If you’re in the south of England this summer you may spot a traditional horse and carriage on your travels.
Vickylee Cain and her piebald cob, Thistle, are making the 500-mile journey from Dover to Lands’ End together. The aim of the carriage drive is to raise money for two nature-based charities, our own Pearce Coggan Foundation and Ambios, in South Devon.
Vickylee has a background in both farming and carriage driving so this challenge enables her to combine two of her passions and raise funds to enable others to experience some of what she loves about life outdoors.
We caught up with Vickylee to find out more about her, her handsome horse and the task facing them.
Vickylee started carriage driving around 20 years ago and quickly fell in love with it. She worked for two Fédération Équestre Internationale (FEI) British team competitors and groomed for competitors at the world pony championships, but her own driving stopped when she took a job on a biodynamic farm in Berkshire.
A recent move further south led her to Thistle and a return to the saddle.
“I went to a sale for my work, and I was looking at New Forest ponies to bring on,” Vickylee explained. “In amongst them was a striking little cob who didn’t seem to fit in. I estimated he would go for around 800 guineas, but he went for 355; less than half what I thought he was worth.”
“When we bought him back we put him in the field, but he looked a bit confused and didn’t eat the grass. Instead, he went into the corner and started to eat thistles – hence his name.”
Vickylee set about teaching Thistle to drive last year and quickly realised how much she had missed getting in touch with nature. This summer she will spend weeks travelling through the countryside by day and sleeping under the stars at night. The pair will set off from Dover in July, passing through Sussex, Hampshire, Wiltshire, Dorset, Somerset, Devon and Cornwall. Vickylee aims to complete the challenge in September.
“The planning is arduous,” Vickylee said. I have to keep in mind the gradients of hills and getting over rivers and bridges. Dover to the South Downs is largely flat but I will need to do some more planning for Devon and Cornwall.
“We can do around 15-20 miles in a day so will be up with the sun and on the road, take a break while it’s hot and do another couple of hours in the evening.”
Vickylee will sleep mostly in the carriage, which has a canopy, while Thistle can be tethered and enjoy the varied grazing opportunities that life on the road offers.
“We will definitely need to rely on the kindness of strangers,” Vickylee said. “People are always willing to help with water so we will fill up on our way. In general people like to help, I find.
“If anybody has any suitable grazing for a night and a rest day for Thistle who, like most people, likes his days off, please do get in touch. A safe spot on route for a scheduled rest will always be welcome,” Vickylee added.
As well as helping her and Thistle, Vickylee is hoping those who become aware of her challenge will also help her chosen charities. She has set up a fundraising page with donations being split between Pearce Coggan Foundation and Ambios.
The Pearce Coggan Foundation, founded by MaryAnn and Martin and based at Green Farm, helps people connect with nature by providing a fun and inclusive outdoor environment where young people can be free and experience farm life with a focus on where food comes from.
Ambios provides nature conservation training in the UK and EU via traineeships and volunteering. They are rewilding 50 acres on the Sharpham Estate and work with United Response to provide real work experience for people with learning difficulties.