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Preserving the Literary Legacy of the Tschiffely Estate

Eighty years ago a quiet unassuming Swiss man with no previous equestrian travel experience set the high water mark against which all mounted explorations are still compared.

The story of Tschiffely, and his Criollo geldings, Mancha and Gato, is the unlikely tale of a man and horses who were mocked by the world.  Decried as a suicidal Don Quixote with two old horses, their Cinderella story has passed down into modern legend as the most important equestrian travel tale of the 20th century. In this rare 1930s photo, Aimé is seen riding Mancha, “the spotted one.”

Photo courtesy of Jean, Lady Polwarth.
Copyright The Tschiffely Estate and The Long Riders’ Guild.

Click on photo to enlarge.

Aimé Tschiffely (1895 -1954) is rightfully considered the most famous Long Rider of all time due to the legendary 10,000 mile solo journey he undertook from Buenos Aires to Washington DC in the 1920s. His journey became the inspiration for the most influential equestrian travel book ever written. Entitled “Tschiffely’s Ride,” Aimé’s autobiographical tale of mounted adventure has inspired five generations to swing into the saddle and follow his equestrian example. What few people know is that Aimé’s literary career was launched thanks to another famous horseman, the Scottish nobleman Robert Cunninghame Graham.

Known as “Don Roberto,” Cunninghame Graham (1852-1936) was an author, traveller, explorer, politician and adventurer. A man possessed of extraordinary talents, tireless energy and considerable courage, Don Roberto’s friend and contemporary Joseph Conrad remarked, “When I think of Cunninghame Graham, I feel as though I have lived all my life in a dark hole without seeing or knowing anything.”

During his crowded life Don Roberto was variously a Member of Parliament, a gaucho in South America, a fencing master, a founder member of both the Independent Labour Party and the Scottish National Party, a rancher, horse-trainer, buffalo hunter and Long Rider through North and South America.  In addition he wrote prolifically. He was the author of travel books, a biography, eleven histories of Latin America, fourteen volumes of short stories and the literary patron of “Tschiffely’s Ride,” the book that changed the face of equestrian travel forever.

Click on picture to enlarge.

Don Roberto Cunninghame Graham was uniquely qualified to appreciate Tschiffely’s tale of equestrian exploration. Born in 1852 to an aristocratic Scottish family, Cunninghame Graham spent his youth working as a gaucho in Argentina. These early adventures gave him a life-long appreciation for South America.  An avid horseman, Don Roberto was also one of the first European writers to defend the rights of native peoples. He is seen here in an oil painting by his friend, the famous artist Sir John Lavery.

Reproduced by permission of the Museo Nacional del Bellas Artes, Buenos Aires, Argentina.

Upon completing his epic equestrian journey, Aimé arrived in London armed with little more than his unpublished manuscript. After weeks of disappointing rejections, the discouraged Long Rider was about to head back to Argentina. That’s when “fate” intruded. Before catching the boat to South America, Aimé stopped by the Argentine embassy to say “adios” to his friends stationed there. One of these well-connected diplomats urged Aimé to make one last attempt at publication. He could, the diplomat said, arrange a meeting with that distinguished man of letters, Don Roberto. Young, unknown, poor and unpublished, Aimé refused to ask for help from this literary giant whom he had admired for years. But when he received a telegram from Don Roberto, the hesitant equestrian explorer agreed to meet Don Roberto for lunch the following day.

Don Roberto, far from being aloof, was deeply interested in the younger man’s unpublished manuscript. In fact, unbeknownst to Aimé, the Scottish author had included a chapter in his recent anthology commending the Swiss Long Rider’s courage. Aimé’s battered manuscript was passed across the table, then duly delivered to Don Roberto’s London publisher. Thus Tschiffely’s Ride the book that lit the bonfire of modern equestrian exploration, came into being because of a chance meeting.

It is what transpired over the next few years that now concerns us. For what no one could have foreseen was the deep and lasting friendship which would develop between the older and childless Don Roberto and his hard-riding protégé. Therein lies a tale lost to all but a few, the story of how Aimé and Don Roberto linked their literary legacies and passed them on to an unlikely heir who guarded them for thirty years.


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