Thanks to Dr. John Buford for this update on the first week of the Vets with Horsepower European Ride 2014.
The Vets with Horsepower event has SUCCEEDed in reaching St Petersburg, Russia. The first week has been fantastically well supported and successful, despite some challenges along the way.
We departed in two groups on July 2, with the southerly group enjoying a rousing and enthusiastic send-off from the delegates of the Seventh International Working Horse Colloquium at Royal Holloway in London. Both groups met at the house of one of our close supporters of the Horsepower venture in Utrecht before heading off the following day in the direction of Germany.
Our first talk was in Hanover, although we had to stick tightly to our time schedule to ensure we were finished in time for the World Cup quarter final between Germany and France.
The following day we headed for Berlin to break up the longest leg between our venues. Despite an early start, we eventually arrived in Warsaw late in the afternoon. After a very enjoyable surprise evening meal in a local biker bar we gave the second of our talks at the lecture theatre of the veterinary faculty to a large and extremely welcoming audience.
Our route then took us to an overnight stop near to the eastern Polish border. The following day we headed through Lithuania towards Riga in Latvia. The team had an opportunity to have a very brief look around the beautiful city centre before another early start in order to make the relatively short journey through to Tartu in Estonia. We were scheduled to begin talks late in the morning, but needed plenty of time for the challenges imposed by the Russian border checkpoint.
We congregated at 5am to complete some of the customs forms with the help of two Russian-speaking Estonians, Anton and Jaak, who would be accompanying us as far as Helsinki in Finland. We set off as a united team of 11 bikers including our guides, along with three members in our support vehicle, but by the end of the day only six bikes reached St Petersburg with the car. We lost the first two of the team at the Russian border as they were denied entry due to problems with their paperwork. I was only able to enter due to some fantastic Estonian diplomacy courtesy of Anton.
Undeterred, we set off towards St Petersburg whilst Caroline and David sadly set off to travel almost the length of Estonia towards Tallinn with the aim of catching a ferry to Helsinki where the entire team is due to speak on Monday.
Russian roads carry a number of challenges: they are distinctly monotonous as they are largely straight and bordered by mixed birch and pine forests; there is the threat of large fines or 14 days in jail for traveling faster than the speed limit of 54mph; and there are the Russian drivers themselves.
Then there are the potholes, which can be quite large. Large enough to dent rims and hard enough to completely flatten a tyre – as Edmund unfortunately found out. Despite a relatively heroic and successful attempt to bend the rim back into shape using a concrete block, some two by fours, and hammers borrowed from a construction worker, the tyre failed to remain inflated due to a small crack near the valve. We had to continue on, this time leaving Anton and Trevor with Edmund whilst awaiting the recovery vehicle. I am delighted to report that they safely made it to St Petersburg in the early hours of this morning.
So the team, minus two, have safely made it to St Petersburg, where I think it is fair to say we are entirely looking forward to our one rest day tomorrow morning.
It has certainly been an eventful week, but we have been overwhelmed by the response of the audiences, and also the organisation and enthusiasm of the local organisers without whom we couldn’t have done this project.
Currently we are well on our way towards achieving our target of £75,000. This will make a fantastic difference to small children in India and the developing world who would otherwise suffer the completely avoidable consequences of being born with a simple birth defect. Also, the Gambian Horse and Donkey Trust will be able to open a second clinic, expanding their fantastic work improving animal health and welfare as well as providing positive benefits to the families reliant on working animals for their livelihood. Donations to these charities may be made through Vets with Horsepower’s fundraising page.