A man dubbed the world’s most elusive Long Rider has been found after a search of many years doing what he does best – crossing some of the world’s most remote terrain on horseback.
The legendary Chinese-born rider Jing Li has been considered “missing in action” by the founder of the Long Riders’ Guild, CuChullaine O’Reilly, for many years.
The Guild has members in 46 countries. O’Reilly told Horsetalk that every important equestrian explorer in the world was listed as a member, except for the legendary but elusive Jing Li.
“The Guild became aware of Jing Li when he concluded a remarkable 9000km (5592 miles) ride from Votkinsk, Russia, to Beijing, China, in 2009,” O’Reilly explains.
What followed was a nine-year search to locate him.
“Research revealed that Jing Li was born in 1963 in Wuhan, where his father was a university professor,” O’Reilly continues.
“Even as a small child, Jing Li recalled being interested in horses. After graduating from university in 1984, Jing Li gained access to the Shenzhen library, where he examined books which provided information and images about equestrian cultures in different parts of the world.”
His childhood interest in horses bloomed into a burning desire as an adult to undertake an equestrian journey. He learned to ride in preparation for such a adventure.
He also met Russian scholars visiting China and in 1990 received an invitation to visit Russia to teach Chinese – a three month assignment which helped nurture long-standing desire to ride across Russia.
Three years later, Jing Li obtain a Russian visa valid for one-year, during which he unexpectedly fell in love. He married, became a father, went to work, and was granted Russian citizenship.
But, by the end of 2006, he realized that his desire to undertake an equestrian journey was still a distant dream. “Life is too short,” he told himself, and he started making plans to swing into the saddle.
He planned a trans-continental journey that would take him across Russia, Siberia and China. Such a journey had not been undertaken since 1892, when the Japanese Long Rider, Baron Yasumasa Fukushima rode from Berlin to Tokyo.
In August 2007, Jing Li began his epic journey. He had a small amount of money, a sleeping bag, a sweater, a tent, and a photo of his son, Maksim.
Starting at Votkinsk, Russia, his route took him through the Ural Mountains, which serves as the Continental Divide between Europe and Asia.
During the journey across the vastness of Russia, he would often go days without seeing another human. But the majority of Russians understood and appreciated his actions.
His arrival in Siberia coincided with the onset of winter. Severe weather halted his journey for three months.
Finally, after 18 months in the saddle, and having ridden 9000 kilometres (5592 miles), Jing Li reached the capital of China.
When Jing Li rode into Beijing in March, 2009, he was wearing a cape that displayed the famous slogan of determination, “The Red Army Fears No Hardship during the Expedition.”
His months in the saddle, through trying terrain and weather, did nothing to diminish his enthusiasm for horse travel.
“Do it when you think about it,” he said. And he meant what he said.
His second equestrian journey took him 3000km (1864 miles) along the length of the Great Wall of China.
During these years, rumours of Jing Li’s journeys were passed to the Long Riders’ Guild.
But, despite the help of the internet, and hampered by language difficulties, the Guild’s many messages to Russia, Siberia and China produced no results.
In 2016, when New Zealand Long Rider Ian Robinson rode in Siberia, he made a special search for Jing Li, but met with no success. Most recently, Jeff Lindsay, an American living in Shanghai, helped the Guild in its search by sharing news about Jing Li with friends in China.
Then, after a nine-year silence, the Long Riders’ Guild received an email from Ruslan Konev, who is press secretary for Russia’s National Center for Equestrian Tourism (NETO).
In the Long Rider equivalent of “Dr. Livingston, I presume,” the Guild was told Jing Li’s location. He was in the saddle and undertaking his third journey, riding from the Caucasus Mountains towards the Arctic Circle.
NETO president Gennadii Semin agreed to act as a conduit for messages between Jing Li and the Guild.
Starting in March, 2018, Jing Li had departed from Ust-Dzheguta, located north of the Caucasus Mountains on the right bank of the Kuban River. This is the homeland of the ancient Karachay equestrian culture. No known Long Rider has explored this part of the world since Negley Farson journeyed there in 1929.
Jing Li is riding a Karachay stallion he named Karaman, donated by Khasan Kilichbievich Salpagarov, a distinguished breeder.
The Long Rider’s route north will take him to Volgograd, Samara, St Petersburg and finally Murmansk. The journey is being reported in Russia’s national equestrian magazine, Konevoditel.
Jing Li has joined the Guild and when he reaches Volgograd he will be presented with its flag, which he will then carry during the rest of his journey across Russia.
O’Reilly says the decade-long search to locate Jing Li has been worth it.
When asked to explain why he had set off to become a Long Rider, Jing Li responded, “This is not a game, I think of it as the meaning of life.”
In related news, the Guild has teamed up with NETO to encourage horse travel in Russia.
NETO operates in 18 regions of the Russian Federation, including Moscow, Novosibirsk and Bashkortostan. It also has extensive contacts from Kaliningrad to Kamchatka, as well as the Archangel area and the Caucasus Mountains.
Thanks to NETO’s efforts, Russian citizens are encouraged to ride and explore their country. Its president, Gennadii Semin, said his nation wanted to encourage individual Long Riders to travel in the vast country.
“My idea,” he says, “is to create a network of horse tours in the most diverse regions of Russia for the most interesting places.”
O’Reilly welcomed the news, pointing to Russia’s important role in the history of equestrian travel.
Russia, he said, had produced incredible equestrian explorers for three centuries.
Thanks to the Long Riders’ Guild in the preparation of this report.
The Long Riders’ Guild website can be found here.