Country-wide equestrian ‘relay’ to celebrate equines and support good causes

  • A rider inspired by the fundraising efforts of others during the pandemic has organised a Covid-safe nationwide “relay” for equestrians.

    The Great Horses For Health UK Relay, provisional start date 2 May lockdown restrictions permitting, involves equestrians riding a chosen distance, in their local areas, to raise money and awareness for a number of causes.

    “I was watching BBC Breakfast in December and they did a segment on all the fundraising initiatives that had happened in the pandemic, such as Captain Sir Tom Moore and others,” organiser Sophie Gifford told H&H.

    “I was watching these fantastic ideas and thought ‘there is nothing on here to do with horses — we must be able to do something’.”

    Sophie posted the suggestion in the Pass Wide and Slow Facebook group and it “just exploded”.

    “I created a separate Facebook group and went out at around 11am to see my horse and by the time I came back in, it had 700 members.”

    There are now 9,500 people in the group and Sophie has seven charities on board from across the UK, including lead charity HorseWorld Trust.

    The event is in the process of building its website, sponsorship page and a digital map, and the focus is on raising support and money for all charities involved, rather than riders choosing one or another, so funds raised will be split on a percentage basis.

    The relay splits the country into 20 regions over 20 weeks, starting from the Outer Hebrides in May and ending at the tip of Cornwall.

    Sophie explained they have kept the when, where and how of how riders can participate “as flexible as possible” as they want all those who can take part to do so, without complex restrictions. Mules and donkeys are also welcome.

    “The key thing is that it is ability agnostic,” she said. “It is about the two common things that link us all, which are the love of horses and that we have all gone through the Covid pandemic.

    “The three core principles of the ride are [firstly]: vulnerable road user safety, so not just riders, but driven horses, cyclists — anyone who uses the roads.

    “Celebrating our horses and the phenomenal contribution they have had on mental health and wellbeing, particularly during the pandemic.

    “And thirdly, equine welfare and rescue.”

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    Sophie explained she wanted to do something in support of equines and all they do for us.

    “I started riding when I was around five or six years old and dabbled in it all through my life. It was always a dream to own a horse and when I was in my 40s I moved to West Sussex,” she said. “I was just wowed by the beauty of the area and knew that it would look even better from horseback.

    “I got back into riding and was having regular lessons and pub rides at a nearby stables, on a beautiful maxi cob called Jack.”

    Sophie said to the yard that should they ever hear of “another Jack” to let her know, as he was perfect. By a stroke of chance, Jack came up for sale and they have spent the last 10 years happily together.

    “He’s a 16.2hh Irish cob, we’re pretty sure there’s a dollop of Shire in there as well, and he has just been a real lifesaver for me,” she said.

    “He has given me a real structure during the pandemic. I work from home and having that need to go up and see him every day and to still be able to ride… he has saved my sanity.”

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