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Did the 1912 Captain Scott South Pole expedition fail because they didn't use thier horse snowshoes?

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Two weeks back, an email arrived to ExWeb from The Long Riders’ Guild. Subject: “Captain Robert Scott and his team would not have died on their return journey from the South Pole in 1912 if they had used the equine snowshoes available to them.”

“What we uncovered was alarming”

Horse Snowshoes discovered in Scotts hut.
Horse Snowshoes discovered in Scotts hut.

CuChullaine O’Reilly, one of the Founding Members of The Long Riders Guild has an important equestrian discovery to share. The Long Riders’ Guild Press, which publishes Classic Travel Books, had just completed, with the assistance of Edmund Hillary, Alexandra Shackleton and Falcon Scott, new editions of three important Antarctic exploration books.

“For example, one of London’s leading equestrian editors was astonished to learn that horses were used in Antarctica.”

Part 1 of the Long Riders’ Guild report:

A brick wall of misunderstanding

What The Guild discovered was that a brick wall of misunderstanding existed between equestrians and Antarctic experts: i.e. the equestrian community had forgotten these poor ponies had ever existed, while pedestrian Antarctic historians have made a point of poking fun at the snow-shoes, the value of
which they still don’t understand.

This equestrian breakthrough came about thanks to New Zealand’s Antarctic preservationists. Our research began when Nigel Watson sent us a photo of two equine snow-shoes the AHT had just excavated from under the ice in Scott’s stable.

These snow-shoes were identical to the ones used by the Norwegian military in the Arctic Circle today! (See photographs of 3. Equine Snowshoes discovered in Scott’s hut and 2. Equine snowshoes used by Norwegian cavalry).

Snow shoes were left behind at Base Camp!

The Belgian Long Rider and military historian, Robert Wauters, who had documented the Norwegian equine snow-shoes, consulted his fellow military experts in Europe. They quickly confirmed that this historically vital piece of equestrian equipment had been in constant use for at least 500 years. (See photograph 1. Equine snowshoes used in Sweden).

Confronted with this new evidence, it suddenly dawned on us that Captain Robert Scott, who died with four of his team members only 11 miles from safety, might not have perished had they used equine snow-shoes! For reasons still under investigation, all but one of the sets of snow shoes were left behind at Base Camp.

1912 Robert F. Scott Expedition to the South Pole.
1912 Robert F. Scott Expedition to the South Pole. From left to right: Dr E. A. Wilson, Lt. H. R, Bowers, Capt. Robert Falcon Scott, Petty Officer Taff Evans and Capt. L. E.G. Oates.

Scott wrote in his expedition diary, “though Oates hasn’t any faith in them…. the effect was magical…”

Yet Scott himself knew they could double the speed of the horses. In his diary he wrote: “One thing is certain. A good snow-shoe would be worth its weight in gold on this surface, and if we can get something really practical we ought to greatly increase our distances next year.” And when a set was put on the pony Scott wrote in his expedition diary, “though Oates hasn’t any faith in them…. the effect was magical…” Scott went on to write about “the triumph of the snow-shoe” and said they were “worth their weight in gold.”

Ironically, it was Captain Oates – who famously declared “I am just going outside and could be some time” when bravely sacrificing his life in the hope his companions might live – who though he had been hired to oversee the expedition’s equestrian matters, considered the critically important snow shoes an “unmitigated nuisance”.

No experience

What no-one until now has appreciated is that Oates’ equestrian experience did not match the requirements of this equestrian exploration. Oates had no experience with horses in a Polar setting. Antarctic historians have mistakenly believed that because Oates had ridden with the cavalry in South Africa, played polo in India, hunted in Ireland and raced thoroughbreds in England, that these experiences in temperate or hot climates prepared him for Polar equestrian exploration.

In fact The Guild has now confirmed that the only training the semi-wild Manchurian ponies received came about thanks to a brief episode provided by a New Zealand trainer, and not because of Oates, whose only contribution seems to have been the deliverance of two generalized lectures about equestrian matters while the expedition was wintering in Antarctica.

Here again, this part of the equestrian mystery has never been documented or understood.

Indeed, just last week one leading Antarctic historian talked about the “eccentric” use of horses in Polar regions. And when the LRGAF asked the experts at the Scott Polar Research Institute to tell us who had informed Scott about the use of equine snow-shoes, these Antarctic experts replied, “There are no details in any archival material that we can find.”

Part 2: “There was nothing Johnny Foreigner had to teach the British”!

The Long Riders’ Guild is the world’s only international association of equestrian explorers and long distance equestrian travellers. It began with five equestrian explorers from three countries. Today they have Members in 32 countries, all of whom have ridden a minimum of 1,000 continuous miles on an equestrian journey. Every major equestrian explorer alive today belongs to the Guild, including:

Hadji Shamsuddin, of Afghanistan, who just rode 1,000 miles through that war-zone; Jean Louis Gourard, of France, who rode 3,000 miles from Paris to Moscow; Claudia Gottet, of Switzerland, who rode 8,000 miles from Arabia to the Alps; Adnan Azzam, of Syria, who rode 10,000 miles from Madrid to Mecca and; Vladimir Fissenko, of Russia, who rode 19,000 miles from Patagonia to Alaska.

At one thousand pages, and still growing, The Long Riders’ Guild website is the repository of the largest collection of equestrian travel information in history. This open-source, academic website serves as a commercial-free Guild Hall, library, equipment room and meeting place for the world’s mounted explorers.

The Guild has recently launched The Long Riders’ Guild Academic Foundation, an international research project devoted to all Hippological Arts and Sciences.

The Guild maintains its own publishing house, offering the world’s greatest equestrian travel books. The Long Riders’ Literary Collection houses more than one hundred titles in seven languages, all of which are published via the most environmentally friendly methods available.

The Guild also operates the Classic Travel Books project, which has now published nearly one hundred travel titles in the last year including the works of living authors such as Christopher Ondaatje, Ranulph Fiennes and Robin Hanbury-Tenison, as well as classic authors such as George Borrow, Isabella Bird and Robert Cunninghame Graham.

They just completed, with the assistance of Edmund Hillary, Alexandra Shackleton and Falcon Scott, new editions of three of the most important Antarctic exploration books of all time. The royalties from these books will be donated to the New Zealand based Antarctic Heritage Trust’s efforts to preserve the Scott and Shackleton Antarctic huts. Because of these efforts to support the AHT rescue plans that The Guild received letters of thanks and acknowledgement from the New Zealand Prime Minister and HRH Princess Anne.

The Long Riders’ Guild reported how alarmed they were by what they had uncovered while researching three Antarctica book classics for a new edition. These guys are adventure horsemen, and looking at Scott’s South Pole expedition from this new angle, they discovered serious equestrian mistakes.

But what bothered them most, was the lack of knowledge surrounding these events. Turned out, one of London’s leading equestrian editors was astonished to learn that horses were used in Antarctica, while pedestrian Antarctic historians poked fun at the snow-shoes that Scott and his men left behind at Base Camp – and which could have saved the men – according to the long-riders.

Riding horses on snow shoes in brutal climates is not unusual. Yet as The Guild quite correctly notes, “riding with the cavalry in South Africa, playing polo in India, hunting in Ireland and racing thoroughbreds in England,” little prepared Oates (in charge of the ponies) for Polar equestrian exploration.

Atkinson typed up an equestrian report

The Long Riders’ Guild Academic Foundation’s equestrian study of the ponies used in Antarctica is the first undertaken by horsemen. An example of their findings can be seen in the top image, shot by long rider Mikael Strandberg, which shows a Yakut tribesman riding across Siberia during the winter of 2004. It was these horses, which can be seen readily traveling in minus sixty degree weather, which Scott took to Antarctica.

“Even though our initial findings were exciting and precedent-setting, even more astonishing equestrian facts have been revealed in the last month,” The Guild reports.

“For example, while the historians at the Scott Polar Research Institute had no inkling of the importance of the equine snow-shoes, they were able to supply The Guild with a photocopy of a typed report drawn up by Lieutenant Edward Atkinson, Scott’s second-in-command. After the death of his commander and the discovery of the deceased explorers’ bodies, Atkinson typed up an equestrian report, the significance of which seems to have eluded Antarctic exploration experts.”

Trained Himalayan mules (on snow-shoes) found Scott’s body

The Guild continue their report:

“Before Scott’s ship, the Terra Nova, left to return to New Zealand, Scott wrote to Douglas Haig in India, asking for specially trained Himalayan mules which he planned to use in the second year. The ship returned with seven trained mules acclimatized to Himalayan winter conditions. Accompanying them was Lieut. Pullers, an Indian Army vet.”

“According to Atkinson’s report, entitled ‘Notes on the ponies and mules used during the Terra Nova expedition,’ the mules made the 400 mile trip, found Scott’s body and returned to base camp in such excellent condition that they could easily have made the same journey again. This was not only due to the fact that Pullers had equestrian travel experience in harsh winter climates, but more importantly had equipped his mules to travel across Antarctic’s rugged terrain using equine snow-shoes!”

Lucky for Amundsen, “nothing Johnny Foreigner had to teach the British”

“Finally, the proper understanding and use of equine snow-shoes begs the question: had Shackleton had snow-shoes on his 1907 expedition, would he have made the extra 90-odd miles to the South Pole? If so, there would have been no ‘race to the Pole’ between Scott and Amundsen in 1912! So either way, the use of equine snow-shoes might well have prevented the death of Scott and his four men.”

“Yet when asked why the British did not eagerly adapt the historically confirmed equine snow shoes, one of the world’s leading Antarctic historians replied, ‘There was nothing Johnny Foreigner had to teach the British’!”

Reviving historians from equestrian exploration amnesia

“What we uncovered was alarming, yet the lack of knowledge surrounding these events amounted to the most incredible act of equestrian exploration amnesia in history!” CuChullaine O’Reilly, one of the Founding Members of The Long Riders’ Guild told ExWeb.

But now this has turned into such a big story that The Long Riders’ Guild has commissioned equestrian investigative journalist, Tom Moates, to immediately begin work on a book entitled ‘Deadly Journey: Solving Antarctica’s Equestrian Mystery.’

“Because of your leading role in documenting exploration history and events, Mikael (Strandberg – Ed note) has stressed the need to contact Explorers Web and share these findings with you and your readers,” CuChullaine O’Reilly ended his email, adding:

“I think you will agree that the hitherto neglected story of the South Pole Ponies is capable of generating a great deal of debate. This was demonstrated last month when the prestigious British Horse Society published a story based on The Guild’s research results. That article, penned by America’s leading equestrian investigative reporter, Tom Moates, was immediately picked up by the mainstream media, resulting in an article in London’s Telegraph the very next day.”

(Ed note: Find the first part of this story in the links section below the images.)

At one thousand pages, and still growing, The Long Riders’ Guild website is the repository of the largest collection of equestrian travel information in history. This open-source, academic website serves as a commercial-free Guild Hall, library, equipment room and meeting place for the world’s mounted explorers.

The Guild maintains its own publishing house, offering the world’s greatest equestrian travel books. The Long Riders’ Literary Collection houses more than one hundred titles in seven languages, all of which are published via the most environmentally friendly methods available. The Guild also operates the Classic Travel Books project, which has now published nearly one hundred travel titles in the last year including the works of living authors such as Christopher Ondaatje, Ranulph Fiennes and Robin Hanbury-Tenison, as well as classic authors such as George Borrow, Isabella Bird and Robert Cunninghame Graham.

They just completed, with the assistance of Edmund Hillary, Alexandra Shackleton and Falcon Scott, new editions of three of the most important Antarctic exploration books of all time. The royalties from these books will be donated to the New Zealand based Antarctic Heritage Trust’s efforts to preserve the Scott and Shackleton Antarctic huts.

Story and photos courtesy of the Long Riders’ Guild Academic Foundation.


2 Responses

VintageWinter
VintageWinter

August 02, 2011

Hi,

In final leg of the expedition were Captain Scott, Lieutenant Bowers, Dr. Wilson, Captain Titus Oates and Petty Officer Edgar Evans.
mum
mum

August 01, 2011

HI who was in the ex[edition groups

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