2020 is shaping up to be the unofficial Year of the Armchair Traveller, so with that in mind, we asked our globetrotters for their recommendations on horse travel books to help tide us over until we can get back in the saddle on another horse riding holiday.
The following true stories all come highly recommended, and there really is something for everyone here whether you’re a fan of family drama, romance, history or just a rollicking good adventure. Read on for our top 18 globetrotting titles to fuel your wanderlust!
The Horse Boy by Rupert Isaacson has fast become a bit of a classic among horse loving families. It’s the true story of the Isaacsons, who travelled together to Mongolia to help their severely autistic son, Rowan, who had an inexplicable but miraculous connection with horses. Spoiler alert: Mongolia did wonders for the whole family! If you’re thinking of journeying to this fascinating country, The Horse Boy is a beautiful introduction to Mongolia’s people and way of life as seen by outsiders.
On the other hand, if you’re already booked on the Khovsgol Ride or the Arhangay Ride, we cannot recommend On the Trail of Genghis Khan more highly. Tim Cope weaves Mongolia’s history and its current reality effortlessly and vividly around his own epic story of riding the entire length of the Eurasian Steppe, from Mongolia to Hungary. By the time you’ve finished this gripping tale, you’ll be champing at the bit for your own Mongolian adventure!
Oh, and before we move on from Mongolia, who’s heard of the Mongol Derby? Known as the longest, toughest horse race in the world, this 1,000 kilometre ride across the wild steppe draws competitors from all backgrounds, from professional equestrians to hardcore adventurers. Fearless by Chloe Phillips-Harris and Rough Magic by Lara Prior-Palmer are both amazing memoirs recounting this ultimate test of endurance and spirit.
Now, to Iceland! Whether you’re one of the many who feel a mysterious pull towards this enigmatic country or one of the lucky few who are booked on the Touch of the Highlands Ride or the Wilderness Expedition, you must read Tory Bilski’s Wild Horses of the Summer Sun. The memoir spans 12 years, during which time Tory joins a group of horse loving travellers on an annual escape to a remote Icelandic horse haven. What is it that keeps drawing her back to Iceland? You can read the book to find out, or you can go and see for yourself… we recommend doing both!
Representing Argentina, we have A. F. Tschiffely. Arguably the world’s most famous equestrian explorer, Tschiffely inspired generations of ‘long riders’ to follow in his hoofprints. He penned Tschiffely’s Ride after spending two and a half years riding 10,000 miles from Argentina to Washington DC, and was soon a household name in the United States. This book is a classic of its genre and a must-read if you’re booked on The Patagonia Trail or our estancia ride in Argentina’s Sierras Chicas.
And having spoken so highly of Tschiffely, we can’t forget Ana Beker, the extraordinary Argentinean woman who was so inspired after hearing Tschiffely speak about his ride that she set out to best him! The Courage to Ride is her account of the 17,000 mile journey from Argentina to Canada, and if it doesn’t inspire you to get in the saddle, we don’t know what will.
If France captures your imagination, then White Horses Over France by Robin Hanbury-Tenison will have you drooling. It tells of Robin and his wife Louella’s quest to fulfill their dream of riding two Camargue horses from their native wetlands to the couple’s farm in Cornwall, England. In doing so, their horses become the first Camargues to step foot on British soil. With its poetic descriptions of rural French scenery and charmingly British narrator, this book would is the perfect entrée to your own horse riding holiday in The Camargue – or maybe Bordeaux, or the Loire Valley!
For a taste of what awaits in Spain, get your mitts on a copy of Bridle Roads of Spain. Written by George Cayley in the 1850s, this is an absolute classic, full of incredibly poetic, evocative descriptions (and illustrations – see above!) of Spanish life, balanced with an action-packed storyline. Haven’t we all wished on occasion that we could run away to Spain, find a travel companion, buy a pair of fine Spanish horses and ride off into the sunset? Well, that’s more or less what Cayley did. The book is available to read for free on several websites, including this one, if you don’t want to buy a physical copy. Or you could make a dash for Andalusia, Catalonia, or the Dressage Ride. #justsaying
One of our favourite books about wild horses is Eat the Wind by Robin Sisley, which documents Robin’s journey from novice horsewoman to co-owner of scores of New Zealand’s wild Kaimanawa horses – all in the space of a few months. But it’s what comes next that is truly incredible. Kaimanawa horses are intelligent, beautiful, sensible and have the most fascinating personalities, as you’ll know if you’ve experienced The River Valley Ride. Robin shares her adventures and misadventures as a guardian of these horses with honesty, humour and compassion.
Over in the Australian section of the Globetrotting library, we have Wild Horses Don’t Swim by Michael Keenan, a farmer and passionate horseman. This book is as much a landscape memoir as it is an adventure story, painting a stunning portrait of the Kimberley, one of the wildest and most remote parts of Australia. The story follows Mike, his wife Sal and the local Banuba people as they ride in search of the legendary rock art that could save the Franklin River from being dammed. The perfect prequel to your very own Kimberley Ride.
There’s also A Standard Journey, the story of author Jackie Parry and her husband Noel’s anything-but-standard journey along Australia’s Bicentennial National Trail. Leading from Healesville in Victoria to Cooktown in northern Queensland, this trail is not for the faint-hearted. Having sold their possessions to fund the ride, Jackie and Noel adopted five ex-racehorses and retrained them for the journey. But of course, it wasn’t just the horses that were transformed.
And speaking of the Bicentennial National Trail, it would be remiss of us not to mention The Colour of Courage by Sharon Muir Watson, which tells of the two year journey that she and Ken Roberts undertook to become the first people ever to ride the entire 5,000 kilometre trail. This is a true-blue Aussie adventure story, filled with vivid landscapes and colourful characters that just about jump off the page. Perfect if you’re headed to the mountains for the Howqua River Ride or the Craig’s Hut & High Country Ride!
Black Sands and Celestial Horses by Gill Suttle is as enchanting as the title suggests. Drawn to the mystique of the Akhal-Teke, a legendary and ancient horse breed from Turkmenistan, Suttle planned an unassisted ride across its homeland, through one of the most isolated deserts in the world. Along the way, her magnificent stallion Kaan proved time and again why the Akhal-Teke has been treasured for millennia. Suttle is a fantastic storyteller and depicts Turkmenistan and its people respectfully and insightfully.
Saddletramp and Vagabond chronicle the adventures of long rider Jeremy James. In Saddletramp, he rides from Turkey to Wales – first on an old, unridden Arabian stallion, then an unbroken filly bought from the knackerman, and finally an Italian horse called Gonzo. The follow-up, Vagabond, sees him ride with his friend Chumpie from Bulgaria to Berlin with two horses as free-willed and artful as the Bulgarian Gypsies they were bought from! Both these books are amazing accounts of horse travel in the modern world, where medieval villages sit side by side with four-lane highways. The pleasures and perils may be different in this day and age, but their allure is timeless.
Perhaps the ultimate modern-day horse travel story is Globetrotting by Rosie Jones McVey. We say this because not only did this woman travel around the world riding horses, she travelled around the world learning about horses. Her quest was not simply to discover foreign lands; it was to discover the secrets of the relationship between our two species. She explored the meaning of horsemanship with cowboys, scientists, professional equestrians, horse dealers, jockeys and countless more fascinating characters to reach an understanding of what it really means for people to train horses (or is it the other way around?).
Last but by no means least we have the long rider’s bible: The Horse Travel Handbook by CuChullaine O-Reilly. All the information you need to travel safely by horse, whether independently or as part of a group, has been condensed into this invaluable book – and it fits in a saddlebag! Although you’re not likely to need to know how to outwit horse thieves or negotiate with guards at national borders on a Globetrotting holiday, if you’ve ever dreamed of riding off into the wilderness on your own, don’t go anywhere before reading this book!
Have you read any of these stories, globetrotters? What did you think? Let us know in the comments!