Their unforgettable adventure would be packed full of inspiration, meaning and growth.
July 07, 2022
Today we have the pleasure of introducing you to a member of our passionate team here at Outdooractive, Vroni. As you will find out, Vroni set out on a truly epic journey with her horse, Apollo. Their unforgettable adventure would be packed full of inspiration, meaning and growth. This incredible journey on horseback even inspired her to write a book about her experiences. We are thrilled to reveal Vroni’s wonderful, honest and gripping story!
Veronika and her horse Apollo with Steffen and his horse Max
From Lake Constance to Spain, 1800km in 6 months. Where did this crazy idea come from?
There has always been a deep desire within me to go on an epic trip and be on the road for a long period of time, so I left my apartment and quit my job. I wanted to leave everything behind, to be able to feel a true sense of freedom. I was ready to head out on my journey, but my plans were about to change.
I have always loved horses and have been riding all my life. Suddenly, out of the blue, I was given the opportunity to purchase ‘Apollo’ the horse I was taking care of – and I simply could not pass that up.
So the idea came to me – I would take my horse along with me on my journey! I was so excited about what this meant, even though everything I was planning had just changed dramatically!
What a beautiful idea to ride my horse to a country where I have never been. By the way, I was accompanied by my partner, who learned to ride and bought his own horse. After a small test route, the four of us set off full of euphoria and curiosity…
The two of you on horses including luggage.. how did that work?
The idea was that we alternate the luggage between the horses during the trip. That is, one horse carries the luggage, and we could alternate riding on the other. This alternation is important because dead weight (luggage) does not actively move along on the horse. In the long run, this is more exhausting for the animal and therefore the horse’s back must be given recovery time after carrying luggage. Unfortunately, our cold-blooded horse Max had problems with his saddle relatively soon and we had to throw away this idea. During this time our Haflinger Apollo carried the luggage, Max was spared the extra weight. So at first we just walked alongside the two horses. I really fell in love with this form of walking and got so into it that even when the possibility of riding soon came up again, I decided that I preferred to walk. So we had found our way of traveling! Later on, we divided the luggage between both horses and walked beside them.
Luggage on Apollo
The luggage for the trip:
In addition to the usual long-distance luggage (tent, sleeping bag, food, water, cooking utensils, clothing, first-aid kit), Vroni and Steffen carried some oats and electrolytes for the horses. They also carried a solar panel to power their cell phones, which they strapped on the horses during the day for charging. The accessories for the pasture paddock included a power unit and fence posts, the weight of which should not be underestimated!
Foraging in France
Where did you and the horses sleep and how did you manage their nutrition?
The question of how the horses would spend nights on the road gave me many sleepless nights in the build-up to this journey! I read about many different possibilities. We opted for a mobile paddock: power unit, posts, etc. Probably the heaviest and most space-consuming option, but it also provided the most freedom for the horses. For us, it was more simple! A tent and sleeping bag or nothing but the starry sky!
The horses could eat grass in most areas along the way and in the evening they could graze the pastures. Oats and mineral feed are important because the horses sweat a lot and can’t find the necessary salts on the way; we brought these supplies with us. For us, the menu offered mostly simple couscous with packet soup, sometimes a piece of cheese, sometimes a carrot. The main priority was lightness and efficient packing, so as not to put unnecessary weight on the horses’ backs. Nature offers enough herbs to bring variety and freshness to the food.
How did you plan your route?
You can’t pre-plan such a long trip day by day. Our destination was in the southwest – mostly we just kept to the compass direction and planned our route every day with Outdooractive.
Outdooractive’s Route Planner
We didn’t want to carry tonnes of maps with us on our way! We knew we needed a reliable app for planning and navigating therefore we choose to use Outdooractive. The Outdooractive Route Planner was indispensable for us. We found the map display visually appealing and easy to understand, and the app had a lot of features that were very important to us such as topographic maps, trail networks, and the elevation profile. We also navigated in offline mode to save battery power. We were able to find suitable paths and trails for our horses and avoid trails that had potential hazards and obstacles. We were able to identify narrow, steep paths or slopes on the map that often involved the risk of falling. The app also allowed us to avoid busy roads that should not be walked with horses. We chose the paths according to the temperatures – forest paths on hot days, and meadow paths on cooler days. The spontaneity was very important to us. One thing I learned was that it wasn’t so much about the end goal of reaching Spain, but about every moment on every new day on every new path.
I found out a few years after my trip that Outdooractive was looking for a UX designer, I was thrilled! I applied for the position and got the job! Now I feel honored to contribute to a product that has become an indispensable companion of mine on my outdoor activities and trail rides!
Overnight stay in the municipal park of ‘Castelnau-d’Estrétefonds’
Admiring, amused or even afraid! How did people respond to the four of you when you were on the road together?
It was very important for us to ask local people in the places we wanted to stay overnight where we were allowed to camp. We didn’t want to simply camp somewhere without permission. It took a while to get used to approaching so many strangers!
We were mainly on the road in France and a little in Spain. So many people welcomed us with open arms and open doors! In some cases, we were invited straight into homes for dinner and were able to hear exciting stories, become inspired, and leave a piece of our journey with these wonderful people. This sense of freedom and spontaneity took us to places we could never have dreamed of.
One particular encounter has stuck with me. In a small village, a man invited us to his garden. We realized how fascinated he was by us and the horses. He just sat down in the garden and observed us with a smile on his face. We learned that he himself had been dreaming of a long journey, but for various reasons, he was never able to make it happen. When we left, we saw a sparkle in his eyes as he said: “I will make this journey!” I was so moved and touched that we had inspired him to make this big decision in his life!
A very special moment: Veronika with Apollo taking a bath
Tell us about one of your favourite moments on the trip!
What moved me during our trip was feeling how we grew together as a team. How different we were when we started and how we gradually formed a tight-knit unit. I have a particularly fond memory of being in the south of France: everything felt well-rehearsed and practiced, the horses found their rhythm and the lines of communication were perfect. Just as we were passing a river, the farmer who owned the land drove by with his tractor. He told us we could sleep there. We discovered a beautiful sandy beach on the river bank. My horse was actually afraid of water, but all of a sudden I felt the impulse to go in there with him. He came with me without hesitation and swam in the deep water. That was such a touching moment for me, I could really feel the trust we had built.
Near the end of our trip, on a farm in the Pyrenees – we heard loud ‘meowing’ coming from a barn, we checked it out and found 2 stray kittens, both malnourished and starving. We asked the farmer what would happen to the kittens, the farmer was super friendly, but admitted that he couldn’t take care of them because he simply didn’t have the time. He suggested we take them with us. I couldn’t just leave the kittens knowing it is likely they would die. So we tried to figure out how we could take the kittens with us. The farmer ended up building us a crate that we strapped onto one of the horses. In the beginning, I had big doubts about how this would work because cats are very headstrong and often don’t like being trapped. However, they quickly accepted the crate as their home and always came back when we let them jump around freely during lunch breaks and in the evening.
Belongings scattered in the forest after an accident
Did you experience any dangerous situations on your trip?
Every journey includes lows, that was clear to me from the beginning. What was a very big challenge for me on the journey were my own limits. I kept feeling that I couldn’t take any more and that my body just wasn’t up to it. Especially in the heat, at one point I collapsed in the sun and was unable to move for some time. The trip showed me things that I didn’t know about myself and taught me to find solutions, and think on my feet. Apart from personal growth, we also had some accidents on our trip when luck was not on our side.
For example, my horse stepped into a wasp’s nest in the Pyrenees and ran off along a narrow mountain trail. I found him several miles into the forest amidst the torn saddlebags and our scattered belongings. He was shaking, covered in blood and only able to stand on three legs. We had no phone reception and were in the middle of the mountains. We were able to treat him with the basic supplies that we had with us and put a rescue blanket on him.
The bags in which all of our supplies were stowed, lay in tatters in front of us. Like many other moments on this trip, I had to apply a solution-oriented approach to my thinking! I sewed the panniers back together and we had to grit our teeth and slowly descend back into the valley. Once in the village, luck was with us and some wonderful people asked us to stay with them until the horse made a full recovery.
Apollo and Max at sunset
Since this incredible adventure, have you done any more trips like this or are you planning another?
The travel bug has totally grabbed me! I have realized just how healing and grounding a journey like this is for me. I really enjoyed being in rhythm with nature and having the time to truly experience my surroundings. I have become addicted to exploring with my horse! Last summer I went on a trip with my horse and a friend across Germany. It was fascinating! I find the magic is often in the details, travelling by horse gives you the time to take it all in!
What can I say, I am just in love with this way of traveling!
The ultimate trust between me and my horse has created such a deep connection and friendship.
If you want to read more about Veronika’s adventures on her blog and learn more about her routes, click here to go to her profile.
Book your own journey with a horse by your side here
Update: July 07, 2022