Sunday, July 8, 2012

The Legend or Myth of Frank Hopkins

Marti asked "I don't know if you have seen the movie Hildago about the endurance racer in the old west. A couple of the ladies I ride with on weekends, one is a former  endurance rider, were telling me that it is all false. Do you have an opinion about Hidalgo?"

Hi Marti, the man in question was Frank T. Hopkins. I'll leave it to you to determine how much, if any, of the legend of Hopkins and his primary horse, Hildago is true. The movie was certainly made for entertainment not as a historical docu-drama.

It does not surprise me that endurance riders don't believe any of the Hopkins legend.  The Long Riders Guild which describe themselves an association of equestrian explorers, is a world wide organization and probably the most vocal group when it comes to calling Frank Hopkins a complete fraud. In fact, it looks to me they are vehemently anti-Hopkins. They have a tab on their website titled "The Hildago Hoax" with 30+ articles to convince readers why Hopkins was, in their words, a charlatan.

In a counter to Hopkins supporters, the Long Rider's Guild state that (most) of these authors did not do good enough research into Hopkins and his alleged endurance racing. Yet to be fair, most of the articles and links in the "Hildago Hoax" are written ny newspapers, educators and magazines from the non-horse world and it makes one think how much research they did.

One of the anti-Hopkins claims is that there are no photographs of Hopkins ever on horseback and no one exists to verify his claims. Yet on the Hopkins website, there are several!? This is the Frank T Hopkins website, sponsored by the Horse of the Americas registry and the Institute of Range and the American Mustang (IRAM), which are obviously Hopkins (and Hildago) believers and supporters.

On this website are some articles accredited to Hopkins, which support at the least the claims that he was very knowledgeable about horses, and particularly knowledgeable and supportive of the Mustang breed.

I remember when the movie came out and I mentioned I was taking my then 10 year old daughter to see it, a cowboy buddy of mine about had a fit telling me it was nonsense and I was wasting my time. I replied that "I did not have to believe in Santy Claus to put up a dang Christmas tree!"

Another one of the "false claims", in fact of the major claims by the anti-Hopkins crowd is concerning the long distance "Ocean of Fire" race in the Middle East. The majority of the movie "Hildago" was over this alleged race. There is a principal Arab Newspaper called "The Arab Times" which refuted these races. And why wouldn't they if Hopkins raced in one and won it?

In October 1993, I was in Taif, Saudi Arabia doing some work for the Crown Prince, HRH Abdullah bin Aziz al Saud, who is now the Saudi King. Taif is on the western escarpment at about 5,000 feet elevation, over looking Mecca and Medina on the coastal plains. I was invited to a Royal horse and camel race. We arrived just before the camel race and as the horse race had just started. One of the Saudi National Guard  Captains told me, words to the effect that the horse race was a "far race" and we "would not know the winner for several days".

So Marti, the bottom line in my book, is that there is as much credible evidence that Frank Hopkins was as least somewhat legit as there is that he was somewhat of a fraud.  Most of the writings surrounding Old West personalities,....gun fighters, lawmen, outlaws and soldiers,....took a lot of liberty in writing and publishing those stories.  You are going to have to make up your own mind on Frank Hopkins......if he was a liar or legend.  Regardless of either, his writings show that he knew horses.  Good luck and safe journey.


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  2. The enthusiasm with which Cuchullaine O'Reilly of the Long Riders Guild has gone after Hopkins is ironic, in that the document that O'Reilly holds out as proof of his own endurance riding credentials, his book, Khyber Knights, is itself fictional! It is based on a series of actual events (chronicled in a non-fiction account by one of his co-riders). It takes some huevos and a blind eye to irony to publicly excoriate someone long dead who can't defend himself when your own story is an unknown mix of fact and fancy.