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Halifax Woman set to celebrate 40th Anniversary of Groundbreaking Charity Horse Ride
On June 18, 1977 Wendy Longbottom set off on an incredible journey; a 2,000 mile round trip that would take three months to complete.
Wendy rode her Arabian stallion Shawondasee, affectionately known as Darsey, from her home in Northowram, Halifax, to John O’Groats to Land’s End and back again to raise money for the Riding for the Disabled Association (RDA). This year marks the 40th anniversary of this charity event, the Silver Jubilee Ride.
“People have asked me why I decided to ride there and back again; surely to goodness one way would be far enough. To be quite honest I didn’t know how I would get the horse to the start and back from the finish; the obvious solution was to ride him there,” explained Wendy, who published a book ’99 Days in 1977’ about her experiences in 1993.
“I was just a bored housewife living in Northowram when I came up with the idea. Everyone thought I was mad but this idea became an obsession and I knew I just had to give it a go. It was meticulously planned but we couldn’t arrange everything before we left so we had to work it out en route. And don’t forget, this was long before the age of the mobile phone and the internet,” said Wendy.
Wendy’s daughters, Carol, aged six, and Tracey, aged four, also made the journey in the support vehicle, a dormobile driven by Carole Vickers. Most of the time they had no idea where they were to stay; so one of Carole’s jobs to find each night’s accommodation.
“Carole did a fantastic job knocking on doors asking for a stable for the night; we stayed in some very strange places,” said Wendy. “One night Darsey would be in a sheep pen and the next a grand stable yard; we were made welcome by people in tiny crofts in the Scottish Highlands, at riding schools and on large arable farms.
“We were amazed by the generosity of everyone we met along the way. This was at a time before it was commonplace to do sponsored charity events so we were met with curiosity wherever we went,” added Wendy.
Wendy rode approximately between 18 and 30 miles a day, depending on the location of the next night’s accommodation, with nine days taken as rest days. Much of this was ridden on main roads as these offered the most direct route but even 40 years ago these were busy and dangerous. Darsey ignored the traffic and took everything in his stride, from ferries to city centre traffic. He had special horseshoes made to allow him to cover the 250 to 300 miles a week without damaging his feet.
The Silver Jubilee Ride, so named as it took place in the Queen’s Silver Jubilee year, raised over £4,000 for the RDA at a time when a gallon of petrol cost just 70p. In the years since Wendy has spoken to many local groups about the ride, continuing to raise money as a public speaker.
Sadly Darsey died in 1993 at the age of 21 after a successful career as a long distance horse, including as a member of the GB team, and as a stallion at stud. Wendy continues to travel widely even in her 79th year. She will be celebrating the anniversary with family.