16 November 2001


Mary Pagnamenta hopes to be the first English

woman to have trekked across the entire length

of New Zealands North and South Island.

Jeremy Hunt spoke to her before she left for

her 1865-mile journey

Mary Pagnamenta has been avidly devouring words of wisdom published in an old army manual. While most peoples idea of light bedtime reading certainly wouldnt be a book about how to get the best out of your camel or water buffalo as a pack animal, for what this intrepid lady is about to endure it could prove to be a life-saver.

When Mary arrives at Cape Regina in June 2002 she will be the first Englishwoman to have trekked 3000km (1865miles) across the entire length of New Zealands North and South Islands.

Although she has wisely declined the idea of tackling her journey with a camel or a water buffalo, the knowledge she has derived from the pages of that 1937 army manual will serve her in good stead as she undertakes this arduous nine-month trek.

For most of the time she will be alone except for her two pack horses. Apart from friends from the New Zealand Riding for the Disabled Association who will join her for odd days, Mary is going solo – no support team, no Land Rover full of supplies – just guts.

The trip, which has taken two years to organise, is entitled Four Beats To Freedom and it has its own web-site – its aim is to raise around £32,000 for the Fortune Centre of Riding Therapy and the Brooke Hospital for Animals.

&#42 Residential centre

The Fortune Centre of Riding Therapy is a residential centre in the New Forest, Hants, where school leavers with learning difficulties work closely with horses. The Brooke Hospital for Animals cares for working equines in the poorest parts of the developing world.

Mary is 46 and has a lifelong experience of horses. She was involved in a Raleigh expedition to Chile in 1994 and has worked as a head-teacher for the past 10 years, latterly in charge of an English-speaking school in Prague. But despite her wanderings she has maintained her home in the village of Gargrave, near Skipton, North Yorkshire, where recent months have seen her fine-tuning her epic trip.

"The horse is the epitome of patience, strength and nobility. In some of the worlds poorest countries the horse may be the only source of income for an entire family. Even in the west the horse can be an educator, a motivator and a therapist," says Mary.

She left the UK at the end of August and flew to New Zealand

to spend two months making final plans and ensuring that both she and her two horses are fit for the endurance test that follows.

E-mails had been flying back and forth across the world for many months as her contacts in New Zealand prepared for her arrival. She will be riding Clydesdale or Connemara crosses.

With few marked bridleways across New Zealand the journey will be hazardous from the start. Mary is prepared for long periods of isolation, often in remote areas as high as 6000ft. As well as sleeping under canvas Mary plans to stay in "musterers huts" which are vacant shelters provided for stockmen. She will carry enough supplies to last two weeks at a time and will replenish stocks from previously arranged supply drop-off points.

&#42 Resting time

"Im reckoning on 140 riding days and 28 rest days but Ill have to allocate time for days that the horses may be lame and need resting."

Mary plans to cover about 15 miles a day and while shes prepared for most things she admits to feeling some trepidation about river crossings.

"Some of these rivers can be up to a mile wide. Hopefully you can wade over but if theres been heavy rain they can suddenly get very deep in the middle.

"Im hoping the horses wont have to swim more than a short distance but its something Ive never done before."

And thats not the only daunting part of the marathon ride. She was told in no uncertain terms at the start by her New Zealand advisers that she must not only learn how to shoe a horse but also how to shoot one…

"If a horse casts a shoe I have to be able to replace it. And should the unthinkable happen and one of the horses becomes injured and has to be destroyed I must be able to put it down humanely."

To prepare for the "unthinkable" Mary has already been present when an old pony belonging to a friend was put down. "I had to experience it. Its no good having to deal with that for the first time on your own half way up a mountain track in New Zealand."

Mary has been delighted with the help she has been given by so many people in the UK; shes learnt how to hobble a horse, something she will have to do every night to stop her horses wandering off, and also how to extract a horse from a bog by pulling on a rope tied to its tail!

But she will have the help of some modern technology. A satellite tracking system was an unorthodox but invaluable gift from the pupils when she left her school in Prague; a satellite mobile phone has been donated by Leeds United Football Club.

Mary is urgently in need of sponsors to reach her goal of £32,000, the bulk of which will help children with learning difficulties in the UK.

"In the second Century BC Xenophon the Greek said the best thing for the inside of a man is the outside of a horse and 2200 years later and little has changed," says Mary.

But spending 140 days in the saddle will not be without its inevitable problems. "That old army manual was written for cavalrymen. There are 40 pages on saddles and sore backs so I think Id better be taking it with me to read by the camp-fire."

Mary is putting her trust in her horses and an old army manual.

Mary Pagnamenta – practising water crossings in the Yorkshire Dales.

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