Adventures on the trail: An essential guide to life in the saddle

Adventures await those prepared to explore the world on horseback, but good preparation is essential. Photo: File
Adventures await those prepared to explore the world on horseback, but good preparation is essential. Photo: File

The Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration, hardcover, in three volumes, by CuChullaine O’Reilly. Published by the Long Riders’ Guild Press. Reviewed by Neil Clarkson.

Each volume of the encyclopaedia is available at Volume 1; Volume 2; and Volume 3.

CuChullaine O’Reilly is proof that great feats of equestrian endurance are not limited to the saddle.

His three-volume Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration is a literary tour de force and an important contribution to the collective wisdom of equestrianism.

We should never forget that much of the world was first explored on foot and on horseback. Frontiers were tamed thanks to our partnership with the horse.

Our relationship with these remarkable animals has been recorded through the millennia. They are depicted in ancient cave drawings and described in some of our earliest texts.

It is a rich and varied history.

O’Reilly, in what can only be described as a Herculean feat, has distilled the wisdom of more than 400 equestrian explorers, known as Long Riders, into his three-volume encyclopaedia, comprising some 1750 pages.

O’Reilly is no stranger to the saddle. In 1983, he embarked on an 1100-mile ride through Pakistan. He departed from the bustling hub of Peshawar, on a loop that would take him through one of the last great frontiers.

In the years that followed he founded the Long Riders’ Guild, which today boasts members from 42 countries. Membership is contingent upon riders making an equestrian journey of at least 1000 miles.

Over many years, he has helped hundreds of equestrian explorers prepare for their journeys, learning the intricacies of the highs and lows that can befall riders in the modern age.

CuChullaine O'Reilly has helped hundreds of equestrian explorers, as founder of the Long Riders' Guild.
CuChullaine O’Reilly has helped hundreds of equestrian explorers in his role as founder of the Long Riders’ Guild.

The geopolitical terrain has changed drastically over the last 50 years.

The modern world is very different to the one explored in bygone years. Adventurers need to be better prepared than ever before.

To describe the encyclopaedia as a comprehensive guide to equestrian exploration is an understatement, pure and simple.

No one has garnered more knowledge about the joys, and the pitfalls, of equestrian travel over the last 40 years than O’Reilly.

Horse-riding is a risky pursuit at the best of times, let alone when facing the challenges of climate, endurance, political uncertainty and sometimes exhaustion.

Chapter 64 in volume two is aptly entitled Death on the Trail, providing at times graphic accounts of the gravest of misfortunes on the trail.

None is more remarkable, perhaps, that the efforts made by a handful of men to save ponies taken south to support Captain Robert Falcon Scott’s expedition bound for the South Pole. A group of working ponies ended up trapped on diminishing ice floes as the men worked valiantly to get them back on land, while killer whales patrolled the waters.

It is, to be frank, impossible to accurately describe the breadth and comprehensiveness of this work.

Yes, O’Reilly has covered the practicalities and, arguably, explored every potential eventuality arising from a long trip in the saddle.

Yes, he has left no stone unturned in describing the needs of the Long Rider on the trail.

But that is only part of the story, for these long journeys on horseback are very much an adventure of the mind. What adds immensely to the value of this equestrian trilogy is the fact that O’Reilly understands that these are spiritual journeys as much as physical ones.

Life on the trail is as much a spiritual journey as it is a physical one. Photo: File
Life on the trail is as much a spiritual journey as it is a physical one. Photo: File

It is challenging to provide any sort of judgment on a three-volume effort written by an individual who has spent decades working with Long Riders.

He has drawn not only upon his own experiences in the saddle, but those of a rather special group who have embarked on similar journeys. As an exercise, it seems eminently sensible. From a practical viewpoint, it surely would have been a task beyond most.

What can one say? The volumes may be encyclopaedic, but they are written in an engaging style, awash with insights, opinion and the rich history of Long Riding.

The books are well organised. Volume 1 deals with preparation, the horses and equipment. Volume 2 deals with the challenges and the third volume discusses the journey, the aftermath and the epilogue.

O’Reilly says it provides “practical wisdom”, which sums it up perfectly.

Perhaps the last word should be left to O’Reilly to describe the experience that is the Long Ride.

“We can,” he writes, ” look back now from the luxury of our computer-driven world and see how everything, and nothing, has changed since [the famous Long Rider] Aime Tschiffeley stepped up onto the back of his Criollo horse.

“For six thousand years each generation of mankind has been supremely confident, arrogant in the concurring belief that theirs is the ultimate expression of the human experience.

“Meanwhile the horsemen and women of history have watched from the sidelines while fires were first lit, wheels were invented, pyramids were built, railroads were laid, automobiles were driven, and computer screens peered into.

“Throughout this vast never-ending stream of human experience and effort, one thing has run through our collective unconsciousness, the need for terrestrial freedom …

“For six thousand years that altar of travel, the saddle, has been calling some of us to roam the world.

“Equestrian travel continues to thrill not because it has changed through the ages, but because it hasn’t. It fulfils a craving for adventure, travel and excitement.”

Stirring words indeed.

O’Reilly’s encyclopaedia fills that crucial void between the romantic and alluring notion of a long journey in the saddle and the harsh practicalities of actually achieving that goal.

His advice is encapsulated for would-be adventurers in nine words at the conclusion of chapter one. “Read the book. Saddle your horse. Explore the world.”

» Each volume of the encyclopaedia is available at Volume 1; Volume 2; and Volume 3.

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10 thoughts on “Adventures on the trail: An essential guide to life in the saddle

  • August 23, 2018 at 7:16 pm

    This is a superb review and the author was correct to state that the EEE is “a literary tour de force and an important contribution to the collective wisdom of equestrianism.” Additionally, as all humans are looking down the barrel of a climate catastrophe, may I
    suggest that The Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration may well prove to be an indispensable “Survival Manual” for current and future generations.

  • August 24, 2018 at 2:16 pm

    At a time when children in the United States no longer are taught cursive writing, and you and I no longer have to remember each other’s telephone numbers thanks to technology, CuChullaine O’Reilly has excavated, retrieved, restored, published, and disseminated historical and contemporary knowledge about the nearly extinct art of long-distance riding on horseback. Mr. O’Reilly’s three-volume Encyclopaedia of Equine Exploration documents the sacrifice that horses have made to facilitate the desires of man, and man’s responsibility to honor this sacrifice through knowledgeable care, husbandry, fitness, and respect for the horse. Long riding can be a travesty or a triumph. Mr. O’Reilly’s work of more than three decades codifies the art of exploration through long riding on horseback, such that anyone who deploys what is learned in the EEE (and Mr. O’Reilly’s 2016 The Horse Travel Handbook) can ensure his or her trek is a triumph.

  • August 24, 2018 at 2:17 pm

    My name is Noor Mohammad Khan and I accompanied CuChullaine O’Reilly on his ride across northern Pakistan.

    The world has changed since the 19th century, and besides the old knowledge of acquiring your equipment and outfitting your expedition/journey one needs to know how different countries will react to a Long Rider riding up to their border, not on an organized tour, and wanting to enter.

    This book is such an incredible repository of equestrian knowledge it would be helpful for any experienced rider making a Long Ride and now even a novice like I was could attempt a trip like this. The knowledge is here!

  • August 24, 2018 at 2:18 pm

    Just read it CuChullaine, he really touched on the important things, the spirituality, the call to new generations to value and enjoy freedom, while it’s theirs. I also loved how you wrapped the short span of human generations from fire to screens. So much wisdom and yet it leaves me wondering, is anyone listening? Guess I just did 🙂

  • August 25, 2018 at 2:47 am

    It is a great achievement for humanity to have the profound and essential journeys of Long Riders documented and shared in this way. The experience of living in partnership with horses for extended periods of times, of traveling slowly across our world, relying on the kindness of strangers, the courage of our equine companions, and the resilience of our own hearts, bodies and minds, it is an incredible thread that has long been woven into the quilt of human existence.
    By sharing these stories, and capturing the essence of the Long Rider experience in a way that is both cautionary and encouraging, the incredible loyalty and wisdom of our dear friend, the horse, is able to shine through. This is a celebration of the partnership humans have so long shared with these beautiful sentient beings.

  • August 25, 2018 at 9:29 am

    This work is the result of a remarkable amount of study in order to document the long relationship between horse and mankind. I have found in the three volumes very valuable information that shed light on parts of our history that are too little known. Although the chapters are based on a thorough academic research, they are written in a vivid and thrilling way that turn them into captivating adventure narratives that easily compete with the best novels of our time. A must-read for all horse enthusiasts.

  • August 28, 2018 at 8:50 am

    This Encyclopaedia is the most complete and best prepared information ever written about our long and still enduring passion to travel on a horse. It is also the recompilation of hundreds of years of history about the unique relation of man and horse. A bible and a must read for anyone interested in learning about our old way of travelling or dreaming about still doing so.

  • September 2, 2018 at 4:16 pm

    Congrats on the great review! I’m so happy to see your Encyclopaedia starting to get the accolades it deserves!

  • October 9, 2018 at 7:55 am

    CuChullaine O’Reilly is unquestionably the most gifted equestrian writer of the 21st century. His passionately written, massive undertaking, The Encyclopaedia of Equestrian Exploration was conceived and written with unrelenting focus and dedication over a period of more than six years. Except for his abbreviated version – The Horse Travel Handbook, there has never been a guide written that is in any way comparable to this unusual tour de force. In particular, O’Reilly has brought attention to the phenomenon of the “Long Quiet” – an intense spiritual awakening that all long riders experience when the ride is over. This magical transformation is something that human beings can only wish for. It is astonishing and unanticipated, and it appears as a revelation. For this, I am eternally indebted to the Long Riders Guild and for the profound influence the O’Reillys have had on my life.


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