The largely forgotten exploits of a Russian woman who rightly belongs in the ranks of the greatest equestrian explorers have been recognised thanks to a chance encounter with an old newspaper clipping.
The founder of the Long Riders’ Guild, CuChullaine O’Reilly, confessed he was stunned by what he learned about Alexandra Kudasheva, who crossed Siberia twice on horseback more than a century ago.
O’Reilly has spent the last four years writing the Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration, in which he is documenting the exploits of more than 400 Long Riders.
“I didn’t think there was anything left to surprise me. Boy, was I wrong!” O’Reilly said.
The first he had heard of Kudasheva was in an email last week from Australian Long Rider Tim Cope.
“He wrote to say, ‘I’m back from Mongolia again and just read the most amazing snippet from a 1910 newspaper that someone has forwarded. Have you heard of this remarkable Long Rider before?'”
O’Reilly continued: “The snippet contained a single reference to a Russian woman who was riding across Siberia in 1910.
“There was very little to go on, not even the full name of the Long Rider, or if the trip was completed, but being intrigued by a journey of such potential importance that had escaped our notice or investigation, I began to search for clues.”
Online accounts of her exploits proved to be scant and elements of them were in Russian. Her brief Wikipedia entry, for example, does not even carry a picture of her.
O’Reilly said he was dumb-founded by what he learned as he delved deeper into her past.
Kudasheva, he asserted, was the most astonishing lady Long Rider ever known, with a story unmatched in the equestrian travel world.
“Thanks to a treasure trove of original 1910-11 Russian newspaper articles that I found and translated, I was able to piece together the story of Alexandra Kudasheva’s life.”
Kudasheva, the daughter of a Cossack, was born during the Russian invasion of Central Asia. She grew up in the Cossack military environment, learning languages and horses at an early age.
In 1910 she rode 12,600 miles from Harbin, China, to St Petersburg, Russia. Upon her arrival she was congratulated by Czar Nicholas II. The monarch was so impressed that he asked her to ride his valuable Arabian stallion on a second journey from Vladivostok to St Petersburg.
“After riding alone across China, Manchuria, Siberia and Russia – twice – Kudasheva joined a regiment of 600 Cossacks when the First World War began. Though she enlisted as an ordinary recruit, she rose through the ranks and eventually became the unit’s commander.
“What made her military career even more extraordinary was that her regiment was equally composed of male and female Cossacks, making it one of the first fully integrated military units.
“Because she was twice wounded fighting in Prussia, the Czar awarded Kudasheva the Cross of St George, Russia’s highest military award.”
However, when the Russian Imperial cause was overtaken by the Bolshevik Revolution, Kudasheva became a victim of political events.
“Though she was front page news between 1910 and 1914, Kudasheva’s incredible adventures were largely airbrushed out of history after the rise of the Soviet Union.”
O’Reilly believes he is the first to delve into her life in any detail since her brutal execution in 1921.
O’Reilly said he learned that Kudasheva wrote a book in Russian about her first journey. He has contacted the Turkmen Long Rider Geldy Kyarizov, who is now in Moscow, in the hopes he can uncover the book.
If successful, the guild’s publishing arm would print it without delay, he said.
Read O’Reilly’s account of Kudasheva’s exploits here.