The sight of Sandra Schmid, her cob Flora and Trudi the dog, arriving in Bantry to cheers from her supporters, provided the perfect full stop to an epic 500 km ride from the border of Northern Ireland all the way home to the Wexford coast.
Rewind half an hour back from the Bantry arrival in the video that Sandra published on their fundraising page, and there is a quieter moment to witness. This captured snapshot perhaps more eloquently reflects the physical and emotional adventure that the team of three completed.
Trudi the dog lies fast asleep on the sun-warmed tarmac, Flora chows down on a well-earned grass snack, while Sandra expresses her feeling of some sadness that the journey with her animal companions is coming to an end.
The cross-Ireland ride was undertaken to raise money to complete a barn at Hairy Henry Care Farm, which supports people with emotional, social, physical, mental or educational challenges through working with horses.
“It took us three weeks to get home. We had three rest days along the way; we did about 30km a day. It was so wonderful crossing into County Cork and feeling like we might actually make it back home. I’m very proud of the three of us.”
The barn at Hairy Henry Care Farm is up, but it’s not quite finished as Sandra explains: “We calculated the outstanding costs of about €25,000 to finish the barn; we raised €10,000 with our ride.
"The Go Fund Me page is still open for donations (see link at end of article). We deal with many vulnerable riders who have to stop riding in winter. Soon we will have the purpose-built barn completed, safe and accessible for all.”
According to Sandra, the slow-paced journey south was an incredible opportunity to see what is possible if you just do one step at a time, plod on and enjoy the trip. “I learned a lot about generosity and hospitality and the extraordinary kindness of people in our country.
"It was also really great to see Ireland at such a slow speed. I was born and raised in Germany, and there were parts of Ireland I had never been to, and it was great to travel through so many new places.
“Spring was a beautiful season to travel, and we bonded as a team. It was wonderful to have both my animals be so generous with their energy and willingness. It’s hard to find words for it, I’m very grateful to Trudi and Flora, and I really enjoyed their company.”
Traffic was the biggest problem for the intrepid team and goes a long way to highlight the ongoing problem of vehicle users disrespecting riders on our roads. “There were two big frights when cars nearly drove into us, including one reversing down a tiny little road and nearly backing into us.
"Another time, a van nearly drove into us on a very busy road. We all had high-visibility gear from top to bottom, but it was down to the people in the vehicles not paying attention.”
“It was shocking in places; people had no idea that horses can react so quickly and that it might not be to do with the traffic; it could be a rustling bird in the hedge or another spook.
"Some drivers stopped and turned off the engine and were very aware of us, but many people in cars, tractors, lorries and buses didn’t slow down at all. They just assumed us plodding along at the side of the road meant it was OK to go past us at 80 or 100km an hour.
"It was terrifying. I had the route planned out to ride on tiny back roads as much as possible, but sometimes we couldn’t avoid going on bigger roads.”
The welfare of Sandra’s animals was paramount, and fitness was a prerequisite for them all before they set off. “Flora is a very fit horse; we do all sorts of sports and we go out on long treks for three days at a time, but three weeks was new to her.
"We took it easy, paced ourselves, and she got grass and rest and a stable every night, so she was well looked after.
“Trudi is a farm dog, an outdoor dog, and she spends her days running about and following me doing chores, so she just loved it. She was off the lead on the back roads and she loved skirting along the hedges following us.
"They got lots of food and rest in-between. We had stopovers laid on every night from complete strangers, sometimes via social media or the website.”
No Lonely moments
Undertaking this challenge, many people may have found it lonely, but that wasn’t an issue for Sandra. “I was never lonely,” she admits. “Flora and Trudi were great company! I had social contact in the evening too.
"How kind people are left me touched and humbled. Us, a sweaty, smelly crew arriving from a rainy day of riding and these generous hosts doing their best to make us feel so at home.”
Surprisingly Sandra didn’t feel much soreness despite the gruelling hours in the saddle.
“It was more after we got home that I realised how tired I was. I bet Trudi and Flora felt the same! I was surprised; I have arthritis, so I was worried about how well my hips and lower back would cope, but I was great, what kept us going was to have an aim to head homeward, and to be cheered on by so many people.
"The online supporters cheering us on helped too - we were just fine! On top of it all, we raised money for the barn; I paid for the trip out of my own pocket, so all of the money raised goes into the barn. It’s great what you can achieve by getting up and just doing it!”