Several young disadvantaged people have just completed an 1800 kilometre ride from the Camargue in southern France to London.
This year’s was the third such journey.
The charity SLL, which was founded by Long Rider Jakki Cunningham, selects horses from the Camargue in southern France from where they are ridden across France and England by a team. At the end of this 6 month journey, which involves countless overnight stops, the horses are donated to Riding for the Disabled centres in England and France.
One example of the organisations helped by SLL is the Wormwood Scrubs Pony Centre in West London, run by Sister Mary Joy Langdon.
“Not only does she help disabled people ride, but also the disadvantaged young people in her area,” Cunningham told the Long Riders Guild, “she is so taken with the Camargue horses that she has that she wants another five to enable the young people in her area to provide ‘spectacles’. This would not only bring in much needed money to the WSPC but also enrich beyond belief these young people’s lives.”
During the journey, these troubled young English and French people discovered each other’s culture and language, and they learnt how to prepare and harness the horses. Far away from their inner-city homes, they learnt how to integrate socially and contribute to community life. They learned to respect other people, animals and, more generally, the environment.
These intelligent horses and inspired young people rode right across France and ended up travelling through central London, arriving to a hero’s welcome at the French Embassy at the end of September.
The Long Riders’ Guild has always championed cheap equestrian travel versus expensive competition. To make a journey, almost any breed of horse will do, and rescue horses fill the bill nicely. There are no entry fees, and it costs no more to feed a horse while travelling than it does at home.
Long Riders believe that every child and young person ought to have the opportunity to become familiar with horses and have fun. In these days of “Health and Safety”, when children seem positively discouraged from going outside, horses and ponies represent a healthy freedom which children will never find in front of their TV or computer screens.
The RDA has been helping disabled people for more than forty years, and is justly proud of its achievements.
But Jakki Cunningham is one of an increasing number of people concerned that the disadvantaged inner-city children are missing out on the wonderful relationships we humans can have with horses.
The SLL journey was based on concern for others, and was remarkable for its lack of competitiveness and nationalism – if only there were more examples like this in the world.
The 2010 journey resulted in a new member of The Long Riders’ Guild, Luke Tucker, who was also riding in this year’s “Caravan of Hope”.
One of the young people on this year’s journey was Bethany Jameson. Beth had no equestrian background before the start, but she was quickly converted by the horses. She wrote: “After a few falls off my friend’s horse I felt horses weren’t for me, but that all changed when I got involved with the Caravan of Hope. A friend of mine Luke (Tucker) got me into the charity, and what a life-changing experience it has been for me.
“Waking up to beautiful horses every morning was a pleasure, living with them for so, so long; we were like a family and the horses were like brothers and sisters. I admit it was scary at first, but as time went by it became so natural to be around them.
“It has been by far the best experience of my life, from caring to the horses’ needs, riding in all weathers – it is even good fun riding in the rain! Cantering along grassy tracks, what an adventure we have all had. I want to continue riding, learning more about these magnificent creatures, that deep down if you get to know them everyone loves: they are my new best friends; the journey changed my life. Thank-you SLL!”
Welcome to the Guild, Beth!
This article was first published in the French equestrian magazine, Randonner à Cheval.