Riders celebrate a month in the saddle

  • Two equestrian supporters have completed an epic ride for charity from John O’Groats to Lands End, in which they travelled more than 1,500 miles in 35 days

    A Devon farmer and an equestrian supplies businessman have raised more than £9,000 for Riding for the Disabled, Cancer Research UK and the Meningitis Trust by riding from John O’Groats to Lands End.

    Michael Bickell and Simon Kerslake’s epic journey was originallyplanned for last year, but was postponed due to the FMD crisis.

    “We were in the saddle from 8.30am until between 4pm and 8pm most days,” explains Michael. “The weather was amazing. It only rained on three days but those days were hard work. One wet day we didn’t reach our destination until late and both horses and riders were soaked. Facilities were basic and getting everything dried out was awkward.”

    The pair left John O’Groats on 25 August and reached Lands End on 29 September after 35 days in the saddle. They covered between 30-50 miles every day and had only one day off, which was spent at the Countryside March in London on 22 September.

    “We are both keen hunt supporters and wanted to stand upand be counted at the March even though it meant taking a day off from the ride,” says Michael.

    Joint effort

    Michael and Simon had a strong back up team of around 12 friends and colleagues, headed by Michael’s daughter Zoe, who organised all the accommodation for horses and riders.

    “Everyone along the route was wonderful. The hospitality we experienced was second to none and I would like to thank everyone involved,” says Michael. “We also met many helpful farriers along the way, who in most cases refused to accept any payment.”

    Michael’s two horses Bella, a 15.3hh Irish Draught/TB bay mare, and Murphy, a 15.3hh Irish Draught/TB chestnut gelding, shared most of the work, while Simon used five horses along the route.

    Bella and Murphy each did either the morning or afternoon shift, and were taken the rest of the way by horsebox,” explains Michael. “I also rode Brandy for some of the time so Bella and Murphy both got a week off.

    “All the horses really enjoyed the ride and came back even fitter than they started.”

    Finding their way

    Michael and Simon were also aided by local “pilots”, who helped them find their way through unknown countryside.

    “My map reading skills aren’t what they might be, so we had local people help direct us so we didn’t need to worry about getting lost. Some rode with us along the bridleways and tracks, while others helped pilot us in vehicles.

    “The only hairy moment we had was when one of our pilot vehicles was swept down stream when trying to cross a deep ford, which the horses had already successfully negotiated. It was touch and go and we needed the police and fire brigade to come and rescue them.”

    The chosen charities, which will share the proceeds equally, hold special significance for Michael.

    “I suffered meningitis as a young man and I know manypeople who have suffered from cancer and have got over it,” explains Michael. “We also chose Riding for the Disabled, because horses have given us so much pleasure over the years and we wanted to help less fortunate people enjoy the special relationship between horse and rider.”

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