The Heroine’s Journey: Riding for Change

The experience of deciding to join one of the rides organised by Relief Riders International is best described by Joseph Campbell as “The call to adventure” on The Hero’s Journey. It is the moment when the hero feels called away from their routine to venture into the unknown. Like many journeys the initial moments are mixed with indecision, yet somehow filled with a “knowing” that it is the right choice. The author shares this beautiful moment of wonder, choice and leaping into the unknown with us in her personal account of last November’s Pushkar Relief Ride.

Eight months on and I’m still reliving the ride. Wishing I had a magic wand that could transport me back to Rajasthan and the wonders of the Thar Desert, to be together with the amazing group of individuals that Paul, my husband and I found ourselves fortunate to be riding with for this trip of a lifetime and to be sharing once again in the daily wonders that showed up for us.

Our way to ‘find’ Alexander Souri from Relief Riders International, and to be joining one of their amazing rides was not straightforward and now when I think of how close we came to not going, I am amazed at how life’s mystical path unfolds, and nonetheless signed up having not been on a horse since childhood.

Our journey with Relief Riders International started back at the end of August 2018. Paul and I had been living in Singapore for close to five years and had just taken the decision to not only leave but for Paul to also leave the company that he’d worked at for nearly 20 years. In between leaving and finding our next permanent thing we decided to take three months ‘out’ for what we started to affectionately refer to as our 3C’s….Charity, Challenge and Chill out.

It’s amazing what good old Google finds when you start searching for ‘holiday, challenge, giving back, overseas, including the Relief Riders International home page.

There and then I knew I’d stumbled on something special and totally unique. I found myself reading the website word for word, daydreaming of joining the adventure. I was however mindful that neither of us had been on a horse for more than three hours in the last fifteen years and could hardly count ‘horse riding’ as a skill that we had and at the same time I was conscious that having set ourselves a budget for our three months this idea could potentially absorb over half of it in this two-week adventure.

The thought of it was crazy, but I then did the only possible thing to do…..write to Relief Riders International!

I can almost feel the anticipation I felt when I hit the send button on that email. Two days later there it was……a reply.

I remember reading it and my excitement building as the question of whether a beginner such as myself could really join one of their rides, was answered and realising that the day dreaming could possibly become a reality. Only challenge that faced me at this point was talking to my husband and convincing him of this crazy idea to spend over half of our three-month travel budget in the first couple of weeks……!!!

It was a conversation that took me almost a month to have as behind the scenes I was trying to find ways to make the budget work for some of the other stuff we were talking about. I kept talking myself out of the idea on the grounds that it really didn’t make any sense whatsoever, and it really didn’t on paper…. but the idea and Relief Riders International just wouldn’t go away. A month after initially making contact and now after many conversations with Paul, I found myself once again getting in touch. It was the end of September, and the upcoming trip was in early November, would they still have any availability? Had we left it too late to get prepared? A couple of telephone conversations with Alexander himself (the man behind the whole Relief Riders International initiative) followed. They still had availability and yes, we still had time……’are you going to join us?’ Alexander asked.

…..Aaahhhhhh now what??!!

We had felt so sure that the answer to whether there would be spaces still available was going to be no and that for now we could put the idea ‘to bed’.

But of course, the idea that had occupied my thoughts constantly since I first came across the website back in August, was never going to be put to bed……despite being crazy in terms of our three-month plan and our riding ability it felt so right, and we signed up!

Fast forward just over six weeks and there we were in a hotel in Delhi and over the course of the next 24 hours meeting our fellow riders for the first time. We were a group of eight all riding with Relief Riders International for the first time. It became apparent quickly that Paul and I were indeed the only two riders to have signed up for a riding adventure with next to no experience…. everyone else being super experienced, owning horses, riding often, daily for some, eventing and show jumping, with stables or ranches. On that first evening the fear and anxiety mounted despite the best efforts of our fellow riders trying to tell us it’d be OK.

What were we thinking?! we said to ourselves as we went to bed.

Looking back, we need not have worried. What materialised was the amazing coming together and bonding of a group of people joined in a mission to have an amazing adventure and do some good while we were enjoying that adventure. Paul and I got stuck in, bonded with our horses, Ridhi and Sundar, enjoyed daily riding lessons from the rest of the group, soaked in the sights, sounds and beauty of Rajhastan and its people and were blown away and humbled at every humanitarian activity we helped support along the way, whether it be visiting the schools, supporting the medical (dental and eye sight) clinics or donating goats in rural villages. Amazing!

Recollecting our days sends shivers down my spine and brings goose pimples to my arms…..from arriving into camp on that first morning at sunrise to being blessed by the local priest ahead of our first ride and all the villagers turning up to see us off too! Seeing a tree full of peacocks in the field to the rich colours of the beautiful sari clad ladies with faces covered, and shy children peering through open doors, laughing as we rode by. The goats being herded and buffaloes wallowing in the village waterhole to our first chai stop and the stunning temple where we were welcomed with open arms to join in the temple festivities and knelt to be blessed. Lunches under trees in the middle of amazing landscapes, dancing around the fire under the stars, our sumptuous dinner and evening of merriment at the home of Ranveer (head of the operations in India) the daily kindness and smiles of the whole support team, the overwhelming reception we received everywhere we went….nothing but love, colour, energy and openness… is so hard to find the words to describe, words are not enough. So many experiences and impressions that will stay with us our whole lives I have no doubt.

And alongside the impressions the feeling of having made a difference and having contributed to giving away some 1200 educational packs to children in rural schools, helping facilitate a medical clinic treating some 400 people who registered for either eye or dental problems and giving away goats to villagers in most need was both rewarding and humbling.

It really was a trip of a lifetime!

Relief Riders International and our adventure exceeded our expectations! Alexander, the man behind this amazing company gives every bit of himself, is fun to be with and is truly inspiring and more than anything the group, our fellow riders, Carol, Julie, Allie, Kat, Katy, Wes, Ranveer and Alexander himself, we made some friends for life!

If you are standing in the doorway of decision wondering whether to sign up, hesitate no more…..just do it!

Please watch Wesley Brown’s film on YouTube

RELIEF RIDERS INTERNATIONALis a humanitarian-based expedition company that has been leading relief missions on horseback in India, Turkey, and Ecuador since 2004. We currently have Relief Rides planned in Mongolia and are currently working with the Royal Family of Bhutan on a few new projects, notably the first professional ride offering in Bhutan’s history.

During the last 18 years, we have offered a variety of free medical and social care, in the form of cataract surgeries, dentistry, gynaecology and paediatrics, as well as educational, livestock, hygiene and young women’s empowerment programs to over 30,000 patients, 19,000 of whom were children.

We serve rural populations without regard to religion or background. Equally important, is the spiritual work we do introducing our riders to another less prosperous reality. We are committed to inspiring and educating those who join us. Many of our alumni riders have continued to affect positive change in the world. This beautiful film made by one of our riders captures the transformative experiences we offer on our Indian Relief Rides.

Our work has come to the attention of others. In 2006, President A.P.J Kalam of India invited our team to give him a personal presentation of our Gift of Sight program, and our rural HIV AIDS Awareness program designed to educate migrant labour forces and their communities in rural Rajasthan. Additionally, Relief Riders International has been showcased as a business model case study for both Harvard business school and Washington University.

In 2010, Relief Riders International was awarded the United Nations Positive Peace Award for excellence in environmental stewardship, community involvement and humanitarian service.

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