There is nothing better than a good, long hack in the countryside, but two riders took the concept of “hacking” to the extreme when they set off on a 100-mile ride along the South Downs Way.
It took Eileen Beach and her cousin Tara Millen four days to cross the stunning stretch of countryside, starting in Winchester, Hampshire and finishing in Eastbourne, East Sussex.
“Riding the length of the South Downs is something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Eileen, who partnered her hunter/eventer Pride, a cob/Irish draft, while Tara rode her New Forest pony Rupert.
“Tara and I have been riding together since we were toddlers and this was our first long-distance ride. We have caught the bug for it now and would love to do some more.”
The pair spent three months planning their adventurous ride through the scenic National Park, detailing their water stops for the horses and also finding accommodation that would take in their two trusty mounts.
“As expected, it was harder to find B&Bs which took horses, but for the first night we found a lovely place and the horses stayed in the back garden. On the second day, we got soaked by the rain and were relieved to find our next overnight stop had a drying room for all our soggy gear to dry out, and the horses got to stay in a barn,” explained Eileen.
The keen riders covered an impressive 25 miles each day, riding for about nine to 10 hours every day, including breaks.
“The first day felt like the longest one because we weren’t used to it,” she added. “We made sure we stopped to give the horses a drink, then when we had breaks for lunch we took their bridles off and gave them a pick of grass.”
Despite the lengthy hours on horseback, Eileen was surprised to come away with no saddle sores or pulled muscles, as perhaps you would expect from a long ride.
“The worst thing we found was the wind burn on our faces, that was sore, but other than that we were fine,” she said. “Amazingly, we didn’t get lost either, the South Downs Way is very well signposted. The only navigational problem we came across was when the map took us across a dual carriageway at one point, which was interesting. Luckily, the horses were so well behaved and we made it across without any drama.”
With a rucksack on her shoulders and the tent attached to the back of Pride’s saddle, Eileen was well prepared for the challenging ride.
“Tara had proper endurance bags attached to her saddle, while I had baling twine holding all my gear together! However, Tara did have some things fall out along the way ,which wasn’t ideal, so my baling twine certainly did the job.”
If you want to keep up with the latest from the equestrian world without leaving home, grab a H&H subscription
‘It is heartbreaking to think what would have happened had the welfare team at Appleby not spotted her plight’
Despite it being a long way, Eileen said the horses were “buzzing” during the adventure and “loved the experience”.
“Our highlights were definitely the breath-taking views we saw from the top of the Downs. We also stopped off at a café for an ice cream and then we found a stand with home-made flapjacks for sale — which made me very happy!” added Eileen, who spent a couple of months preparing and getting her horse fit for the big ride.
“After four days of riding, we arrived at the end in Eastbourne, where my mum picked us up. The next ride we would love to do is the North Downs Way, which starts in Dover and finishes in Surrey. Next year, we would also like to do a 200-mile ride for charity in Wales, which will take two weeks, but completing our first long-distance ride was a big goal for us and a dream for a long time.”
For all the latest news analysis, competition reports, interviews, features and much more, don’t miss Horse & Hound magazine, on sale every Thursday.