The quickest way to sum up what makes me tick is to say that I was born under a wandering star and the rest of the words from that infamous song appear to have been written indelibly on my heart at birth. When I'm not singing "The Hills are Alive" then I'm humming or growling
"Home is made for coming from, for dreams of going to, which with any luck will never come true....".
I started riding when I was about eight, and once bitten by the horse bug, spent every minute my parents would allow helping at the local riding school and working to pay for lessons, rides and holidays on horseback. My dream was to head off over the hills and far away with a pony and a tent, but every Christmas morning I was disappointed to find that the horse I longed for had not magically materialised. At 21 I bought my first pony, a Welsh cob. When I went away to college, no-one else was prepared to spend a month every time they wanted to catch him, so sadly he had to be sold. For the next few years, inbetween boyfriends, work and buying my first house, there was neither time nor money to buy another horse, but riding remained my real passion. I would dash home from work in Manchester, change out of my pin striped suit and together with a friend ride over the moors until darkness descended.
Eventually I managed to organise sufficient cash and grazing and was all set to go to a sale to buy my dream horse. The night before I set off, someone tried to kill me, prompting a radical change in my outlook on life, return to university as a mature student and change in career from investment broking to something I actually cared about. Since we moved to Scotland 20 years ago, I have worked as a freelance countryside management consultant, on the interface between farming, conservation and public access. Amongst other contracts, for the past 10 years I’ve been restoring old drove roads and setting up riding routes through South of Scotland Countryside Trails.
Whether it harks back to Black Beauty I’m not sure, but by the time I was in a position to have another horse, I knew it had to be a Fell pony. After months of frustrated searching and failing to find the perfect mare, I eventually tracked down Lancer, a two year old gelding (supposedly!), with whom I instantly fell in love. Chris, now my husband, bought him for me for my 30th birthday. Together Lancer and I have had endless escapades, my escape from children and work being annual pilgrimages with my pony exploring different parts of Britain. Together Lancer and I have ridden The Ridgeway, the North Yorks Moors, through the Yorkshire Dales, around the Lakeland Fells, Welsh and Scottish Borders to name but a few of our escapades. At the end of a week away, my friend Sarah is ready to return to her husband, offspring and civilisation, whereas I just long to keep riding into the sunset.
Hi. My name, as you may have gathered is Elsa, after the lioness in Born Free. Yes, my mum does say she really wanted a lion cub! (this bodes really well – you can’t blame me for thinking mum didn’t want me at the start, who knows what she’s going to think at the end of our trip!) I’m 13 years old and first sat on my pony Rowan the day I came out of hospital at three days old, but I didn’t start riding properly until I was about seven. In mum and dad’s view I’m lazy. In my view, I like reading books and don’t like rain, cold or midges. Which will probably make you wonder why I’m doing this ride. Determination, pride and all the stuff on the home page really. It’s been a lifelong dream to do it on Rowan, and I’m sick of every one telling me I’m lazy. Which, for the record, I’m not. Right now I’m in S2 at Moffat Academy, thinking of becoming a psychologist. By the time we return from this ride I’ll be going into S3. Who knows how my views on life and what I want to do with mine may have changed?
2010 Update: Elsa finishes school this summer, and having set her heart for several years now on going to art college rather than studying psychology, she's off to Leicester De Montfort University in September to do an Art and Design Foundation course for a year before going on to study Costume Design. We still ride together. And one day I hope that Elsa will be justly proud of what she achieved riding to Lands End, and the unique time we shared together that summer, rather than dismissing it as nothing special.
As well as my trips on horseback, as a family we've dabbled with driving, first with Lancer pulling a genuine rag and bone cart from Lanark to the Lake District and back (to my horror people kept offering us scrap).
The foot and mouth crisis restricted our riding the following year, so instead we headed north beyond its reach to cycle across Scotland onto Skye, Jake and Elsa hoiking their bikes up sheer rock faces to climb back over the mountains to Glen Affric.
Then there was the epic 250 mile drive home to Scotland with the gypsy caravan we bought in Lancashire. Courtesy of Lancer we diced with death on more than one occasion, but it was a trip never to be forgotten.
On the basis that Elsa insisted that if her pony Rowan didn't arrive on her own four feet, she wouldn't know where she was, when we moved house in 2004, we rode our horses from Lanark to Lockerbie via St. Mary's Loch, and then boxed Lancer and Rowan back again to drive our gypsy caravan and exercise cart over the Devil's Beef Tub to our new home at Hoddom.
At the time all of these trips pushed us to the limit, but they were nothing in comparison to the challenge we set ourselves riding to Lands End - or to Smithfield. The trouble with challenges is that you feel so good when you've achieved what you set out to do, and looking back is great, but at the time the near death experiences aren't necessarily that much fun.