The Long Horse Ride: Interview with Megan Lewis

Long Horse Ride

Setting out: From China to England on horseback.

Megan Lewis is on an 8,000 kilometre horse ride from Beijing to London. After the culmination of the 2008 Beijing Olympics, she set out on what is to be a four year trek, arriving in London in time for the 2012 Olympics.

The ride is designed to carry a goodwill message from Beijing to London, as well as raise funds for disadvantaged children through the work of Schoolchildren for Children.

Just before she was about to set out on the second stage of her journey, I exchanged emails with Megan about the inspiration behind this trip, and her experiences so far.

You’ve actually already finished the first leg of the trip, which went from the eastern end of the Great Wall to Badaling. That was last October. How was that experience? 
 
It was a fantastic experience in spite of all the inevitable setbacks. The main downside was the terrible road traffic, as Chinese drivers tend to treat all horses like vehicles – the only reason they ever slowed down was to stare at the crazy foreigners, and more often than not they klaxoned to warn us they were coming!   Luckily the horses were absolutely bombproof, but it could be unnerving at times.   On the other hand we saw parts of China we would never have otherwise had a chance to see, and rode through through some lovely rural backwaters beneath the Great Wall, causing a certain amount of consternation among the local populace. We mainly stayed in local hotels and farmhouses, (as well as a fish restaurant and a chicken farm!),  and ate wonderful Chinese food en route, so experienced the real China.  When not overcome with astonishment, the Chinese were very welcoming.

Had you been to China before then? 
 
I spent a month in autumn 2007 and 2 weeks in spring 2008 in Beijing and Gansu researching feasibilty and building up contacts for the ride, as well as a month preparing before we actually started.

Apart from that I have been to Hong Kong a couple of times – once as a child in the 1950s and then in the 1990s when I also spent a few days travelling on the mainland.

Is this trip something you’ve dreamed of doing for a long time? 

Megan Lewis

Megan Lewis.

I have always dreamed of doing a long ride since I was a teenager and read books such as Tschiffeley’s Ride, and Canada Ride by Mary Bosanquet. I also longed to travel in China, Mongolia and Central Asia, areas which were at that time off limits. My horseback trips were thus confined to Wales, and it is only since my children have left home that I have had the opportunity to fulfil this larger ambition.

Through this trip, you’re raising money for Schoolchildren for Children, a charity that encourages young people in the UK to exercise more and also distributes money to schools in poorer countries. Why did you decide to use your trip to support this charity? 

I suppose the main decider was that it was founded by my husand Iestyn Thomas!   However it also means I know it is a charity that is well worth supporting for several reasons.

Firstly ALL the money that is donated goes directly to the specified projects - unlike a majority of charities, NO money is siphoned off for administration, as that is covered by separate sponsorship.

Secondly I know that all the projects we support have been personally vetted, so we are as sure as we can possibly be that  donations are used properly and no funds go astray.  The charity has built up trustworthy contacts on the ground who ensure the money reaches its intended targets, and this is followed up. I personally inspected a selection of schools for migrant children in Beijing before the charity donated to the chosen Dandelion school. They supplied a detailed budget of how the money would be allocated, and this had to be approved by the charity before any money was donated.

Thirdly, the charity really does make a huge difference to the lives of severely disadvantaged children.   I have seen this for myself, not only in China, but also when I visited Schoolchildrenforchildren projects in the poverty stricken slums of Nairobi. 

Have a look at their website for details of projects it supports.
 
It is also a charity which encourages children (and adults) in the developed world to get out and raise money through physical activity,  a very relevant and worthwhile campaign in our over-indulgent modern world.

Since you’re travelling by horse, do you tend to avoid cities and stick with rural areas? 

As far as we can we intend to avoid industrial and built up areas. On the first leg we were travelling through a fairly densely populated part of China, so this was not always possible.  As the maps which the Chinese authorities make available to the public are pretty poor, it was often difficult to find small back roads, and we relied heavily on word of mouth – mainly our guide Mr Ren asking directions from locals!  Further west it should be easier to keep to rural areas.

As you’re about to start this second stage, what are you feeling? Excitement? Any fear? 

My main worries with China have been bureaucracy and budget, the latter because of the need  to have a Chinese guide, and back up vehicle to carry fodder for the horses. As a result of this I have had a quite a few sleepless nights, but recent developments have eased the situation.   The Chinese Equestrian Association have worked hard to get official endorsement, which should smooth out potential bureaucratic problems. Also I have now also joined forces with Li Jing, a dashing Chinese horseman who has just ridden from western Russia to Beijing and can act as a guide. More good news is that we have just been sponsored a trailer by the Chinese, so I now ‘only’ need to finance a towing vehicle.  As a result  I feel much more confident and am eagerly anticipating the start of  the second stage, and looking forward to meeting up again with my other co-rider Peng Wenchao, who is now an old friend!

For those who are interested in supporting or sponsoring you, how do they do that?
 
We are offering commercial sponsorship packages to companies who would like to support the ride in cash or kind. Depending on the level of sponsorship, this includes the unique chance to participate in this groundbreaking venture as well as the usual promotional advantages. . The costs of running an epic expedition on this scale are considerable, and every bit of support really helps. If you would like to get involved, contact me. I am massively grateful to those whose backing  has already enabled the expedition to get off the ground.
 
For charity sponsorship, there is a Justgiving facility. As I have said before, this is an extremely worthwhile cause which really does make an incredible difference to the lives of severely disadvantaged children worldwide.  We have already raised nearly three and a half thousand pounds even before the start of the main ride, and hope to raise a lot more. 

But please don’t feel you have to donate a large amount.   Although larger donations are of course most welcome, the minimum donation is only £2, and every penny counts!
 
We will also occasionally be making one or two places available to join the ride as a paying participant - the money will go towards both covering ride costs and charity donation. Contact me if interested.

Follow Megan on her horse ride on her blog, or learn more about the trip on the website.

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Discussion »

  • #1The Longest Way Home

    Great Article! Always great to see new and exciting overland travelers pop up. I wonder if Megan is in touch with Becky Samson or if they will meet up half way?!

  • #2Megan Lewis

    I had been aware of Becky for some time, as her pony actually came from not far from where I live in Wales! She contacted me when I was in China for the first leg of the Long Horse Ride, and we subsequently met up at a conference at the Royal Geographical Society last autumn. We still keep in touch from time to time!

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