Cross Coun­try With Jim Wof­ford

Jim re­flect• on a few of the coun­tle•• in•tance• when hor•e• have been an in­trin•ic part of hu­man hi•tory.

Practical Horseman - - Contents -

Jim ex­am­ines the his­tor­i­cal im­pact of the con­nec­tion be­tween hu­mans and horses through­out time.

Most of us have read Henry Wadsworth Longfel­low’s poem about the his­tor­i­cal ride that Paul Re­vere took on “the eigh­teenth of April, sev­enty five,” to alert the Min­ute­men of Lex­ing­ton and Con­cord that Bri­tish sol­diers were com­ing. I sup­pose we can’t mea­sure the his­tor­i­cal im­pact of men on horse­back strictly by the dis­tance they cov­ered. Re­vere rode only about 30 miles, al­though it was the mid­dle of the night and most of it was on un­lit back roads and coun­try lanes. Still, we are the ben­e­fi­cia­ries of Re­vere’s en­deavor.

I read this poem the other day and got to think­ing about men rid­ing on horse­back to change his­tory. Most of my col­umns here in Prac­ti­cal Horse­man are aimed at im­prov­ing your rid­ing skills, but oc­ca­sion­ally I write about other as­pects of the horse world. His­tory is an­other of my in­ter­ests, and I thought that for a while I would com­bine my his­tor­i­cal read­ing and ru­mi­na­tion and my life­long fas­ci­na­tion with horses.

Early Hoof­prints

This is quite a big topic, and over the next few months I plan to write sev­eral col­umns about horses and mankind through­out his­tory. His­to­rian John Moore said, “Wher­ever man has left his foot­print in the long as­cent from bar­barism to civ­i­liza-

“Lis­ten, my chil­dren, and you shall hear Of the mid­night ride of Paul Re­vere …”

tion we will find the hoof­print of the horse along­side.” It goes with­out say­ing that I can only high­light some se­lected ex­am­ples from mil­len­nia of hu­man/equine part­ner­ship. Once I started think­ing about horses and his­tory, I was spoiled for choice. I had to leave out far more than I in­cluded.

For starters, of course, it wasn’t just men who rode to change his­tory; there were plenty of women who fea­tured as well. Boadicea, Queen of the Celts in 60 AD, per­son­ally led her troops into bat­tle against the Ro­man Em­pire, al­though she and her two daugh­ters did it from a horse­drawn char­iot rather than a sad­dle. One ac­count says that she was un­suc­cess­ful and com­mit­ted sui­cide as a re­sult of her de­feat. I sup­pose this puts fail­ure at your most re­cent com­pe­ti­tion in per­spec­tive.

In 1429, Joan of Arc led her troops to vic­tory at the Siege of Or­léans, which is quite an achieve­ment for a woman who

was 17 at the time. In the few por­traits I have seen of her, she is rid­ing astride a pow­er­ful gray horse. She was no fig­ure­head; his­tory re­ports that, al­though wounded dur­ing the fi­nal bat­tle for Or­léans, she re­turned and led her troops to vic­tory. Her courage was truly God-given, as Joan was mo­ti­vated by re­li­gious vi­sions. These vi­sions even­tu­ally led to her down­fall, and in 1431 she was burned at the stake. There were 70 charges against her, in­clud­ing witch­craft, heresy, and—hor­ror of hor­rors—wear­ing men’s cloth­ing. One of her re­marks has come down to us: “I am not afraid,” she said, “I was born to do this.” I oc­ca­sion­ally think of it when I see one of our new cross­coun­try stars fear­lessly gal­lop­ing at a high rate of speed to­ward some huge ob­sta­cle. While that is a good motto for an even­ter, it helps if your ad­vi­sor is a ce­les­tial be­ing.

Fast for­ward to 1588, and an­other fe­male fig­ure rode out to change his­tory. In an­tic­i­pa­tion of the Span­ish In­va­sion, El­iz­a­beth I gave a fa­mous speech to her army at Til­bury, east of Lon­don and close by the mouth of the River Thames. His­to­ri­ans have care­fully noted her wardrobe: She was dressed in white vel­vet, wear­ing a cuirass (ar­mor that pro­tected the front of her torso) and—most im­por­tantly for our pur­poses—she was mounted on a gray geld­ing. The white vel­vet would have co­or­di­nated nicely with her steed. (Even back then, ac­ces­soriz­ing was an im­por­tant de­tail when plan­ning one’s com­pet­i­tive at­tire.) By all ac­counts, she gave a stemwinder of a speech, say­ing, “I know I have the body of a weak, fee­ble woman; but I have the heart and stom­ach of a king, and of a king of Eng­land, too.”

It would take ap­prox­i­mately three and a half cen­turies be­fore the In­ter­na­tional Olympic Com­mit­tee would take El­iz­a­beth I’s words to heart. Ger­man dres­sage rider Liselott Lin­sen­hoff and Bri­tish show-jump­ing rider Pat Smythe would break through the IOC’s glass ceil­ing in 1956, and in 1964 U.S. even­ter Lana Du Pont would fi­nally achieve full equal­ity for fe­male eques­trian ath­letes. Their cause was helped along by the fact that all three of these ath­letes won medals in their first Olympics. It only took the IOC 370 years to no­tice that, while some ath­letes might have the

In 1429, Joan of Arc led her troops to vic­tory at the Siege of Or­léans, which is quite an achieve­ment for a woman who was 17 at the time.

body of a weak, fee­ble woman, they could have the hearts and stom­achs of kings—and could horse­back as well as any man. Given the IOC’s usual re­ac­tion to change, this is fairly rapid, by their mea­sure­ments.

Emer­gence of the Mon­gols

But it is also a his­tor­i­cal fact that most of mankind’s early devel­op­ment in­volved men on horse­back. The late 10th Duke of Beau­fort (owner of Bad­minton House, site of the Bad­minton Horse Tri­als) once re­marked that un­sound men on un­sound horses have done the ma­jor­ity of the world’s work. One of the most in­ter­est­ing eras of men on horse­back is that of the Mon­gol hordes, ini­tially led by Genghis Khan (Great Ruler). Born as Temüjin in the 1160s, he ded­i­cated the early part of his mil­i­tary ca­reer to unit­ing the Mon­gol tribes, who usu­ally spent their time war­ring with one an­other. (His ca­reer bears an eerie sim­i­lar­ity to a more re­cent pe­riod in the his­tory of the U.S., and I will re­turn to that in some of my next col­umns.)

By 1206, Temüjin had fi­nally united the Mon­gol na­tion and was de­clared Genghis Khan. From that point un­til his death in 1227, he con­quered one of the largest em­pires ever seen, one that stretched from present-day In­dia to Rus­sia and from Hun­gary to China. Mod­ern his­to­ri­ans ca­su­ally re­mark that Temüjin united the war­ring tribes and set out to con­quer the world. We should pause for a mo­ment and con­sider the qual­i­ties of a man who could con­vince sus­pi­cious, pride­ful chief­tains to sup­port his vi­sion of a great war­ring na­tion, built on vast, mo­bile armies ca­pa­ble of con­trol­ling un­heard-of dis­tances.

An Em­pire Based on Horses

Any no­madic, horse-pow­ered so­ci­ety will dis­play cer­tain char­ac­ter­is­tics. Its mem- bers will be de­cen­tral­ized, highly mo­bile and fiercely in­de­pen­dent. The life of each tribe will cen­ter on horses, a con­ve­nient means of wealth stor­age that also pro­vides trans­port, food and drink. While Temüjin had out­stand­ing lead­er­ship qual­i­ties, much of his suc­cess was built on the backs of Mon­gol horses, which were (and re­main) ca­pa­ble of thriv­ing in the most dif­fi­cult con­di­tions. On long, tax­ing marches, a Mon­gol war­rior would open a small vein in his horse’s neck and drink the blood as a source of liq­uid and nour­ish­ment, ei­ther whole or mixed with wa­ter. A tra­di­tional gift to trav­el­ers, fer­mented mare’s milk is still of­fered to mod­ern trav­el­ers in Cen­tral Asia as re­fresh­ment. This del­i­cacy is not on my per­sonal bucket list.

One of the first Western ob­servers to write about the Mon­gol horses, Gio­vanni Da Pian Del Carpini (later Arch­bishop of Ser­bia) re­marked in about 1245 that

they were “not very great in stature, but ex­ceed­ingly strong, and main­tained with lit­tle proven­der.” Mon­gol horses weren’t the only tough ones around. Pope In­no­cent IV sent Gio­vanni, who was about 50 years old at the time, on a diplo­matic mis­sion to the Mon­gols. Ac­cord­ing to his di­ary, Gio­vanni and a com­pan­ion cov­ered 3,000 miles in 106 days. Tough men on tough horses.

The Mon­gol horses of that era were ca­pa­ble of in­cred­i­ble feats of en­durance. Never fed grains, they for­aged for them­selves year-round, eat­ing snow for wa­ter dur­ing the harsh Mon­go­lian win­ters, and could carry nearly their own weight for days at a time. When hitched to a cart, four Mon­go­lian horses were ca­pa­ble of haul­ing more than 2 tons for 10 miles a day. Short and stocky, they av­er­aged 12 to 15 hands and usu­ally about 600 pounds with a large head and thick legs.

If the Mon­gols reck­oned their wealth in the num­ber of horses they owned, then Genghis Khan’s men were rich in­deed. Each war­rior brought five or six horses with him on cam­paigns, switch­ing horses through­out the day to pre­vent any one horse from be­com­ing un­duly fa­tigued.

Mon­gol armies cov­ered 60 to 100 miles per day, an un­heard-of pace for the time. Their speed and mo­bil­ity were ma­jor fac­tors in their bat­tle­field suc­cess, as were their un­canny ac­cu­racy with the bow and ar­rows that each man car­ried and their abil­ity to shoot their ar­rows at the gal­lop while hid­ing un­der their horses’ necks. (They would not be the only no­madic cul­ture to per­fect this bat­tle­field skill.)

Genghis Khan re­marked, “It is easy to con­quer the world from the back of a horse: It is dis­mount­ing and gov­ern­ing that is hard.” In or­der to con­trol their vast em­pire for hun­dreds of years, Genghis Khan and his de­scen­dants in­sti­tuted a sys­tem of mounted couri­ers (called “ar­row mes­sen­gers”) who were part of a yam, or mes­sen­ger ser­vice. These ar­row mes­sen­gers would take a mes­sage and ride, as swift and straight as an ar­row, to the next sta­tion, where an­other rider would be wait­ing. This sys­tem al­lowed for rapid com­mu­ni­ca­tion over a vast em­pire, an em­pire that would last for cen­turies—thanks to the Mon­go­lian horse.

I hinted ear­lier that Genghis Khan’s suc­cess was not an iso­lated ex­am­ple. His­tory has sev­eral in­stances of new em­pires be­ing founded on horse­back around the world, and in my next col­umn I will trace the sub­se­quent emer­gence of em­pires in the New World. Mean­while, for those of you who have be­come as fond of the Mon­go­lian horse as I have, you can read more about the mod­ern Mon­gol horses in an ar­ti­cle on page 38 by Prac­ti­cal Horse­man’s Jo­ce­lyn Pierce, who was a suc­cess­ful par­tic­i­pant in this sum­mer’s Mon­gol Derby.

If you wait long enough, his­tory will re­peat it­self. Al­though un­til re­cently women were con­sid­ered too weak and fee­ble to ride in the Olympics, they had his­tory on their side. It wasn’t all that long ago that El­iz­a­beth I (played here by Cate Blanchett in a movie) was rid­ing at the head of her troops, ready for com­bat. That was an hon­or­able tra­di­tion started more than 1,000 years ear­lier by Queen Boadicea of the Celts. Driv­ing a char­iot, Boadicea led her sol­diers into bat­tle with the Ro­man Em­pire around 60 AD. His­tory re­ports that Boadicea was de­feated in that bat­tle and sub­se­quently com­mit­ted sui­cide. I men­tion this to help you main­tain a lit­tle per­spec­tive the next time your com­pe­ti­tion plans don’t work out. Fast for­ward to the 21st cen­tury: In 2018, fe­male com­bat vet­er­ans from both po­lit­i­cal par­ties are run­ning for high of­fice. You’ve come a long way, baby, to get back to where you were a long time ago.

Horses are gonna be horses. It is oddly com­fort­ing to know that Mon­go­lian horses take the same jaun­diced view of hu­mans now, dur­ing the an­nual Mon­gol Derby, that they did dur­ing the time of Genghis Khan nearly 1,000 years ago. Derby rider An­thony Strange, shown here suf­fer­ing an in­vol­un­tary dis­mount at the start of the 2016 Mon­gol Derby, is not tak­ing much com­fort from his mount. How­ever—no blood, no foul, and An­drew went on to re­mount and suc­cess­fully com­plete the long­est (and cer­tainly the most dif­fi­cult) horse race in the world. The an­nual Mon­gol Derby course tra­verses 1,000 kilo­me­ters (more than 600 miles) across the steppes of Mon­go­lia and cel­e­brates the postal sys­tem de­vel­oped by Genghis Khan. Us­ing mounted “ar­row mes­sen­gers,” he quickly sent and re­ceived in­struc­tions and re­ports from the far reaches of a vast em­pire. This would not be the last sys­tem of mounted couri­ers used to con­nect a far-flung em­pire, as I will il­lus­trate in my next col­umn.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from USA

© PressReader. All rights reserved.