Basha O’Reilly with Count Pompeii during their epic journey.
The death of Basha O’Reilly early this year shocked the Long Rider community. Accomplished American Long Rider Lucy Leaf, who rode her horse 7000 miles across the United States in the 1970s, reviews O’Reilly’s book, Bandits and Bureaucrats, which chronicles a remarkable 2500-mile ride from Russia to England in the years following the collapse of the Soviet Union.
“She is one of us now,” the rider shouted and the Cossacks cheered. The interpreter handed Basha O’Reilly a Cossack bridle. It was offered as a gift in recognition of her riding abilities.
The trip to Russia arose from an offer from her English friend who had been invited to a dog show and trials in Moscow. “Why don’t you come?” she put to Basha. “While we’re there, would you like to ride with the Cossacks?”
Protectors of the steppes, these fierce horsemen had been associated with freedom and independence since the 15th century. “Of course I would,” came the excited response.
Two days of riding with the Cossacks convinced Basha that their rugged, sturdy horses matched their reputation. Then and there, she decided she wanted to buy several for herself, and to ride them 2500 miles home to England, though she had never heard of such a thing in modern times. The idea sounded completely natural to her, but to others, it was fantastical dangerous madness.
“My civilized, privileged, sophisticated side rejected the idea as absurd, but some strange, new, wild part of me refused to let it die.”
Bandits and Bureaucrats is the story of her horseback journey across western Russia, Belarus and Poland and then finally the last miles to her home in England. The year was 1995, during the confusion following the collapse of the Soviet Union. There was no tradition of travel in Russia, and therefore no tradition of hospitality. But as Basha noted, there were also no fences. The steppes lay open, travelers could camp anywhere, and with proper documentation, foreigners could travel without a guide. She would need to learn Russian, and also how to sleep in a tent. In the life she left behind, “roughing it” had meant enduring a four-star versus a five-star hotel.
Read the entire story here