The Horses are Home but £1million still remains…

Everyone is home, safe and with their families this weekend recounting the whole 10 days over and over again. It seemed like a lifetime thinking of them in our waking hours, while they were still going through the sleepy ones, day after day.

What an idea, what an experience, what an idea. It seems unreal that in 10 days, over 1000 miles were covered, there were over 100 change-over points for the horses, there were logistics not only for the drivers of the ambulance, the horses pulling the ambulance but also for the drivers for horses, drivers of people, drivers of kit…

It was back-breaking for those beautiful horses, soul-destroying ploughing through driven rain and yet when they were asked to be patient where the unexpected struck they did their job: they all did what was asked of them.

And now it’s our turn…

We still have the £million to raise. So please don’t let the past 10 days disappear into 2011, let’s still try to make a difference to our servicemen and women. Continue to be part of it. You can’t just let it go!

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Tomorrow night at the Oliver Cromwell at 7pm we’re celebrating Jacks and the team’s unbelievable achievement. Bromham won’t wait!

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Wednesday 29 June 2011 – THEY’VE DONE IT!

At 4.58pm THEY MADE IT! They are exhausted! Euphoria, Relief and Pride is pouring through the team. They have done it against all odds, all weathers and against all unpredicatable set-backs. How did they do that? By team work. By working together through thick and thin to strive for their success. And, boy, did they succeed!

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Wednesday 29 June 2011 – UPDATE!

Message from Jacks 10.30am: “Delayed horses being taken very carefully. 12.30pm revised time. Here’s Hoping!

Keep you posted…

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Wednesday 29 June 2011 – THE FINAL MORNING

At 7.30am Jacks sent me a text: ‘Just got up the Berriedale Braes with the magnificent shires! Words cannot describe how amazing that is!’

We are all on the edge of our seats… I will try to let you know as soon as I do about when they reach John O’Groats.

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Tuesday 28 June 2011 – The Penultimate Day

As the Ambulance approaches the last tens of miles rather than hundreds it is far from over. Still driving through tonight, the two incredible teams will meet near Wick tomorrow morning for the final change of horses to drive the last 8 miles to John O’Groats along the A9.

(From Wikipedia) …the A9 passes the Berriedale Braes, a steep drop in the landscape (brae is a Scots word for hillside). The road drops down steeply (13% over 1,3 km) to bridge a river, before rising again (13% over 1,3 km), with a number of sharp bends in the road.

So it’s not going to be a quick 8 miles!

With all things being well (and pray there are no breakdowns now), once they climb over the Berriedale Braes, Matt will be driving Molly and Rosie with Jacks beside him and Paul behind in the long-suffering Ambulance; Francis, John and Mick will be riding out with them and they will drop down, all together, into John O’Groats tomorrow. It will be a poignant scene and one I struggle to think about without welling up.

All the horses have worked so hard. They have done more than was ever expected of them: they have only been dependable, stoic and unbreakable.

They will be joined by all the people involved on the journey some of whom by now I hope you are familiar with. God knows what that feeling will be like.

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We MUST remember this is a team effort

Now that we are well past the halfway mark we have realised that we have not mentioned some of the other key people who have enabled us to attempt the Horses Help Heroes challenge. I said that we would write about them a few days ago but I think all of us underestimated the complexity of this 24 hour operation. While this may have been Jacks’ idea it would not have been possible without our wider team of drivers, who we cannot thank enough.

John Davies and his carriage horses are based near the Hamble in Southampton and he has brought 4 pairs of horses with him. It is quite some sight to see the stallions working during the day. They absolutely fly.

Charlie Reeves who first introduced John to driving has also brought a team of horses whose many years of carriage driving have been a serious asset to the team.  He has also been understanding when the map reading has not been as accurate as we need!

Andy Spatcher and his team of 4 grooms and drivers  have been doing the night shift from roughly 10pm to 7am. It almost feels like he has brought his yard with him! 7 pairs of horses I think, being taken to place in an Arctic Lorry as well as a horse box. I was out with them last night as we set off from Glasgow and it is clear that they are slick operation and have a good crack as we head north.

I will be back later to mention the farriers, grooms, horse transporters, and vets who have so generously given up their time and who are quietly getting on with their roles.

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Monday 27 June 2011 – DAY SEVEN

A HUGE THANK YOU TO ABSOLUTELY EVERY BODY, LITTLE OR BIG, WHO HAS DONATED MONEY! It is a very, very special moment to be handed a cheque in support. If HHH could thank everyone personally, they would. The team are doing incredibly well and moving on up to their target with ever more determination and amazing speed. They simply cannot do it without every person who has chosen to give either time or money.

I’ve chosen one of your comments on the Blog today because it really gives a good picture of what is involved: 

“A fantastic challenge that can only be achieved by the hard work of all: the injured service men and their families; 20 hard working driven horses from just 4 yards; 3 ridden horses; extra equine support at various point along the route; 6 ambulance drivers; grooms and ground crew; maintenance; horse box lorry drivers; escort vehicle drivers; the catering crew; the publicity and donation collection team; all those offering accommodation and stabling along the route; the fantastic flag waving supporters that raise the spirits; not forgetting those back at home keeping the home fires burning!”

This supports many other comments which have been made recently. Thank you.

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Sunday 26 June 2011 – DAY SIX

They are well over half way now… and still the hard graft must go on. 24hours a day, change of horses every 10 miles (or less), alternating schedules for driving the ambulance, alternating schedules for driving the horses and crew. Then there are sleep shifts, catering needs for man and beast, washing, cleaning, maintenance of horse and carriage… I could honestly go on for a long time listing just the greater elements that have needed judgement and organisation – there are hundreds of finer details which too need attention, 24hours a day. Tuesday 21st seems moons ago when they set off in the morning fog from Lands’ End to throngs of supporting voices wishing them success.

As I spoke to Jacks today, she was feeding the horses oats to give them the required strength with a little added fizzy drink with a caffeine kick for more energy! Suddenly the shrill sound of a fire engine obstructed our concentration as its alarming scream ripped through the mobile frequency at what seemed to me just in front of my toes. We were both silent. I was in blind anticipation as I knew Jacks was holding her mares, while Jacks seemed to hold her breath. Suddenly Jacks let out a loud laugh and said simply “I love my girls! That fire engine came flying passed at no more than 12 feet from where we’re standing beside the road and all they did was raise their heads.”

It’s good to remember that all the horses are very much heroes too and so are the people who supply them and drive them.

Proof that we are texting your comments!

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Saturday 25 June 2011 – DAY FIVE!

‘How’y’re doin’?’ asks Matt as the phone is passed to him so I can find out some news from the riders. A polite question, I think, considering I’ve had some sleep, eaten well and my bottom is sitting comfortably on a sofa. (Matt Wilson is the one next to Jacks in yesterday’s fab photo).

Matt hadn’t sat on a horse prior to February/March this year. His training was done with Helen Cole in Heddington – a brilliant horsewoman herself and both worked amazingly hard for Matt now to be outriding – a show of bravery too, perhaps. He did mention ‘different muscles’ and, just as any self-respecting man would describe himself, he feels like John Wayne on dismount.

So having dismounted I asked about post-riding muscle therapy: “Yep, all that,” he says, “yoga, quads and a session of burpees”. I’ll repeat that “… a session of burpees.” (Wait until I tell them THAT, I’m thinking).

I obviously ask Matt the difference between controlling a group of men and a four-legged beast. “Firm but polite is the best way,” he says. “Afterall, the horse can flip you off anytime.” He concludes, “The communication is considerably different but I still find shouting easier!”

At this time they were all at Lancaster Castle where I could hear animated noises of loads of people chatting. It sounded just brilliant. I spoke to Jacks too and she mentioned that Tarpoley yesterday was terrific as they came through so much bunting and, again, crowds of people. They are back on schedule too which is pretty incredible.

The impression I’m getting very strongly is that, this far in, the team is pulling together. The unpredictable mishaps that have been on pretty much a daily basis (and there will probably be more to come) have brought them together. “There are still things that we need to get right,” admits Jacks. “But we have to learn on the job. There could not have been any rehearsal for this!”

And how many of us empathise? Probably an awful lot!

Keep up with Twitter for where they are now. We need an update of the total too, don’t we?

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