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FAQs

Will there be a DVD available of the series?

The DVD of the six part series and video extras will be released by ABC bookshops in September 2010. They will also be available online through Tim’s website.

The price will be $35 including postage and GST.

 

How did Tim become inspired to ride a horse from Mongolia to Hungary?

When I was twenty years old my friend Chris and I were riding bicycles across Siberia and Mongolia to Beijing.  While struggling through the sands of the Gobi these wild horsemen suddenly appeared, galloping from over the horizon where our bikes could never go.

I was inspired by the free spirit of these nomadic people who lived in a world without boundaries. They had a deep connection to the land that I yearned to understand.

Some further research left me spellbound. From Mongolia stretched the Great Eurasian steppe- 10,000km of fence free land all the way to the Danube in Hungary. Ever since man first tamed the wild horse, people had been riding across this vast space creating nomadic empires that culminated with the greatest of all time under Genghis Khan.

I couldn’t wondering: did the nomad spirit still exist among the nations scattered across the steppes? Could I become a nomad, and re-ride the same trails that mounted warriors had travelled on their journeys to Europe?

When I set out to live this dream, there was one small problem... I could not ride a horse.

 

Why by Horse?: The Tale of the first horsemen of history

Historians believe that the horse was first tamed and ridden around 5,500 years ago on the Eurasian Steppe in what is modern Northern Kazakhstan. This gave rise to a nomadic way of life that revolved around the horse and put nomads on a collision course with the sedentary world. Mounted warriors rode into Europe throughout the ages, culminating with the Mongol Empire under Genghis Khan in the 13th century.

The horse, and horsemanship was introduced to the rest of the world by nomads, and the horse still plays a central role in the life, and culture of all steppe societies

For Tim, riding by horse in the ancient equine tradition would allow him to know the heart mind and soul of the steppe nomad.  In addition, horses would allow Tim to experience a craved for sense of freedom and adventure, and importantly offer an opportunity to be a participant in the communities he passed through, rather than just an observer.

For more information visit:   http://www.abc.net.au/science/articles/2009/03/06/2509129.htm

 

I’d like to do my own horseback journey. Do you have advice about horse equipment, visas, veterinary permits for animals how you did it?

The best resource for anyone interested in Equestrian travel and exploration is the Long Riders Guild

Please read through my Diary of the Journey for details about what I had to endure before asking questions about logistics, veterinary support etc.

For more information on Equipment refer to the Gear section of this site.

 

What did Tim eat during his journey?

To understand the reality of the nomad existence, a quinessential is to eat like a nomad, and as Tim experienced the diet today is probably much like it was in Ghengis Khans era.

In the summer of Mongolia Tim daily drank fermented mares milk, and carried with him  dried mutton called 'borts.' This dried meat is so compact that Mongolians say you can 'carry a whole sheep in you pocket.' Light weight food was one of the Mongols secrets as they conquered the world at a figurative gallop. Always in Tims pocket was also rock hard dried curd called 'aral.' Tim came to appreciate they way that sucking on aral kept the hunger at bay during long hours in the saddle.

The Kazakh speciality, and often on Tims daily menu was 'kazy.' Kazy is a special horse meat sausage which is often had often with the national dish of 'Bes Barmak.' Bes Barmak translates to 'five fingers' because you literally need five fingers to be able to pick up the huge chunks of oily meat!

In western Kazakhstan Tim took great relief in drinking 'shubat' in the heat. Shubat is fermented camel milk and believed to hold many medicinal qualities.

At first the sight of a camel, horse, lambs head on the table was a shock for Tim who had grown up in Australia with a low meat diet. However after some time he came to appreciate the sustenance of meat in an environment so extreme and where crops do not grow. The rituals that are adhered to during animal slaughter showed a great understanding and gratitude to these animals. It is to these animals who often live a fine line of survival on the steppe that the nomads owe their existence.

Other interesting foods included 'brinza' cheese in the Carpathians which is made from sheep’s milk, and of course 'sala' -salted pig fat- which is the staple of the Cossacks in Russia and the Ukraine.

 

What were the main dangers, difficulties and misadventures?

The dangers on such a long and unknown journey were wide and varied. Before embarking Tim was warned that the horses could 'turn him to dust in an instant.' Dealing with such powerful animals as an inexperienced horsemen was one potential danger, but what worried Tim more was the possibility of the horses galloping away and leaving Tim stranded in the wilds of the steppe- especially in the depths of winter. This kind of journey involves a symbiosis with the horses, and without the horses, Tims own survival would be in question.

In the end mishaps when he and the horses came close to disaster include: a horse falling off a bridge, horses galloping off in a panic with all the gear stranding Tim at night (this happened near Astrakhan in Russia), a horse sinking in a swamp and almost drowning, attacks by wild stallions in spring on the steppe. Thirteen horses have participated in the journey, one of which was left behind after tragically stepping on a long rusty nail that caused an infection in the bone.

Along the way there were constant warnings of wolves which in winter were rumoured to hunt in packs and said to attack in winter when hunting during the mating season. For this Tim had firecrackers to warn the wolves away. On one occasion in Mongolia his camp was surrounded by howling wolves which he kept at bay by keeping a camp fire going all night.

As they say in Russian, the most dangerous wolf is that which walks on two legs. On three occasions Tims horses were stolen in the night....but on every occasion he was miraculously able to recover them.

The other main warnings and real dangers were those inherent in such an extreme environment: getting lost in blizzards in the minus forties on featureless steppe, running out of water in the desert, and generally coping alone in the face of problems.

The fears for Tim personally were always the uncertainty and unknown with so many unpredictable variables. He knew that one wrong move at the wrong time could spell the end.

There were of course times when he sorely missed the closeness of family and friends and would have done anything for a break from the journey, even for a day. This experience taught Tim much about the importance of family and friends in life in general.

 

What was the most challenging moment?

Having traveled for two and a half years and with the toughest terrain and majority of distance behind him Tim was in Southern Ukraine heading into winter.  Ahead lay a mere 1500km to the Danube river in Hungary and it it seemed that within a few months he would be home safe and sound.

On the 18th of November however Tim’s world was turned upside down. Via satellite phone Tim discovered that his father, Andrew Cope, had just been killed in a tragic car accident. Tim left his horses for Australia immediately. Andrew had had a huge impact on Tims decision to pursue a life of travel and adventure and his relationship had ironically been close from afar during the journey.

The irony for Tim could not have starker; here he was living an adventure that had so many inherent risks that many would consider it dangerous, yet here was his father killed just 50km from home in a car! Tims world, like that of his two brothers, sister, and his mother Anne came to a halt. To deal with his dads death Tim would have to draw on much of what he had learnt from the nomads and their profound understanding of the transience of life.

What Tim considered would be a doddle to the end would actually now be the hardest part of his journey. In April he saddled up to continue, this time more aware than ever that he was alone.

 

What were the people like? :Hospitality is the rule not the exception on the steppe.

Kalmiks say that 'its better to hit a guest than to ask him if he wants to eat'- hospitality is after all obligatory, not a choice for the guest in a nomad home. It makes sense then that the overwhelming experience on the steppe for Tim and his animals has been one of kind hospitality and willingness to welcome a stranger without hesitation.

The Kazakhs have a tradition whereby the traveler is welcomed for three days of eating and resting before the host has the right to even ask where the guest is from or what he is doing. This openness and opportunity to constantly live among locals not only offered Tim rare insight into the lives of people but was responsible for his survival. A prime example of this occurred in the winter of 2004-2005 when Tim found himself on the 'starving steppe' in temperatures around -35 with a limping horse, ripped tent, and near on hypothermia. Late on evening in this state he stumbled into  the village of Akbakai where he was taken in, and as it would pan out, be looked after for almost three months. Later in the desert when the temperature during summer hovered around 50 degrees -and there was no shade- he was taken into underground mud huts with herders and offered fresh camel milk to quench an ever present thirst.

Far from Australia and missing his family sorely, he was ever grateful for locals who usually made him feel at home so far from home.

 

What is Tim’s Background?

Tim was born in 1978 and grew up as the eldest of four children in Gippsland Australia.

Tim’s father, Andrew, set up the Bachelor of Sport and Outdoor recreation at the Gippsland campus of Monash University. Growing up with a father so heavily into the outdoors, Tim was lucky enough to be introduced to surfing, bushwalking, kayaking and skiing at a young age. Every summer was spent with the family camping on the coast near Wilsons Promontory.

Early on Tim dreamed about being an Author or journalist. At sixteen years of age he had his first overseas experience when he travelled to Nepal to trek and raft with a school group. At eighteen, Tim deferred a law degree to take up a GAP exchange program in England where he worked at a children’s adventure camp. Three months into the program he decided to leave, and headed off with a friend on a cheap bicycle to ride around Ireland and Scotland.

Later that year he travelled extensively through Eastern Europe including a journey across the former Yugoslavia from Bulgaria and spent his 19th birthday in Sarajevo.

In 1999 he returned to Australia to take up his Arts/Law degree at ANU in Canberra. However, one semester in he was selected on scholarship to study the ‘International Wilderness Guide Course’ based in Finland and Russia. A week after deferring his course for the second time he found himself transported from the law library to rural Finland where he began to learn about survival in the taiga forest.

The following year included six major expeditions into the Arctic and forest regions of Russia and Finland and cemented his love for adventure travel. To Tim, Russia represented the chance to explore a land of unparalleled wilderness and mystique, a place so unknown to him in Australia that it had been like a myth. The people also intrigued him. Their openness, spontaneous energy, and friendliness inspired him to begin learning Russian.

In late 1999, he embarked on a 10,000km cycling adventure across Russia to Beijing with friend Chris Hatherly. This lead to a book and film, and another journey rowing a wooden boat through Siberia to the Arctic Ocean and a film for National Geographic. Tim has never returned to his studies and is still pursuing a life of adventure, writing and film, specialising in countries of the former Soviet Union.