Thursday, 26 March 2015

These Children Need Your Help

A video to remind you of one of the main aims of the ride - raising money to help disadvantaged children in parts of the developing world through the charity CHALLENGEAID.  People sometimes ask me what has been the biggest challenge I have faced while doing my ride, but I can confidently say that absolutely nothing compares with the challenges these children face on a day by day basis.
ChallengeAid particularly supports children in the appalling slums of Nairobi in Kenya, including Kibera the second largest slum in Africa, and Korogocho, a newer but infinitely more lawless, dangerous and thus deprived slum.
A main drive is the 'Schools of Hope' programme, which provides a safe environment and opportunity for pupils to study in the evening. This is particularly important in communities where many families are child-led due to HIV or other factors.  Children in such families may not be able to attend school at regular hours, and would otherwise fail to receive the education they need to help them escape the stifling poverty they live in.
Apart from these obvious factors, why should you support ChallengeAid rather than other similar charities?
Firstly all administration costs (such as for this video) are covered by separate sponsorship, so any money donated goes directly to the projects supported.
Secondly there is a focus on designing the projects to be ultimately self-sustainable, so financial input is tapered over a few years to leave working self supported projects.  Participants are encouraged to help themselves, unlike many knee-jerk projects one encounters.

You can donate online via my JUSTGIVING page.  I am reliably informed by Justgiving that it is possible to donate in dollars from Canada!

Thursday, 26 February 2015


It seems Princess Elsa has been on a tour of Eastern Canada, as it has been suffering some terrible winter weather with ice and blizzards.  My Canadian friends have been posting some amazing photos and videos on facebook - this one was taken from a Trans Canada Highway webcam near where I was riding on Cape Breton last July..
Apparently this was one of the few roads in Nova Scotia that was officially open!

Skating through the streets of Sydney...
... Nova Scotia not Australia of course,  and where I started from when I crossed to the mainland from Newfoundland.   You can tell they are Canadian by their arm extensions, otherwise known as ice hockey sticks.
 This all goes a long way to explaining why I am NOT riding in Canada over the winter!

A far cry from this glorious aerial photo posted a couple of months ago by Gillian Allen, showing her idyllic farm in Nova Scotia where Lady spent her summer holiday..
The cold never bothered me anyway.  Lady is living out at her winter quarters near Ottawa, and doing well, as this photo of her sent by Sian testifies..
..though there has apparently been quite a bit more snow since then.
I am unlikely to have trouble starting Lady in the spring, but have been a bit more worried about my truck..
However, Sian tells me it started last week with no problems.
Which brings me to the latest news that I have taken the plunge and booked my flight back to Toronto for April 9th.

Friday, 6 February 2015

Martin adjusts my Free and Easy saddle

I cannot believe three months has gone by since I last posted on my blog.  I can only plead that it has been an uphill struggle to keep on top of the challenges of everyday life facing me at home - I did not even manage to send out a single greetings card over Christmas!
To recap briefly on how I left things in Canada.     Lady arrived back at Sian Fernarndez-Thomas's  International Equestrian Centre  on November 1st and was soon turned out in a large sheltered paddock with a daily supply of hay and a couple of buddies for company.
This will be her home for the winter.

I still had a few days left before my flight home from Montreal, which gave me time to sort out and pack away all my baggage.     I had also been a little uncertain about the fit of my Free and Easy saddle on Lady as I felt it was not exactly centred.  I had evidently adjusted it previously to fit a horse with a slightly asymetrical shape and had forgotten to adjust it back. It had not caused a problem, but now was the time to look at it more carefully.  I elicited support from Martin, an Argentian horseman and friend of Sebastien helping out at the centre over the winter, and he soon set to work with a spanner .... I now have a beautifully centred saddle. 
The great joy of Free and Easy saddles is the ability to adjust them to fit different horses, though the general shape and broad panels mean that they fit most horses with little adjustment.  They are made of top quality leather and are incredibly robust - mine have had minimal care and have suffered extremes of temperature including storage in sub zero temperatures over winter, not to mention one surviving being run over by a lorry (though admittedly it was a trifle flatter afterwards!).  They are also very comfortable for the rider. 
For those of you who speak Spanish, Martin has an interesting facebook page pertaining to things equine at

Reload - Fire!    Sebastien cuts up firewood for the stove while Captain Benson of the seventh cavalry (aka son Lucas) keeps the Sioux at bay from his plastic chair - apparently this is OK if you are only six..............
Potential patricide?    I would be a little worried if that was a real gun ....

Saturday, 22 November 2014

Le Pont Sur Le Fleuve St Laurent

Saturday November 1st, and my last day of travelling by horse this autumn when I rode to the bridge over the St Lawrence river at Trois Rivieres.   Bernard had kindly offered to guide me on an infinitely preferable cross-country short cut for the first part of the way to avoid a longer route by road, so we set off across the fields, Bernard leading the way on his Canadian horse (the black horse in front of the paint horse).
Are those the tracks of heffalumps?  I am sure we have been here before.......
It was not Bernard's usual route so we ended up on a bit of a magical mystery tour in the woods, going round in a complete circle rather like Winnie-the-Pooh.   But it was not long before we were back on track, and following Bernard's directions I made my way through Becancour to the banks of the St Lawrence.  Trois Rivieres is on the other side of the river in this photo..
We arrive at the bridge over the St Lawrence
As arranged, the wonderful Jacques Charlesbois (with Sebastian and Martin for moral support) arrived soon after to pick up Lady, catching me scoffing a sandwich provided by Cecile.
The weary travellers tucking in.....
...before Lady is loaded into Jacques swish trailer for the four hour journey back to Wendover ..
Unlike the UK where trailers have loading ramps, most of the trailers in Canada are step-up like this.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Routes tranquilles

My jolly Joly hostess...
..seeing to her horses next morning Thursday 30th Oct.  And she insisted on providing me with a packed lunch!
With the notable exception of the Trans Canada Trail officials, everyone in Quebec has been unfailingly kind and friendly, and that includes people I have met as I have been riding along.  Near Villeroy I got talking to this lovely couple...
The effervescent Lise Brideau invited me to sit and chat on the bench outside their little weekend cabin, which was Tardis-like in that their woodland 'garden' extended back for two kilometres,  not unusual for spacious Canada!   A retired hairdresser from Plessis, and in her sixties like me, since retirement Lise has cycled around 9000 kms (I think I have it right) in various parts of North America.  Her trusty steed was wheeled out for photos with mine, amid much hilarity!
I keep seeing these mystifying signs - is it an official restriction on singing Cole Porter without a municipal permit, a sort of Night and Day Anything Doesn't Go?...
..or is it a warning for door-to-door salesmen, as colporteur in my French dictionary appears to mean someone who flogs religious tracts and the like.
Thankfully the long fast road to my destination of Ste Francaise had a quiet sandy ATV track running parallel all the way..
Cristian Dubois was my busy host at another well-run equestrian centre, the Ecurie des Pins, so yet again no photo opportunities, added to which I crashed out almost immediately on a comfortable bed in the warm guest apartment he let me use.  Many thanks Cristian!
A dawn start on my penultimate day of riding, Friday October 31st although it is already 7.30am ..
I covered around 40 kilometres this day, though riding on the quiet level gravel roads which criss-cross this region meant easy going.
A classic autumn ploughing scene - this could be England..
Bernard Giles, the proprietor of La Ferme du Joual Vair where I was being hosted on my last night on the road, drove out to guide me in over his fields.  The ebullient Bernard, who speaks fluent English, has considerable experience of guiding mounted groups, having done so in the American West before running trail rides at the farm for many years.  So a riding holiday well worth considering for European visitors who would like to experience trail riding near Montreal. I was shown to a bedroom in their clean, warm and comfortable guest house where I had a welcome shower and cup of tea before sauntering over to the main house for a superb meal produced by Bernard's supercook partner Cecile .....

Un lit de foin

Crossing the bridge over the Chaudière river at St Lambert de Lauzon on the morning of Tuesday 28th October. You can see the church steeple in the background, a common landmark in Quebec towns.
This seemingly quiet backwater road in fact provided access to a sand quarry and there was a regular stream of trucks charging past.. 
...whereas this little road running parallel to Highway 20 which I followed for a couple of days had minimal local traffic as most vehicles used the highway... 
Note the ubiquitous moose warning sign on the highway!
A Hound of the Baskervilles wheeled toy abandoned by a giant?   In fact this enormous advert for a dog sled training centre is improbably supposed to represent a husky
A warm welcome awaited me at the beautifully run Les Ecuries O'Neill-Rondot near St Apollinaire. It is a comprehensive equestrian facility run by the lovely Geraldine Rondot and Paul O'Neill, who specialise in 'English' rather than Western style riding, Geraldine having been born and brought up in France. Surprisingly it is Paul who is the native Quebecian (though with Irish ancestry). They both spoke good English - my painful struggles in French regularly prompted them to exhort me to 'say it in English'!   A convivial supper with Paul's daughter Frederique on the left, the camera shy Paul, and Geraldine, before a snifter of whisky and bed ...
This was in the glorious old house they are renovating.  Fascinatingly it was previously one of the oldest houses in St Foy, a suburb of Quebec City, and was due for demolition.  The ever energetic Paul had it taken apart and reconstructed on its present site, though it took a while to acquire planning for a home - in the meantime it was used as a 'hay barn'! 
 Cloaked in the mists of time?  A view of the old house as I left on Wednesday morning 29th Oct......
The advantage of following alongside the highway was the opportunity for the occasional Tim Horton's coffee and bagel in the warmth while Lady grazed outside....
I love these old Canadian barns......
..many of which are sadly neglected and falling down. They are sometimes reflected in the letter boxes as in this decorative example...
...and I ended up sleeping in one that night.   I had nowhere sorted out to stay and hoped I would not end up under a hedge on a freezing night, but as usual Quebecian hospitality did not let me down.  After knocking on the door of a house near Joly with a couple of horses in a paddock outside, we were offered shelter in the barn, and I snuggled down in my sleeping bag in the hay loft..

Une Passionnee de Welsh Cob.

Sunday 26th October.  Denis very kindly drove me in the morning to point out a cross country short cut, which involved this small river crossing, but avoided a long detour.  
View looking back towards La Durantaye- the little black dots are Canadian horses..
I had arranged with trotter owner Francis Carrier to let myself in to his smart stables at Pintendre, where a warm and well bedded box was waiting for Lady. I slept on the floor in the community room, and gave Marc who runs the stables for Mr Carrier a shock in the morning!  But he recovered sufficiently to treat me to breakfast at a restaurant down the road before I set off.
I was now not far from Quebec, where I had originally planned to cross the St Lawrence, but partly due to my delays, I decided to make for the bridge at Trois Rivieres further south.
Riding along a quiet road beside the Etchemin river, which we crossed at St Henri..
A police car drew up as I was riding along the rather over grandly named Route de President Kennedy. Was I in trouble?  But it was only a friendly policeman who kept horses and was just curious.  I posed obligingly for a photo.
I had occasionally seen far off patches of white in the fields over the past few days, but it was only when a flock of honking geese landed nearby that I realised I had been seeing geese resting on their flight south..
I was very pleased to have found a place to stay overnight at St Lambert de Lauzon with Welsh Cob enthusiast Maude Brouard and family.  This was particularly gratifying as I was able to see her lovely Welsh cob mare Menai Cardi Princess, bred close to me in Wales by well-known cob breeder Peter Jones of the Menai stud.  Here is Maude with Princess and foal...
Supper at home with the rest of the family before retiring to bed... 
L to R:  sister Sarah who speaks fluent English, father Jocelyn who is on the committee of the Association des Poneys Welsh &Cob du Quebec, mother Sophie and son.