The Scottish adventurer who’s riding across Europe on horseback
(CNN) — Scottish adventurer Louis Hall has been riding across Europe for nearly three months, but the final point of his estimated 2,800 kilometer journey is almost in sight.
Hall, originally from Edinburgh, set off from Siena, Italy on March 24 with his horse Sasha and the pair have since made their way through Tuscany to the Ligurian mountains and onto Basque Country, France.
They’re due to complete their incredible ride in Cape Finisterre, Spain during the first week of July.
Hall’s latest horseback adventure comes two years after he rode the length of the UK and just months after he rode from Cornwall to Devon, in southwestern England, to raise money for Afghan refugees through his fundraising organization The Big Hoof, which supports charitable causes through ridden challenges.
The adventurer, who also works as an actor, first began riding when he was a child, but it was a trip to Mongolia in 2014 to help a friend struggling with mental health issues that cemented his passion for horses.
They ended up buying three horses in order to reach a particular tribe and Hall says the experience triggered something in him.
“That whole journey kind of re-educated me in horsemanship,” he tells CNN Travel. “It wasn’t about competitions, riding for speed or jumps.
Louis Hall and his horse Sasha ride along the Pyrenean trail during an epic journey across Europe.
Louis Hall/The Big Hoof
“It became a very, very spiritual and grounded relationship. I’ve stayed connected with them [horses] from that moment.”
After returning from Mongolia, Hall seized opportunities to spend time with and ride horses and soon began working in a stable in London. He founded The Big Hoof in 2020.
During his first big charity ride, in memory of his friend Leo, Hall raised thousands of pounds for UK-based national charity Cystic Fibrosis Trust.
But the Covid-19 pandemic began soon afterward, forcing much of the world into lockdown. Once things began to reopen, Hall says he noticed a shift in the way the people around him were viewing the world and their own capabilities for adventure.
“I could sense, especially in the UK, that some magic had slightly gone in people’s imaginations and the possibilities of what you thought you could do and what you think you could do were very different post pandemic, pre pandemic,” he says.
“Especially with the conversations I was having with people of my generation, and assumptions made by older generations, it seemed like it had all shrunk.”
“This idea of going adventuring, being free, meeting strangers and living in a world that was optimistic didn’t seem to be viable.”
Determined to prove that there was “still some magic in the world,” Hall decided it was time for an even bigger ride, and came up with the idea of traveling from Italy to Spain on horseback.
His goal was simple, to raise awareness around mental health and “perhaps inspire people to believe in a world that does still exist.”
While he was putting his plans into motion, Russia invaded Ukraine, and Hall admits he considered calling the whole thing off, as the idea of “riding a horse across some hills” seemed “ridiculous” given what was unfolding.
Hall aims to raising funds for the charity Amna, which supports the psychosocial wellbeing of refugees and other displaced communities, as well as increase mental health awareness.
Louis Hall/The Big Hoof
“Hopefully by the positivity of the message, and me putting myself into as many unusual scenarios as possible, others will think, ‘If this fool on a horse can do this, I can do something in my own backyard,'” he says, stressing that mental health is “at the core of the ride.”
Hall is so far focusing his rides within Europe as “it lends itself very nicely to off-road tracks.”
“There are loads of pilgrimage routes throughout Europe,” he explains. “It’s not hard to make your way across it.”
But unsurprisingly, traveling by horse comes with many challenges, particularly when it comes to basic requirements such as food, water and shelter.
In order to ensure that neither he or Sasha run out of food, Hall’s sister and some of her friends have been traveling the route with them by car, dropping off supplies when necessary.
He’s also taken very few clothes with him — his sleeping gear consists of a poncho he uses as a tent, and a thin sleeping bag.
However, Hall says he’s usually far more concerned about Sasha, an Anglo-Arabian horse he acquired from an endurance center in the north of Italy, than himself.
“You’re not worrying about two legs,” he explains. “You’re worrying about six legs, and you’re worrying about an entire animal which needs a lot more attention and care than you do.”
He tries to plan at least a few days in advance to ensure that they are headed towards somewhere that has water, hay and grass so that Sasha’s needs are met.
The prospect of wolves also has to be taken into account while riding through the mountains, as well as the likelihood of the horse sustaining superficial cuts or wounds during longer rides.
“There’s loads of things that can go wrong,” he says.
But Hall insists it’s all worth it and has grown very attached to his “buddy.”
“You’ve got this companion that’s with you sharing this experience,” he says. “And the happiness it brings you and others far outrides any of the challenges.”
He’s often moved by the thrilled reactions he receives while riding into a village or town on Sasha, along with the conversations that this sometimes sparks.
“It’s amazing to see the culture you stir up when you travel very simply like this, with this animal that has stood the test of time,” he says.
But their journey hasn’t been without its setbacks. Hall found the task of crossing the Liguran mountains via the Alta Via dei Monti Liguri walking route to be particularly grueling, and says bad weather, coupled with high ascents were particularly tough.
He was unable to ride Sasha for at least 20 days during this section of the route.
“I mean, it was hard enough to walk, but taking a horse up is really hard work,” he adds, before detailing the physical toll trekking through the mountains for 15 days took on him.
“The only way forward was just to keep going. So at no point did we stop. When I looked back on the routes, I’d done [the equivalent of] 12 marathons and climbed [UK mountain] Ben Nevis nine times.”
Hall, who is chronicling his journey on Instagram, has been receiving messages from people all over the world, some of whom are keen to join him.
In fact, a young woman from Amsterdam named Kiki has already done so, arriving with her own horse a quarter of the way through the trip.
Thankfully her arrival came after the trickiest part of the route, and Hall says things has been “fairly manageable” since then.
He’s encouraging others to meet them during the final week of the ride, which is likely to be from June 20 onwards if all goes to plan.
Hall climbs the steps of the Arles Amphitheatre in France with Sasha.
Louis Hall/The Big Hoof
“I want people to feel really comfortable to come out so that they can enjoy and be part of the ride, even if it’s just the last bit,” he says.
When asked how he plans to celebrate once he’s completed the ride, Hall says he hasn’t thought that far ahead, but jokes that “something alcoholic would be nice.”
Although he hopes to rest for a few days, Hall is keen to get back on the saddle as soon as possible, and aims to go on another ride to “decompress.”
“There are thoughts of riding down the west coast of Portugal, which I think would be really lovely,” he says.
While its focus has been raising awareness around specific charities, Hall says The Big Hoof is evolving into something bigger than he could have imagined.
“I think it’s a vehicle for others to find something fulfilling and a source of hope,” he says. “For people to find something and perhaps use it to leave something behind, or to create something new.”
Hall, seen in Les Casses, France, is scheduled to end his estimated 2,800 kilometer journey in Spain in early July.
Louis Hall/The Big Hoof
In October, the latest installment of The Wee Big Hoof, a challenge geared towards riders of all levels and capabilities, will take place to raise funds for a bowel cancer charity.
For now, Hall is focused on the next stage of his journey, which takes him across the Pyrenees, a mountain range that straddles the border between France and Spain, and onto the famous Camino de Santiago trail before finishing in Cape Finisterre, on the west coast of Spain’s Galicia region.
As he continues onwards, the messages of support he regularly receives from those inspired by his journey are helping to propel him and Sasha forward.
“The main aim is to spark something in people’s imagination,” he says. “To show that things are still possible. The ridiculousness is still out there.”
Quoted from Various Sources
Published for: Ipodifier