‘The hardest day of my life’: rider encounters belly-deep bogs and broken bridges on 1,000-mile two-horse trek

  • A solo rider is hoping to become the first person to trek the length of Britain with two horses.

    Elsa Kent, 22, has embarked on the 1,000-mile journey from John O’Groats to Land’s End in an attempt to introduce environmental education into the school curriculum, as well as raise money for other environmental projects.

    The health and human sciences graduate is now nearly 300 miles into her mission, accompanied by 17-year-old quarter horse Rosie, who she has owned since a foal, and seven-year-old part-bred Welsh mare Summer, who she bought just two weeks before the trip.

    She was inspired to undertake the journey by family friend James Greenwood, who spent 10 years riding across the world.

    “He told me the way to do it was to take two horses,” she said. “The second one has to have nothing on its back apart from the sun, it mustn’t be a pack horse. Then when you’re leading it, it’s totally resting and when you get halfway through the day or the next day, you change horses.

    “This way they are only carrying for half the time, they have company which reduces stress levels a lot and if a shoe is loose or one has a rub, you ride the other horse to take the strain off.”

    Although other people have undertaken the journey on horseback, Elsa believes it has not been done before riding and leading.

    Early on in her trek, she encountered the extra challenges of dealing with two horses alone when the trio found themselves battling through belly-deep bogs on an ancient drovers’ route, fighting off swarms of horse flies and surviving aggressive drivers.

    Elsa said the “single hardest day of my life” was 3 July, when she had to navigate a 29-mile section of Loch Choire. Gamekeepers and a local pony-trek leader had assured her that the route was dry and passable but the day soon “turned into hell for any horse rider”.

    “All the bridges were completely rotten and I was left in a situation where I had to get the horses around broken bridges but all around me was peat bog,” Elsa said.

    She said the horses were having to wade through belly-deep mud, and she was forced to leave one horse behind while she led the other through on the safest path, jumping across ditches, then having to go back for the other one.

    “I just had to trust that they understood the gravity of the situation and didn’t walk off. They did — they were phenomenal. I’ve never felt a relationship with a horse like the one we developed that day,” she said.

    “It was really terrifying and a big wake-up call. It was really remote, I was on my own and not playing around, I was way out of signal, there was no humanity for miles and miles and I had led two horses into this who trusted me.”

    Eventually she saw a “white dot in the distance” that was The Crask, Britain’s most remote inn, and she was able to make it there for the night.

    “I was so shaken up by the day and feeling so alone, apologising to the horses for putting them through that,” she added. “I was in shock we’d made it as there were so many points I thought we weren’t going to. It has made everything since seem much easier!”

    Elsa has also had to teach the horses to travel single file to help protect them from aggressive drivers, who have “passed within three or four inches at 70mph”.

    “James warned me that he’d been chased by the Taliban in Afghanistan and crossed the Ganges but the single scariest thing he’d encountered was the traffic in UK,” she said. “It’s been an eye-opener.”

    Elsa, who grew up on a farm in Devon, said she hoped that the “symbol of someone riding a horse” would help people to engage with the motivation behind her trip.

    “It’s so slow, you can’t do anything other than walk, which in itself is quite symbolic of our need to slow down,” she said. “As a mode of transport, horses enable you to see every blade of grass and every peat bog. That in itself is something that connects you back to the environment.”

    Until recently Elsa was working at Kivukoni school in Kenya, which has a world-class sustainability program. Her experiences have led her to conclude that education is the most effective way to tackle the climate crisis.

    “It’s the biggest challenge of our time and the biggest challenge we face as a human species,” she said.

    “My studies led me to realise that the most sustainable way of enforcing broad and lasting change is to install values — not just teaching children about Henry VIII but about how to be a human being that exists in the world without destroying it. We can’t be well if the planet isn’t well.”

    Elsa still has six weeks and 700 miles left to ride but so far the trip has raised £2,000 towards her chosen projects: ThoughtBox Education, Kivukoni School Environmental Education Centre and the International Environmental Education Festival.

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    “ThoughtBox is an incredible organisation that distributes a curriculum teaching environmental wellbeing and some brilliant values,” she said. “The funds raised will help to distribute that curriculum to more schools around the world — it’s reached 56 countries and 1,000 schools but it needs to be a fundamental part of every school curriculum.”

    She also wants to help fund an environmental education centre at Kivukoni where workshops can be held and researchers brought together and contribute to the International Environmental Education Festival which will give researchers a platform to share advances in the field.

    Elsa’s progress can be followed at The Climate Ride page on Facebook and donations can be made to her GoFundMe page.

    Have you ever taken on an epic adventure by horseback? Email hhletters@futurenet.com, including your name, nearest town and county, for the chance to have your letter published in Horse & Hound magazine and you could win a bottle of Champagne Taittinger.

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