took hours to cover a few hundred metres. Reaching the river at the end of the jungle, Gene found an Indian to take him across in a dugout canoe. ‘Cactus’ jumped into the water and swam alongside.

They reached the equator on the 29th April, 1986. ‘Cactus’ was given to the President of Equidor and joined a special mounted security division of the Presidential guard.

Gene’s final thoughts? “I wouldn’t do it again for a million dollars, but I wouldn’t take a million instead of the trip!


Pascale Franconie’s face was white with terror as the leering Syrian bandits holding the gun against Jean-Claude Cazade’s chest, demanded he hand her over along with their money. The pair had ridden their Arab stallions from France, but it looked as though they
would never reach their destination; Saudi Arabia. After the sublime beauty of Italy, Greece, Yugoslavia and Turkey, their fate was about to be sealed in the dismal wastelands of Syria.

Pascale Franconie and Jean-Claude Cazade riding their Arab stallions along the shores of the Red Sea.

Without warning, Jean-Claude’s stallion reared and plunged towards the bandits. Startled, they jumped back and lowered their rifles, giving the couple precious seconds to escape at a gallop. Their journey fell back into its comforting routine; riding, riding, riding...minarets on the horizon materialising out of a mirage...intricately patterned carpets...men with long moustaches, fingering small beads of stone or wood...buying or begging grain for their horses, ‘Mzwina’ and ‘Merindian’.

In the wilds of Anatolia, there were flocks of sheep, cloaked shepherds and huge white sheep dogs wearing spiked iron collars to protect the sheep from wolves. One week, Pascale and Jean-Claude sipped tea with a Jordanian princess in palatial splendour; the next week they sheltered from freezing night time temperatures and raging sandstorms in a black Bedouin tent. They met Bedouin nomads who welcomed strangers appearing out of the dark, shared their meagre stew of cold beans in colder mutton fat and critically assessed their stallions; height, width of tail, circumference of cannon and to which families did they belong? The next day they brought mares to them.

Red mountains barred the distant horizon and they felt like two fragile specks riding through the vast Arabian landscape. Clad in Arab headdresses, they crossed rippling
sandy deserts, long plains of black gravel and endless sand dunes over ancient trails in the blinding heat...then fell into the lap of luxury in some cool oasis village, dining
with a bearded prince...sitting on the ground and sharing a meal of lamb eaten with the fingers.

Britishwoman Basha O'Reilly riding Volga Cossack stallion 'Count Pompeii' across the Russian steppes. She rode from Volgograd, Russia to England in 1995.

After an audience with the Pope on their return journey to France, ‘Mzwina’ fell on Pascale, breaking her collar-bone and Jean- Claude nearly died when ‘Merindian’ kicked him, tearing open his femoral artery. They reached home in April 1984, having ridden 20,000 km in 2 years, delighted to finish with their horses fit, bright-eyed and ready to keep travelling...but saddened that their exotic journey was finally over.

What motivates people to sell up their assets, make professional and emotional sacrifices and dump comfort and security for the hunger and hardship that haunt every equestrian pilgrimmage? Perhaps Laura Bougault sums it up best.

“At last, the real world is coming toward me! After a great effort I have managed to escape from the meaningless daily existence that makes up so much of our life in the Western world...I long to begin both my journeys, the one across this great continent (Africa), the other, interior journey...to discover a new place inside myself.”

This article was originally featured in the Australian Magazine Hoofbeats (December/January 2002) www.hoofbeats.com.au

About The Author....
Sharon Muir Watson

Sharon is well qualified to write on the subject of long rides as, with her husband Ken Roberts, she was the first to ride the Bicentennial National Trail, from Cooktown Qld, to
Healesville, Vic in 1991. Their plant of 12 rogue packhorses slid, scrambled, bucked and swam over 5,000 km along the Great Dividing Range. Sharon wrote a book called “The Colour of Courage” about this two year adventure.
A regular contributor to Hoofbeats, Sharon and Ken now live and work on a cattle and horse property near Thangool, in Queensland.

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Updated: October 2005.