The Long Riders Guild Academic Foundation
The world’s first global hippological study

The Origins of the LRG-AF

by CuChullaine O'Reilly FRGS
Founding Member of The Long Riders' Guild

 An Archaeological Mystery leads to an Equine Discovery

 I’ll never forget the day the news crossed our desks at The Long Riders’ Guild.

According 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.

If the 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.

The Long 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 Equestrian Experience

As 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.

For 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.

The causes 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 universities themselves.

“Ideas 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 scholars.”

Commercial Concerns override Research

Yet the 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.

One would 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.

However, as 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.

“A fashion 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.

“We have 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.”

Thus this 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 aristocratic accoutrement.

The Long 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.

An Equestrian Enlightenment

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.

What is needed is the creation of a new kind of equestrian intellectual effort, one which 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.

Thus the 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.

The Long 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.