Monday, June 29, 2009

The World Is Smaller Now

A couple of months ago I was contacted by the Longriders Guild, an organisation of people who do long distance horse treks, exploring our world in an old fashioned way in this age of cars and planes. To become a Longrider, one has to complete an authenticated trip of over one thousand miles on horseback, no mean accomplishment. I'd love to be one, but I don't really see it in the cards at this point. I've followed the Guild on their website for a number of years and have corresponded with riders who have traveled through Egypt. Basha and CuChullaine O'Reilly have built a phenomenal data base of riders who have accomplished these long rides through history and the present, created a publishing company for books about equestrian travel, manage a marvelous source of information for prospective travelers, and along the way get to do some traveling themselves...planning a round the world trip on horseback in the near future.

The Guild's reason for contacting me recently, since I'm not a Longrider, was to get my take on an event that they had been consulted about by a company that specialises in adventure tourism. The Adventurists, a British tourism company, has previously specialised in signing up people who were willing to buy a trashed out car in one part of Africa to make their way in a quasi-rally to another part. Since the company makes a serious show of NOT supplying support for the people who sign up...after all, the danger is all part of the fun, don't you know?...this is a "vacation" for the seriously addicted to adrenaline. But this winter, The Adventurists decided to branch out a bit and to offer a new holiday...a thousand mile horserace in Mongolia! They were looking to the Longriders Guild for help and support. My initial response was that these people were utterly out of their minds. How were people going to care for the horses? Did they realise how small Mongolian ponies are? A car enthusiast can fix a radiator if it breaks, but no one can fix a lame or sick horse. I really couldn't believe that they were serious.

Needless to say this support was not forthcoming. The situation that has been set up is that about 25 participants have paid roughly $5 thou each for the privilege of being landed in Mongolia where a charity who will receive a hefty donation has apparently rounded up 800 Mongolian ponies for the use of the participants in a thousand mile race across the Mongolian steppes. When the Guild first told me that the Adventurists were planning this, my return email suggested was that it was totally insane and being an optimist, I couldn't see how this would ever get off the ground. The course is utterly littered with landmines..figuratively speaking.

I live in Egypt and take horses trekking in some relatively inhospitable areas, from a horse's point of view, so some of the problems that I could see with the plan were those of language (how are these travelers going to communicate with anyone that they might meet or need assistance from? Each one is traveling alone and in competition with the others.), terrain (the area is without roads, signposts or even many settlements and Mongolia isn't precisely known for its balmy climate), experience (experienced horsemen look at an "opportunity" like this and laugh while walking away...most of these people are novices). And finally, my experience seeing what can happen in long distance races for a cash purse made me pray that the project would never get off the ground. Back in 2000 to 2002 when the UAE was making a huge push to introduce the sport of endurance racing to many of the countries in the Middle East and North Africa, there were many races for sizeable purses in countries where the locals had no idea of what was involved in traveling on a horse for a distance of over about 10 miles....and many, many, many dead horses during and after the races.

Emails have been flying back and forth for a number of months while we all waited for The Adventurists to suddenly regain sanity regarding this race, but this has not happened. Apparently the race is on, the participants have ponied up their entrance fee (to use an unforgivable pun) and possibly the biggest equestrian disaster to hit the news in recent time is in the offing. No efforts have been made for this to be sanctioned under international rules with the appropriate supervision by stewards and vets. In a serious endurance race, it is required that horses pass a veterinary check at the beginning, the end, and at stages throughout the race, generally not more that 25 miles apart. The horses' condition is of the utmost concern and if the horse is not fit to continue the rider and horse are disqualified. There are NO veterinarians involved in this project at all. A group of relatively inexperienced riders are on their own.

I would suggest that you go to the website linked to the title of this post to see the research that the Guild has conducted in their efforts to convince The Adventurists that while dropping off clueless auto enthusiasts in uncomfortable places might endanger the humans involved, they have no right to endanger the horses of Mongolia in this way. There are a number of petitions that can be signed, letters that can be sent. We are all hoping that someone with a degree of sense will block this madness. The world is a smaller place now and we are all responsible for it.


copyright 2009 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani

No comments: