Sarah Bartlett and her Fell pony Billy have become the first horse and rider combination to tackle the Trans Pennine Trail all the way from Southport to Hornsea.
On the way they raised almost £6,000 for Macmillan Cancer Support after successfully crossing the UK West to East.
The 215-mile coast-to-coast journey across northern England took eight months to plan and was inspired by Sarah’s father’s shock terminal cancer diagnosis at Christmas, at the age of just 53.
“My dad was the one who nurtured my love of horses as a child and he was the one who sent me for riding lessons,” said Sarah.
Sarah, who now lives in Worcestershire where she works as a dog trainer, chose the Pennine trail as her father’s south Yorkshire home is right in the middle of it.
It’s an area she knows well from childhood, and where she also has fond memories of working for a western-riding Fell trekking centre in her teens.
The journey took eight days, travelling between 25-30 miles a day, tackling busy main roads and the August heatwave.
“There were a couple of occasions where I started to have doubts about whether I should ask him to do it,” said Sarah.
She recalled the heat while crossing the Pennines at Woodhead Stretch on the bank holiday; “We’d done a lot of hill training but it was a hot day and we’d gone up one steep hill and there was no one to be seen anywhere, just sheep and the Pennines.
“We came across a puddle and Billy just planted in it and started taking the odd sip — for a horse who doesn’t normally drink much on the road that let me know how hot he was. We had to stop there and rest for about 40 minutes.”
At another point, an error of route caused them to cover 46 miles in one day and the knock-on effect left Sarah considering giving up.
“On the sixth day I was in pain and Billy was over-tired,” she said. “It was a real low point, we were just by Drax power station on a long and busy high-speed road at rush hour and we still had another 10 miles to go that day and I pulled off the road to rest.
“My ankle was throbbing as were my wrists, in which I have tendonitis. My outlook was bleak, Billy did not feel sound and so we took it slowly, but I worried whether there was something very wrong and if we should actually carry on.”
Fortunately Billy bounced back, and they completed the final two days of their trek alongside Sarah’s friend Gill Ellis and her pony Alf.
“I was still concerned about Billy the following morning, but Alf and Gill took the weight and carried the heavy saddle bags that Billy had been laden with for the previous six days,” Sarah said. “As soon as we started to trot, I knew I had no need for worry as he was rested and back on form.”
While she rode most of the route, Sarah did drive Billy for one particularly challenging section of road northeast of the centre of Liverpool.
“Where we had to go through Widness to Warrington there was no access to the Trans Pennine Trail and there was a point where we had to go down a four-lane stretch of road in lane three, because of where we needed to turn off.
“I opted for the carriage there as I’m more of a confident driver than a rider and I thought we’d be more visible to drivers that way — although we were plastered in high-vis throughout the trip.
“I can see why a horse and rider have not done the length of the trail before,” added Sarah. “There are so many big roads to tackle to join up parts of the trail that do not have access for horses,” she said. “The maps also had a lot of mistakes on, and even with all the kit there was still space for things to go wrong.”
Billy is Sarah’s first horse who she bought four and a half years ago and she describes him as a brilliant safe hack with whom she has formed a “special bond”.
“He kept me safe over all of those miles, lorries speeding by us, being in the third lane of a four-lane large roundabout and all without batting an eye nor twitching an ear, only concerned to get where we were going and keeping us both safe,” she said.
“I never take his bravery for granted, what an absolute star he is and how lucky I am to have him in my life.”
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