Horses Help Heroes

Mick Fould’s Appaloosa Kaz recounts the nine day challenge he undertook to help escort a horse drawn WW1 ambulance from Lands End to John O’Groats for charity. Horses helps heroes was the idea of paramedic Jacks El Tawil, an experienced horsewoman and carriage driver based in Wiltshire. Jacks was inspired to raise funds for injured servicemen and exservicemen through her love of horses. And so was spawned the idea of driving a replica WW1 horse drawn ambulance non stop from Lands End to John O’Groats raising money for four military charities; Help for Heroes, BLESMA (British Limbless Ex-Service Men’s Association), Combat Stress, and the Army Benevolent Fund.

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The ambulance set off from Lands End on 21 June and the challenge involved a logistical nightmare of getting 45 people, 23 horses (with driving horses changed every 10-20 miles), six horseboxes and various support vehicles to the right place at the right time on a rolling basis! It wasn’t easy, but the team did it, arriving in John O’Groats on 29 June, just nine and a half days later!

Mick Foulds was one of the team. Mick, who served with the Royal Engineers some years ago, is a double below the knee amputee, losing his legs in an accident at work four years ago. He was one of seven serving and ex-serving amputees who learned to carriage drive and crewed the ambulance day and night on its journey. Mick, a keen western rider both before and after his accident, took his own horse Kaz - an impressive 16.1hh Appaloosa gelding. As well as taking his turn at carriage driving, Mick rode Kaz in support of the ambulance in various strategic towns on the route. Prior to the challenge, Kaz also appeared with Mick at various promotional events including the British Military Tournament at Earls Court, Badminton Horse Trials and Guards Polo, Windsor. Here Mick and his wife Sue, also a keen western rider, present Kaz’s diary of happenings over that historic nine days.

For more information on Horses Help Heroes, or to donate to the cause, please visit www.horseshelpheroes.org.uk

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MONDAY 20 JUNE

Suffolk to Cornwall in one day! I’m driven to Southampton by luxury nine horse transporter. Not sure about my immediate travelling companions who join us there, a driving team of black Friesian stallions. They are just a bit scary! In Cornwall the weather continues as it means to go on, raining. Humans are not very happy as the big lorry has to go up a narrow rocky track not designed for lorries of any size, let alone ours. When we do arrive at the farm where the pre-challenge briefing session and BBQ are being held it is very wet underfoot. I find a stable for the night, so manage to keep myself clean.

TUESDAY 21 JUNE

First day of the challenge. I get to meet the other two riding horses, Patches and Charlie, two laid back cobs whom the other human amputees can ride safely in the towns where they act as outriders supporting the ambulance. They arrived late last night as the trailer they were using got damaged by Patches in transit. So maybe they are not going to be that laid back? Anyway, it’s a military operation and so I soon put them both in their places. I’m driven to Lands End in the big lorry, and they hitch a lift in the Farrier’s lorry so we can all participate in a photo shoot. Everyone behaves. Miraculously, the rain stops, the clouds lift and it is sunny for a few minutes! And then the ambulance is off - 10 days to get to the tip of Scotland.

We travel on to Penzance (Tesco’s car park) in a smaller three horse lorry that is to be our designated transport for the rest of the trip, and I make friends with the lady mayor who is very nice and feeds me polos. We stand outside the shop entrance and I pose appropriately and manage to make quite a lot of money for the cause. Great treat for me as I get given four bags of carrots by the local shoppers. I stay there for quite some time as the ambulance is very late arriving.

The brakes got stuck on just seven miles from Lands End and so emergency repairs are needed. Not an auspicious start. We carry on towards Launceston in the horse lorry, and a nice field awaits for the night, with a BBQ for the humans (those not on night duty, anyway). It starts raining - heavily - so I might be a bit muddy in the morning. Sorry!

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WEDNESDAY 22 JUNE

Scheduled to appear in Exeter and then Honiton early this morning, but that gets cancelled as the ambulance is running very late. More brake problems. On top of that it is raining very, very hard, and the driving horses don’t like the traffic passing them fast and splashing their legs. It is miserable for everyone, but they all press on. In the meanwhile we riding horses get taken up to Taunton and a nice field. It stops raining. But my humans can’t take me to appear in Taunton as they desperately need to get some sleep. They are on night escort duty where they have to take turns driving the safety car behind the ambulance with flashing lights, as the ambulance keeps rolling.

THURSDAY 23 JUNE

Busy schedule today. First of all, an appearance at the ambulance station in Chippenham. It rains, but all the food and people are inside - so we go in too! We are a great hit with the local schoolchildren, and give more than a few free rides. Second appearance in Malmsbury, and I get mobbed! There are just so many people there, waving flags, cheering and wanting to pat me, I feet like royalty. And yes, I do behave impeccably as do Patches and Charlie - no-one gets bitten.

Then on to Cirencester. Top event rider Mark Todd joins the cause and rides Patches down into the town centre. Patches is not much more than 14.2hh, so his feet nearly touch the ground. I have met Mark Todd before at a training session in Wiltshire and he is a very nice human. He gave a riding lesson on me to one of the injured servicemen who had never ridden a horse before. I think Mark found it a bit of a challenging experience (some humans say more so than riding clear to win at Badminton) as he wasn’t familiar with my western tack, or the fact that I go straight from walk into lope! I don’t really think much of this carriage horse fast trotting business. But I’m a good boy and I looked after my novice rider well, even with the BBC South West cameras looking on!

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FRIDAY 24 JUNE

All the horses spend the night at a very posh polo yard at Birdlip, near Gloucester. I have a bit of a lay in next morning. A very long lay in as it turns out, given that the person who was driving our horse box got moved on to other duties, so the riding horses got forgotten about for a couple of hours. Everyone else was up near Shrewsbury before the oversight was realised and someone was sent back to rescue us. We eventually meet up with the team again at Haydock Park. No work, and a very posh racing stable awaits for the night.

SATURDAY 25 JUNE

So, it’s pouring with rain again. What’s new! We are collected and taken up to Lancaster. I am paraded through the town and meet some dignitaries at the castle. At least the humans are happy as the vicar gives them some glasses of red wine. Tough night for the humans. They are staying in a hotel in Preston but have to be on escort duty at midnight somewhere near Carlisle. It takes them two hours to find where the ambulance has got to due to fog, road works, one way systems, and incorrect information. Everyone is getting very tired and fractious as we head up towards Scotland. But we are determined to carry on.

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SUNDAY 26 JUNE

The ambulance passes through Gretna Green; lots of photos taken, and we head on towards Glasgow. I’m hoping to appear in time for the military day celebrations where thousands of people are gathered. I do like military bands! But in reality I only make it to a layby on the bad side of town, as the ambulance gets delayed again, running three hours behind schedule. So the Glasgow appearance is scrubbed and we get taken straight on to the Rowallan Centre at Kilmarnock, the biggest equestrian centre in the Country. It is very impressive and the humans like the restaurant and bar too, spending most of the evening there. But they are just so disappointed to have missed out on going into Glasgow for the celebrations.

MONDAY 27 JUNE

‘You take the low road and we take the high road…’ The ambulance takes the gentler inclines of a longer coastal route, while we take the high pass (in the rain) to get to Fort Augustus in the shortest travelling time. The humans observe it is only 14 degrees, while in London it is 35 degrees! On balance, probably best that it is cool for us. Nice, but boggy, field for the night and some sheep for company. I get a bit muddy and need a bath the following morning. Sorry!

TUESDAY 28 JUNE

It’s stopped raining! Lovely scenic drive along Loch Ness. Not so good for horse lorries although everyone negotiates the bends OK. Parade in Inverness. Hottest day of the trip; Balmy 19 degrees! Then get taken on to a town called Tain, where we are scheduled to appear at a carnival. Doesn’t quite go to plan as while I’m more than happy with pipe bands, the big drum being hit just as it passes by us tied up to the lorry probably wasn’t such a good idea. Patches and Charlie take a while to calm down, so it is just me that parades behind the ambulance. Safety first! We are all fine by the time we have to get back on ready for the long drive to Wick. We get there about 11pm but it is still perfectly light and we have another good night in a field, good apart from all those pesky Scottish midges.

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WEDNESDAY 29 JUNE

The big day! Up bright and early for the short drive to John O’Groats. But then we have to wait as the driving horses have had to take it really slow and steady over night. The hills are steep, and with everyone getting so very tired, it has taken much longer than expected to cover the distance. So we have had to be patient. The ambulance finally reaches its goal at 5pm and there are celebrations all around, lots of photos and people patting me. I could get used to this lifestyle!

SATURDAY 2 JULY

I finally get home after a night in Wick, a night in Glasgow and then a night in Southampton - dropping off the scary stallions! Not so sad to see them go. I came back in club class on the big lorry. Very proud, I’ve been promoted. So, when’s the next event?

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