Jing Li, once dubbed the world’s most elusive Long Rider, has completed an epic ride across Russia, and is now making plans for an 11,250-kilometre horseback journey from St Petersburg, Russia, to Jiang’an in China.
Long Riders’ Guild founder CuChullaine O’Reilly says the Chinese-born rider has established himself as the foremost equestrian traveller in the saddle today.
The completion of his latest ride from the Caucasus Mountains across Russia has added to Jing Li’s remarkable series of achievements in the saddle.
At the end of the 4380km journey, he carried the Guild flag into the Moscow lecture hall of the Russian Geographical Society.
To mark the occasion, Gennadii Semin, the president of the National Equestrian Tourism Center in Russia, presented a lecture which explained how Russia had played a remarkable role in horse-human history.
The flag carried by Jing Li had been previously carried by American Long Rider Bernice Ende, who was the first person to ride “ocean to ocean” in both directions on one journey.
It had been sent to Moscow, where it was received by Gennadii, who then drove it across Russia to be delivered to Jing Li.
Jing Li then carried it across Russia before concluding his journey at Moscow.
“So, in this day of political turmoil, the transfer of a Long Riders’ Guild flag that had crossed North America – twice – to Russia, was especially poignant,” O’Reilly said.
Jing Li, born in China, moved to Russia and became a naturalized citizen. He married a Russian woman and has a son.
As a small child, he recalled being interested in horses. After graduating from university in 1984, he 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 an 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 a long-standing desire to ride across Russia.
Three years later, Jing Li obtained 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.
Jing Li rode into Beijing in March, 2009.
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.
Then, starting in March this year, he 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 rode a Karachay stallion he named Karaman, donated by Khasan Kilichbievich Salpagarov, a distinguished breeder.
When asked to explain why he had set off to become a Long Rider, Jing Li once responded, “This is not a game, I think of it as the meaning of life.”
O’Reilly had dubbed Ji Ling the world’s most elusive Long Rider because it had him taken nearly a decade to locate him, and only then made possible thanks to Russian contacts.
O’Reilly said the search had been worth it.
Jing Li’s upcoming 11,250-kilometre ride is intended to commemorate the ancient trade route used to transport Chinese tea to Russia.
The International Equestrian Tourism Federation website is here.