The Origins of the LRG-AF
by CuChullaine O'Reilly FRGS
Founding Member of The Long Riders' Guild
Archaeological Mystery leads to an Equine Discovery
forget the day the news crossed our desks at
Long Riders’ Guild.
to a report, archaeologists had unearthed the skeleton of a horse that may have
lived and died in California hundreds of years before the Spanish arrived ! The
find was extremely significant because native North American horses were
believed to have become extinct at least 10,000 years before Europeans
reintroduced horses onto the continent. Yet preliminary carbon dating indicated
the equine bones found on a cliff near Carlsbad, California were at least a
hundred years older than the first known Spanish settlement in nearby San Diego.
bones were as old as evidence suggested this would open a Pandora’s box of
equestrian questions. In search of answers I contacted The Guild’s colleagues in
the equestrian press. Surprisingly not a reporter from Los Angeles to London had
heard about this remarkable discovery, including a noted equestrian journalist
who lived less than twenty miles from the archaeological dig. By the time I
discovered that the mysterious bones were actually from a 19th
century equid, work was well advanced on a $150 million 700 room resort being
built on top of the important equestrian archaeological site.
Riders’ Guild was likewise surprised to read about “the greatest gathering in
recent times of equine behaviour and welfare scientists.” Surely such a meeting
in picturesque Iceland would have generated vital verdicts which would be of
critical interest to the international equestrian community? Yet news of this
important meeting, held in 2002, had been buried in an obscure text book.
A Lack of
publishers of the largest equestrian travel collection in history, The Long
Riders’ Guild had become increasingly aware that these two examples demonstrated
a disconcerting lack of academic coordination in the international equestrian
world. The twin cases of the mysterious bones and the missed meeting confirmed
our suspicion that what little equestrian research being undertaken was seldom
shared with the horse world at large.
example, there was little or no discussion in the international equestrian
community regarding a voracious argument raging through the corridors of
academia, one where one group of scientists believed Eneolithic equine jaw bones
found at Botai, Kazakhstan indicate evidence of early bit wear, and thus proved
the prehistoric origin of horseback riding, versus an opposing group who argued
that humans herded wild horses on foot across the steppes of Central Asia.
for this log-jam of equine information dissemination were rooted in several late
20th century problems and the first one seemed to centre on the
always need testing,” said Sterling Nesbitt, from the American Museum of Natural
History. Yet to test an idea, it first has to be investigated and discussed. It
alarmed us therefore to discover that while we could easily locate university
lectures on Endangered Languages, Anthropology of Ancient Foods, and Recent
Trends in Pirate Studies, a leading North American anthropologist assured us
that “to the best of my knowledge there are no equine anthropology courses.”
Nor were we
the only ones to recognise the lack of an academic-equestrian spirit of mutual
cooperation. In their recent book, The Culture of the Horse, Karen Raber
and Treva Tucker complained, “To write anything intelligent on the subject of
the horse, it is often necessary to combine training in the academic professions
with training in, or at least substantial exposure to, the arts and nuances of
horsemanship; yet few people now ride, given the expense and cultural
marginalization of riding, and even fewer of those are also academically trained
Concerns override Research
problem didn’t just rest there as the English equestrian author, Harold Barclay,
had observed as far back as 1987. “The horse journals and popular horse books
are too full of gross historical and ethnographic error, and the historians and
anthropologists who deal with the horse sometimes hardly know the difference
between a crupper and a collar,” he said.
think, for example, that the debate vis-à-vis how long ago mankind became
mounted was of immense interest and importance to the horseback riders of today.
Barclay noted, equestrian magazines on both sides of the Atlantic bear a large
responsibility for not promoting the subject of equestrian academic
investigation among their readers.
is nothing but an induced epidemic,” George Bernard Shaw had observed and the
fashion in too many of the equestrian magazines could be defined as a dedication
to consumerism, nationalism and sexism.
free hair condition and shampoo at the wash racks,” bragged a well-known
California show trainer to the horse press. “Our horses are washed, bathed and
prepped before they go into the show ring and after a daily workout.”
duopoly of competition and commercialism had diverted attention away from
serious study. Ironically it had also helped turn horses into paddock potatoes
whose original function, as a key to inspiration and liberation, has
been replaced by their owner’s desire for a moveable social symbol and an
Riders’ Guild disquiet grew when we scrutinized the rise of the equine priest
craft, those equestrian judges who view the horse as the manifestation of a
strict methodology or a iconic representation of a group identity. Likewise,
with the exception of veterinary science, the lack of expansive scientific
equestrian study in history, philosophy, archaeology or anthropology had opened
the door to a plethora of shamanistic, New Age, equine quackery where the only
limit to the fantasy was its ultimate profitability. In such a horse world, if
it sells, it’s right.
In an age
where students have never functioned without the Internet, Wikipedia, Google and
Print-On-Demand publishing, an adherence to out-dated equine beliefs and
antiquated scholastic methods can only deter a planet-wide investigation into
the importance and benefits of the horse.
needed is the creation of a new kind of equestrian intellectual effort, one
recognises the mutual need for intuition in the saddle and academic excellence
in the classroom, one which
encourages the development of common ground between the rider and the professor,
one which supports the practical side of horsemanship alongside the intellectual
investigations of the horse, one where important equestrian discoveries are
shared via the internet with a global community of academics and riders who
share a mutual devotion to the study of this unique trans-species partnership.
goals of the Long Riders’ Guild Academic Foundation are the creation of an
open-source website consisting of academic articles of an equine nature,
equine-related news stories, rare equine theses, equine-related commentary and
investigations, and the creation of the largest collection of equestrian wisdom
and history books ever seen.
What is at
stake is the continued viability and understanding of the unique horse-human
relationship and this can be achieved via the creation of an international
on-line academic-equestrian network whose goal is a horse-related information
revolution without borders.
Riders’ Guild has launched this academic foundation therefore to encourage the
growth of an equestrian enlightenment which
will enable innovative, curious
and tolerant people to study the role of the horse in a variety of venues.