Four good legs are better than two lousy ones. So if you have an incapacitating illness, incurably itchy feet and an affinity for horses, what better country to make for than Mongolia, where horses outnumber people and have supported the nomadic lifestyle for 3000 years? In this country of contradiction and paradox, though, live horsepower may still be more elusive than the mechanical sort… if rather more reliable. Making the best of whichever’s available, Gill Suttle sets out to discover whether, for some at least, there is hope of a life after – even during – the destructive illness ME.
But what of life after Communism? Is this land, from which the Mongol hordes of Genghis Khan once exploded to conquer empires, faring better or worse under the new lesson of democracy than the many other satellites of the former USSR? Exploring the diverse layers of Mongolian society together with the immense and varied landscapes, the author encounters a tough and resilient people making the best of hard times. From Yuppie wannabes in the capital, Ulaan Baatar, nomads of the ancient reindeer culture on the borders of Siberia, Titans in the wrestling arena and others come many stories of determination and success – such as the dramatic resurgence of the Buddhist faith, and the reintroduction of the endangered, prehistoric Przewalski Horse to its native land.
This is a story of the Silk Routes of Western Turkestan, of the deserts through which they were driven, and of the cities which define them; of journeys through space and time, through deserts, mountains and millennia; and of a solo journey on horseback along the fringes of the Kara Kum, or Black Sands, of Turkmenistan.
It is also a story of the Turcoman Horse, whose forebears were Sacred to their early breeders, the Persians; while the Chinese Emperors who desired them called them Celestial.
These two themes cannot be separated; for the second inspired the first, and you may not search out one without stumbling across the other.
One such horse enters the story and makes it his own: a horse who prints his personality deeply upon the journey, a horse ultimately destined to travel further afield than most of his illustrious ancestors.
This story is peopled by heroes and villains, from Alexander the Great via Genghis Khan to players in the Great Game; but its greatest heroes are the ordinary people of Central Asia today. They enable a uniquely unrestricted view of old and proud lands, seen in a brief moment between the collapse of the USSR and the rapidly closing doors of new, even more repressive regimes.
A former British modern pentathlon team member, three-day event rider and the first woman to win a full Oxford Blue for running, Gill Suttle found not just her sport but every significant part of her former life wiped out by the disabling condition ME (Myalgic Encephalomyelitis).
Some years on, she breaks out of the prison of illness by travelling, in a van complete with bed, to Eastern Europe. Sometimes exchanging the driving seat for the saddle, she enjoys some fascinating glimpses behind the scenes of eight former Communist countries struggling to throw off their recent past; and in the process manages to shed at least part of her own.
From the heights of Berlin’s biggest big wheel in Europe to the depths of a Czech pothole… mummies in a Slovakian crypt to nudists on an Estonian beach… watching Polish wild beavers to eating Lithuanian elk… riding among Hungarian cowboys to midnight arrest by gun-toting Soviet-style police – this is a wide view of Eastern Europe at its best (and worst), as well as a personal journey.
Published by the Long Riders Guild Press
The following is a poignant reminder of Syria as it used to be.
To those for whom the name of Syria conjures up images of George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil”, or who picture the Middle East in general to be a place of endemic unrest or squabbling religious factions, this book will come as a revelation. Here they will discover a nation where all clans and creeds live in enviable harmony, their goodwill towards each other exceeded only by the warmth of their welcome to an eccentric foreigner.
Syria’s people represent the top layer of a multi-dimensional mosaic; for few countries possess such a diversity of culture, religion, topography or historical legacy. This is the story of a journey into more than one landscape.
A passion for Arab horses and a long acquaintance with Syria inspired the author to travel on horseback into the backwoods of this fascinating land in 1998. Here is an account greatly differing from those of most recent equestrian travel books, which usually describe heavily organised expeditions complete with logistics team, back-up lorry, spare horses and all the latest equipment. In contrast, this traveller enjoyed a relaxed, spontaneous ramble, living out of home-made saddlebags, enjoying the hospitality of local people and often sleeping rough. Best of all, her companion was that of her wildest childhood fantasies: an Arab stallion.
Together horse and rider traversed the gorges and cornfields of the Orontes valley, where Roman water wheels still work alongside modern irrigation; lost themselves among the ridges and passes of the Alawi Mountain, whose various minority sects live happily together and whose ruined castles recall the times of the Crusades; briefly touched the Mediterranean shore, before crossing the western reaches of the Badiat ash-Sham, or Syrian Desert, on the way down to the Damascus Oasis. They trod where the Egyptian Pharaoh gave battle, supped with descendants of Biblical Assyrians and mediaeval Assassins, and visited the Jebel-ad-Din, or Mountain of Faith, where villagers still speak Aramaic, the language of Christ.
While briefly informed by history, Islam and its offshoots, geography and – where absolutely unavoidable – politics, this delightful book is principally an account of the people of Syria – and of a gallant and memorable horse.
Long Riders Guild Press 2006