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Isabella Bird Bishop (1831-1904)

Isabella Bird, the daughter of a clergyman, was born in the north of England in 1831.  She was a sickly child, suffering with terrible back pain.  In 1871, after both her parents had died, her doctor suggested that she should travel to improve her health. 
Isabella sailed for Australia in October 1872, visited New Zealand and then set sail for the United States in January 1873.  By chance she stopped off in Hawaii, and spent six months there riding round the islands - astride!  At last, at the age of 42, Isabella had found her true calling: adventurous equestrian journeys.  On Horseback in Hawaii was published as The Hawaiian Archipelago.
From Hawaii Isabella went to San Francisco in August 1873 and spent the rest of that year riding around the Rockies.  A Lady's Ride in the Rockies was published as Lady's Life in the Rocky Mountains. 
Her next journey was to Japan, where she travelled around on horseback between May and December 1878.  Unbeaten Tracks in Japan was originally published in 1880.
When she was almost 50 years old the legendary traveller married John Bishop, but he died in 1886.
In January 1890 she travelled from Baghdad to Teheran, and then went on to the Black Sea.  This resulted in her third equestrian travel book, Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan.
Among the Tibetans, the thrilling tale of her journey in Tibet, was originally published in 1894.
Listed below, in chronological order, are all five equestrian travel books written by the woman whom The Times described as “the boldest of travellers.”


ISBN 1590481542






On Horseback in Hawaii, A Canter Across the Sandwich Isles in 1873.

Think of all the clichés that come to mind when you consider the romantic word “Hawaii.” Palm trees, hula dancers, sun-drenched beaches, an untouched tropical culture. Now interject a group of hard-riding Mexican vaqueros chasing herds of imported wild cattle across the lush green mountain sides. Throw in a crew of Yankee swindlers and missionaries bent on conquering  the island. Bring on board the local king, who is trying to preserve his realm from outsiders, and you will begin to understand the equestrian kingdom of Hawaii circa 1872.

It was into this equine maelstrom that Isabella Bird had wandered by mistake.

Bound from New Zealand to San Francisco, Isabella had come ashore at Hawaii on an impulse. What she discovered was not what she had been expecting. Soon after cattle were introduced onto the island, they went wild and could not be managed by islanders on foot. The King therefore enlisted the aid of imported Mexican vaqueros, who brought with them not only their horses and saddles, but also their sense of equestrian panache.

When Isabella Bird landed she discovered a still untrammelled tropical paradise. However, the once pedestrian Hawaiians had taken to the saddle with a vengeance. The islanders rode – everywhere – and the clergyman’s daughter soon joined them. Having never ridden astride because of the English cultural taboo, Isabella was reluctant to cast aside her native equestrian traditions. When she did, the greatest female equestrian traveller of the Victorian age came to life.

This book recounts the first of Isabella Bird’s remarkable mounted adventures. Though she went on to explore the Rocky Mountains, Japan, Persia, and Tibet on horseback, Isabella first stepped into the saddle and onto the pages of Long Rider history in Hawaii. This classic account of thrilling equestrian adventure tells the story of one woman’s discovery of both her own soul and the wide world beyond.

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ISBN 15904810333

A Lady's Ride in the Rockies: Travels on Horseback in 1873

The American West of the late nineteenth century had seen its share of foreign travelers but none could compare to Isabella Bird, the archetypal Victorian Lady Traveler. Bird was on her way back from Hawaii when she decided to stop off to investigate the Wild West.
“A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains” is told through letters the intrepid author wrote to her sister in the winter of 1873 regarding this equestrian sojourn during which she explored the magnificent unspoiled wilderness of Colorado, ascended the highest mountains, observed the abundant wildlife, and life on the remote frontier in all its phases.
This remains the most popular book the prolific author, and indefatigable traveler, ever penned. Enormously entertaining and amply illustrated, “A Lady’s Life in the Rocky Mountains” remains a vivid account of an astounding equestrian journey.  
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ISBN 159048150X and 1590481518


Unbeaten Tracks in Japan: Travels on Horseback in 1878

“Unbeaten Tracks in Japan” is one of Isabella's five famous equestrian trips. This 600 mile solo ride through Japan was a monumental mixture of mounted adventure and keen cultural observation.

Suffering from an unspecified illness, Isabella left her English home in 1878 journeying to Japan to “improve her health.” Her unorthodox cure consisted of buying a local horse and exploring the islands of the reclusive Japanese homeland. The Long Rider author carefully documented various aspects of the fascinating culture she discovered, describing a host of subjects ranging from “Children’s Games” to “A Narrow Escape.”

"I lived among the Japanese, and saw their mode of living, in regions unaffected by European contact. As a lady travelling alone, and the first European lady who had been seen in several districts through which my route lay, my experiences differed more or less widely from those of preceding travellers," she wrote.

Though her quest for equestrian adventure was to turn her into a compulsive traveller, Isabella’s famous lone trek through the interior of Japan remains a classic and is presented now in its original two volume set, complete with delightful drawings.
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ISBN 1590481625 and 1590481534



Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan: Travels on Horseback in 1890

A small ship made its way up the Tigris river in the winter of 1890. Bound for Baghdad, the steamer Mejidieh was carrying what would prove to be a historically significant load of singular humanity.

On board were two of the most important equestrian travellers of the Victorian era – Lord Curzon and Isabella Bird. Though he would later become the most celebrated Viceroy of India, George Curzon had initially made a name for himself by becoming the first Englishman to ride through  the remote Pamir mountains of Central Asia. The Long Rider turned politician was now entering Persia to ascertain its political importance to the British Raj.

Isabella had already survived so many mounted adventures that the Times of London had dubbed her “the boldest of travellers.”

She was intoxicated with the freedom she discovered on horseback and praised the “charm of the nomadic life” she had chosen to lead.

The story she weaves in “Journeys in Persia and Kurdistan” celebrates the indomitable horse­woman’s mounted explorations in this once enchanted portion of the world. It is replete with both the dangers and observations Bird was famed for. Meeting the Shah of Persia by chance, cantering away from ruffians, or wandering the bazaars in disguise were all part of her daily fare. Though her quest for equestrian adventure was to turn her into a compulsive traveller, Isabella’s ride across Persia remains a forgotten equestrian travel classic. It is presented in its original two-volume set, complete with delightful drawings.

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ISBN 1590481143

Among the Tibetans: A Legendary 1893 Journey

“Among the Tibetans” is one of her five famous equestrian trips. She had ridden throughout the Hawaiian paradise. She had crossed the mighty Rocky Mountains on horseback. She explored Japan and went on to canter across Morocco when she was in her seventies. But of all her equestrian adventures, her ride through Tibet takes precedence. For it was here, in this vast, windswept, frozen northland that the intrepid English woman nearly met her match! She and her little horse, “Gyalo”, were dashed into icy rivers. They crossed passes so high that the porters begged for mercy. They saw more adventure, and covered more miles than had ever been experienced by a female equestrian explorer.
“Among the Tibetans” is that most wonderful of books, a rousing adventure, an enchanting travelogue, a forgotten peek at a mountain kingdom swept away by the waves of time.
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