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‘I wanted it to last for ever’: rider’s 1,100-mile trek in memory of lost friend

An actor who rode 1,067 miles on a Highland pony — and walked 80 on his own two feet — has raised over three times his £10,000 fundraising target in memory of a family friend.

Louis Hall’s “The Big Hoof” trek took him from John O’Groats on 18 July to Land’s End on 12 September. Louis undertook the challenge in aid of the Cystic Fibrosis Trust, in memory of Leo van Heyningen, who had cystic fibrosis, and died five years ago, aged 26.

He rode five-year-old mare Irelanda on the epic journey, during which he fell into a sinkhole, was charged by a cow and spent a night with a circus.

“It was very different to how I thought it would be when I set out,” Louis told H&H.

Louis’ family home is in Scotland, and he said the ride until he got to the border was “amazing”; the beauty of the countryside, and the friendly reception he got from those he met.

“As soon as I hit the border, Irelanda went lame,” he said, adding that when a vet prescribed rest, he carried on for four days on foot, returning to the saddle when his mare had recovered, and ensuring she had frequent, regular vet checks and physio for the rest of the journey.

“Her health and happiness were paramount,” said Louis, who said the mare’s fitness improved so much that by the end, he was having to hold her back from cantering too much.

The pair tackled the Pennine Way — “they call it a bridleway but I’d like to see most horses take it on!” — met War Horse author Michael Morpurgo and swam with Cornwall Swimming Horses.

“I saw an incredible side to the Scottish and English public; an unfaltering generosity and kindness that fuelled my hope,” Louis said.

“The last week, I woke up early every day, I’d whistle and Irelanda would come to me with her ears forward.

“It was weird when we finished as Land’s End is very flat and I could see it for a couple of miles. I could see lots of people waiting, and there was such emptiness when I realised it was going to end. People were saying ‘you must be so glad to finish’ but I couldn’t think of anything worse; I wanted to go on for ever.”

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Among the welcoming committee were some people who have cystic fibrosis, and Louis said he was delighted to raise so much money for and awareness of the charity, mainly on his fundraising page. He is creating a picture book and plans to write a book about his journey, with proceeds going to the charity.

He added: “Leo’s parents were hugely supportive, and it fills them with pride to hear his name on the radio or read it in stories.

“He died on 16 September so this time of year is really hard for them but his mother said this year, it’s been nothing but joy, to remember.”

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