I was asked by a big organisation that will be involved in fundraising with the Ride how they could be confident that Strider's welfare was being properly taken care of, which is a very good question. I sent them the following email and thought it might be good to put it onto the blog. Much of the information is already on the website, but scattered around and not easily available in one place.This is what I said:
Thankyou for raising this. It is important and it is not an issue on which you can automatically expect a rider to be behaving appropriately. I will respond on two aspects to the welfare question:
Firstly, Ethical: With regard to the general obligation to behave ethically in the use of an animal: I am supported by both the Long Riders Guild and the British Horse Society.
- The LRG is the pre-eminent international organisation concerned with long rides, see www.thelongridersguild.com. Their attitude to those who do not put honesty and the welfare of the horse at the top of their list is indicated at http://www.thelongridersguild.com/shame.htm and at http://www.thelongridersguild.com/mongolia.htm The LRG has a link to my website from their Planned Expeditions page.
- The BHS is this country's chief equestrian welfare organisation, www.bhs.org.uk. They are supporting the ride and have circulated details to all their Access and Bridleway Officers, Bridleway Associations and Riding Clubs asking for help with route checking and accommodation; included an article about the ride in a recent edition of their magazine British Horse which goes to all members and sent details out to members on their e-news letter for the South West. I am a BHS member and was for 10 years on the Gloucestershire County Committee. On the morning of 21 May Strider and I will visit their headquarters at Stoneleigh south of Coventry before coming into the city to the Cathedral and on to you.
Secondly, Practical: I will not cover 2,500 miles over a seven month period with one horse if I do not put the welfare of Strider at the top of my agenda.
- I will be checking him all over each morning, evening and at lunchtime to see that he does not have any injury or minor problem that could get worse.
- The pattern of weekly riding is based on the LRG advice of five days ridden and two rest days. In addition some longer periods of rest are written into the plan, some extra rest days have been put in where a "hard" day is anticipated and I have reduced average daily distances over the last couple of months when we will be into tougher weather.
- Most places we are staying have experienced equestians and many have staff with significant, recognised, qualifications who can advise or assist with anything that needs attention.
- I have made it clear on my website and in writing elsewhere that, if the welfare of Strider requires it, then the plan goes straight out of the window.
- Feed is a key issue for his retaining good condition. I am working with Simple System Ltd to get him consistent feed in the right quantities all the way round. Horses are trickle eaters so we will have ten minutes or so grazing time in every two hours and some hard feed for him at a lunchtime break.
- His saddle is vital to his welfare and I have bought one which firstly distributes my weight over a large area very evenly and secondly can be adjusted to his changing shape as we make the ride. The suppliers, The Saddle Exchange Co, will be meeting me at points along the ride to check and adjust the saddle.
- Good farriery is vital to a horse. My farrier will meet me at a number of locations for shoeing and the Worshipful Company of Farriers has found eight of its members who have volunteered to shoe Strider when we go through their areas. We are working on a pattern of shoeing every three ridden weeks.
- Total weight carried is identified as a key issue by the LRG. Roughly speaking you can load up as much as you like for a few days but not for a long ride. Their rule of thumb is that the load should not exceed 20% of the weight of the horse. Strider is around 625kgs so I have up to 125kgs to play with. I am around 77kgs dressed to ride, the saddle is 13kgs and everything else has to add up to less than 35kgs, or I have to walk and lead for greater distances than the 20 minutes after every 90 minutes that will be routine, and the going up or down very steep, rough or slippery slopes that will also be the norm.
- I am arranging our accommodation in advance so he can be assured of somewhere suitable for him and his feed can be delivered.
- I have been collecting contact details for vets around the route so in the event of a problem I can get straight onto a vet and will not have to spend time contacting someone else before I can do that.
- I will be carrying a 1st aid kit for Strider donated by my own vet; Dragon Veterinary Centre in Cheltenham.
- His teeth will have been treated before we set out and will be done again after six months.
- He is currently checked regularly by a Bowen Therapist and he will be checked as we go round.
- I have a worming programme for him and will be supplied with wormer by Wormers Direct Ltd at the times/places required.
- His vaccinations are uptodate and will be kept uptodate.
- Strider and I will both be fully hi-vized in accordance with the Highway Code.
- He is insured and I have public liability insurance for us to a limit of £10m for any one claim (through my BHS membership) and unlimited over the period of the insurance.
- We have spent the last year building fitness and ensuring he is safe with traffic as well as getting our equipment "right", which has not been a cheap exercise for me!
I hope that covers any concerns there may be. After over five years dreaming of making this ride and researching for it, and then working pretty much full time on it for the last 18 months, keeping Strider in good condition to get us both through is at the top of my list.
If you have any questions or would like more information do, please, get back to me.
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