A student is taking her Shetland pony on an epic hike from Germany to Scotland so she can keep him with her while she carries out work for her dissertation.
Johanna Maria, a 22-year-old agriculture student, is heading to Dundee to study but could not afford the £2,000 transportation costs for her 14-year-old pony Hechizo.
Johanna bought the pony — whose name means magic in Spanish — for her 18th birthday and has spent “nearly every day” with him since.
“If I have been ill or my studies have held me back then maybe I haven’t seen him but in semester breaks when I have gone on work placements I have always chosen a place with stables nearby so he can come with me for two or three months,” Johanna said.
The pair had done one previous six-day trek in Germany three years ago, when Hechizo carried the bags as a “backpack”, but for this trip he is transporting their belongings in a small cart while Johanna walks alongside.
The pair travelled first to Spain, where they spent most of the lockdown period, before making it as far as France. Her father then gave them a lift through France and across the Channel in his converted camper van, arriving in England on 13 July.
They are now more than 60 days into their epic hike, where Johanna said she is having the “best time” and taking each day as it comes.
“The whole thing has been pretty spontaneous,” she said. “I had a rough plan of my route, just for orientation, but I didn’t organise anywhere to stay before I left.
“In Spain it was different to here, I went through really small villages and if I didn’t find a private place I asked the mayor of the village if I could stay in front of a church or playground. In England I have spent one night at a recreation ground because it was just so hot we couldn’t go any further that day, but we have always stayed on private land otherwise. Usually I have just bumped into the right person at the end of each day or I find something by contact — people are just amazing.”
Despite the background of the Coronavirus pandemic — which meant she only got out of Spain with a few days to spare before a second lockdown — Johanna said she was focusing on “enjoying every moment as it comes”.
“I am not thinking too much about what has happened or especially what could happen, I am just trusting in the journey,” she said. “If I was worried about what could happen I would miss the best things.
“I also love the idea that I am spreading a bit of inspiration. Not everybody wants to go on a long walk with a horse but everyone has something they would love to do and it shows that even in these times it is somehow possible.”
By Thursday (20 August) the pair had reached Lincolnshire, and hoped to make it to Dundee by the beginning of October.
“I still have to find a place up there to keep Hechizo — all the time I was in Spain I was so unsure if I could even get to the UK that I didn’t go on searching for one. I think I will do the same as I have done during the trip and just wait til I get there,” she said.
Hechizo seems to have taken smoothly to the demands of his adventure, although Johanna said his quick Shetland brain was sometimes “a bit bored with walking all day long”.
“He’s always had a bit of the gypsy about him though,” she said. “When he was turned out with a small herd of geldings before he did like to break through the fences if the grass looked greener the other side! Most days of this trip he has been walking up and down already in the morning waiting for us to get going.”
‘This way it means that I get fit and they don’t have to worry about it!’
The 66-year-old has just returned from the latest in a series of adventures
She added that he had “amazed” her with how relaxed he had been about the changing environments.
“He lies down to sleep nearly everywhere, even at a crowded camp site in Spain,” she said. “The thing I was most worried about was if he could cope with being the only horse for so long but he is doing pretty good. Sometimes he doesn’t even bother looking at other horses.”
When they are not trekking, Johanna does “pretty much everything with him that isn’t riding” — although he has also been used by young children as a lead rein pony.
“I tried to train like the classical masters and I always wanted a Spanish or Portuguese horse, which is why he has a Spanish name — it suits him perfectly I think, he really is magic!” Johanna explained.
“I do all the dressage moves with him from the ground that I would have done with a bigger horse, just with me moving from behind or to the side. Doing that has even made me a better rider, although I don’t ride much any more as I get enough from working with him,” she added. “I just wish I could be small again one time just to see how it feels to ride him!”
Although Johanna doesn’t have any firm plans for another trip she said it was probably on the cards.
“I am sure we will do it again somehow — and I haven’t planned the way back yet!” she said.
Horse & Hound magazine, out every Thursday, is packed with all the latest news and reports, as well as interviews, specials, nostalgia, vet and training advice. Find how you can enjoy the magazine delivered to your door every week, plus options to upgrade to access our H&H Plus online service which brings you breaking news as it happens as well as other benefits.