Home News Forces Wives Challenge to take on their Ride to Freedom 

News Blogs and Columns

Forces Wives Challenge to take on their Ride to Freedom 

Posted in Blogs and Columns


In her second blog for Horse&Rider, Steph Quintrell updates us on how preparations are going for next month’s big adventure

Well, I can officially say that our Ride to Freedom (R2F) expedition is next month! This is, of course, wonderfully exciting, but somewhat nerve wracking as well. I have been reassured by other adventurers I’ve spoken with who have told me that nerves are totally normal, and I guess I would be more concerned if I was heading into the challenge with no worries at all! As a team, though, we are totally focused on being well prepared for the challenge, and it’s now full steam ahead as we count down the final weeks before we start our journey.

Keeping good spirits

Following on from the last blog I wrote, we’ve had more successful mounting and dismounting practices at the yard with my beautiful horse, Bubba. We now have found a solid method for getting me in the saddle, which requires assistance from two of the team and for getting me back out of the saddle and into my wheelchair, which is less effort but needs the help of three team members. During the expedition, the team will support me with all the physical aspects of the trip, which are a struggle to me due to my disability. Aside from helping me on and off the horse, I will probably need assistance during the evening, night and morning so I can get about and access wash facilities, for example. Mountain accommodation and wild camping wasn’t exactly designed for a full-time wheelchair user.

Luckily, I’ve learnt to laugh through any tricky scenario and my teammates have now grasped that this is the best way to get through potentially challenging situations when it comes to my health and disability. I fully expect our guide, Govan, to opt for earbuds towards the end of the week to avoid having to listen to any more of our girly chat, raucous laughter and emotional moments that are likely throughout the week. Maybe I should purchase earbuds as a gift for him and present them to him at the beginning of the trek, with the warning that he will most definitely need them at some point!

My new wheelchair arrived!

This past month has been particularly exciting for me, as my new wheelchair arrived in April. The whole team has shared in the joy of this alongside me, which has made it extra special. While I am on horseback during the expedition, my wheelchair will be carried by a pack horse who will accompany us on the ride. For this to be manageable, the wheelchair needed to be very lightweight and easily folded, neither of which is the case for my current day-to-day wheelchair! My usual wheelchair is not built for activity, but for maximum support and pressure relief instead. Sadly, privately purchasing a wheelchair comes with a large price tag and even more so when looking at active, lightweight, folding wheelchairs. But it was essential I had the right wheelchair for my needs and for this challenge, so the hunt for the perfect wheelchair began.

I was fortunate enough to have my new wheelchair fully funded by an incredible charity called Adaptive Grand Slam (AGS), and this meant I could have the perfect wheelchair made for me. Every part of the chair has been chosen to aid me and to suit my needs. For example, the hand rims on the wheels are ergonomic and gripped to make self-propelling possible, especially with one of my hands only partially working. The tyres have been chosen based on the terrain I will face in the mountains and the cushion is exceptionally lightweight, while still providing me with the necessary pressure relief for when I’m sitting still in the chair.

I knew this wheelchair was going to be wonderful for me and I knew it would open more opportunities for adventure in the future, but what I didn’t know was how instantly life changing this chair would be. The independence it has given me is unbelievable and the joy that brings me cannot be described in words. I could not be any more grateful to AGS for funding my wheelchair and I plan on enjoying every moment with it. In the run up to the challenge, I’m getting out and about in my new chair as much as possible, taking it over different terrain, up and down curbs and steps and generally getting my body used to a very different wheelchair from the one that has been ‘normal’ for me for the past four years.

Top teamwork

An expedition like this really does require a strong team. Every member needs to be there to support the others when the going gets tough and to share in the joy of every achievement, big or small. The R2F team is made up of nine forces wives, all strong and courageous women with different skills, knowledge and experience, but all driven by the same love and passions ­– adventure and horses.

On a personal level, this expedition wouldn’t be a reality for me without this incredible group of women supporting me during the preparation, as well as the expedition itself, so I thought it would be nice to share a little about each of them and their roles within the R2F challenge. In no particular order, let me introduce you to the R2F team…


Vanessa’s role within the team has been to lead us on securing the funds needed for the expedition to go ahead. Vanessa is mum to two daughters aged five and three and is currently solo parenting due to her husband being halfway through a two-year posting to Iraq. Vanessa shows her inner strength and resilience in the way she deals with the difficulties of military life, while still committing herself to the R2F expedition. Having been through seven military moves in the past 10 years, including living in Cairo and Washington, DC, Vanessa is no novice to dealing with change and adapting to a new environment, which is sure to be a much-needed skill when we are in the Pyrenees.

While spending four and a half years living in Cairo, Vanessa worked with a charity that provides treatment to working equines in its clinic and in the Christian slums. Her escape from the challenges of life there was the Arabian stallion she owned and the time she spent riding him in the desert around the Pyramids.



Emily is an equine internal medicine vet with a special interest in equine neonatology and treating critically ill foals at Rossdales, a large equine hospital in Newmarket. She is mum to two young boys and wife to Andy who serves in the RAF. Emily has gained a wealth of equine experience and knowledge in both the UK and California and she brings this to the team.

She has organised an equine performance webinar in aid of FWC, which takes place on the 16 May 2023. She will be joined by fellow equine vet Sarah Boys-Smith, Dengie Horse Feeds nutritionist Katie Williams, equine physio Kate Stephens and 5* eventer Sarah Bullimore, to present what is sure to be a fantastic virtual evening. Emily is the team’s reserve rider and has been fully involved with every step of preparing for the expedition to both support the rest of the team and be ready to travel to the Pyrenees for the challenge should the need arise.

Tickets to the webinar are still available, please use the link here for more details. The webinar will be recorded, for those who have purchased a ticket to be able view afterwards if preferred.


As well as being a forces wife, Heather served for 18 years as an army officer in the Royal Engineers, both in the regulars and reserves. Having seen military life from both sides, as the serving person and the spouse, Heather founded Forces Wives Challenge, which is a not-for-profit organisation that seeks to unite women who have partners in the Armed Forces through adventure and challenge. Heather has a drive to give opportunities to our incredible community of forces wives/partners and is passionate about offering a variety of challenges to suit this diverse group of women.

With what originally started as a plan for just one challenge – to climb the world’s highest volcano in Chile – it has developed into a membership of more than 1,200 women and 37 events/challenges completed. Since mine and Heather’s very first conversation about me being on board with FWC, Heather has been committed to expanding her knowledge and understanding around physical disability, mental health conditions and chronic illness, and is pushing for this to filter into all that we at FWC offer. Heather’s main role within the R2F team is to physically support me with all my care and mobility needs to enable me to take on this epic challenge.


Kate has been leading on all aspects of media for the R2F team/expedition, using her incredible skills and knowledge from her long and varied career within the world of radio, PR and media relations. Kate’s experience has been so beneficial for the team. From radio interviews, written articles and podcasts, Kate ensures we have every opportunity to showcase the R2F expedition and demonstrate what we are so passionate about – the incredible power adventure can have on those living with physical disability, mental health conditions and chronic illness.

Kate is married to Nick, who served in the army, and from early on in their marriage was required to be away from home for training and deployments. Being a forces wife brings about extra stresses, such as the frequent requirement to move around, being away from family and friends, and extended periods of time without a spouse at home. But for Kate, this period was also very difficult for other reasons.

Sadly, Kate and Nick were not able to have a family and after multiple miscarriages and failed rounds of IVF, Kate has spent the past decade redefining what the future looks like for them. Kate shows her immense courage in speaking about this experience and bringing such conversations to the forefront in our community, as it’s such an important topic that we need to openly discuss.


Hannah is our team lead on fitness and she injects her energy and enthusiasm into all she does. Hannah has also led on various team-building exercises, bringing her skills and experience from her teaching career into these activities. Prior to an 18-month posting in Abuja, Nigeria, with her husband, Tom, a serving Royal Marine, Hannah worked as an assistant headteacher and director of maths in a secondary academy. While overseas, Hannah worked remotely for both the University of Bristol and Teach First, and got her horse/pony fix by finding the local polo yard!

In late 2022, Hannah and Tom returned to the UK, and Hannah is now pursuing her showjumping aspirations with her beautiful horse, Bella, who is already proving to have quite the jump in her! Splitting her time between work, riding and preparing for the expedition is keeping Hannah busy, while her interesting fitness/exercise challenges and ideas are keeping the rest of the team busy too!


Ronnie is our R2F expedition lead and brings a wealth of relatable skills and experiences from her career in the army and her life as a military wife. Ronnie spent 16 years serving in the Regular Army, before transferring to the Army Reserves, to give her the opportunity to focus on her two young children.

Horses have always been an important part of Ronnie’s life, and she describes one of the highlights of her military career as being the time she spent serving in the King’s Troop Royal Horse Artillery. This ceremonial unit is based in London and riding is an integral part of the work.

Ronnie is passionate about all things FWC, and aside from R2F, she also leads on other FWC challenges as well. Ronnie’s fantastic organisational skills, team-leading experience and total dedication are exactly the skills needed to lead a team of eight women on what’s sure to be a physically and emotionally tough expedition. She has seen life from both ‘sides’, as the serving person and military spouse, and is therefore well equipped to deal with whatever the Pyrenees throw our way!


Within the R2F team, Robyn has taken on the role of lead on kit and equipment. She is passionate about the R2F team having kit that meets FWC’s values on sustainably sourced products. Robyn comes from a farming background, having grown up in rural Oxfordshire on a mixed beef and arable farm that was also home to a racing yard.

Robyn splits her time between her job at Askham Bryan College and looking after her two young daughters. Robyn’s husband Matt is currently a third-year adult nursing student at the University of York, having transferred to the Queen Alexandra’s Royal Army Nursing Corps.

Robyn has bravely opened up about the mental struggles she has been dealing with since the birth of her daughters, and sees the R2F expedition as her chance to extend her boundaries, reignite her love of adventure and give her the push she needs to get herself back to doing something she loves – riding horses. Robyn’s fun personality will be an asset when the going gets tough in the Pyrenees, and the words she used at our first team weekend will certainly be reflected upon whenever we need picking up on tough days. It’s time to get our big-girl pants on!


Last, but most certainly not least, is Ginnie, whose role in the team has been to research and share with the team the history of the freedom trails, in preparation for us crossing the same mountains that were used as escape lines during the Second World War. As well as being a military spouse, Ginnie served for 10 years in Army Reserves and is mum to two daughters. After a break from riding, being part of the R2F team has given Ginnie the incentive to get back in the saddle and reignite her love for horses and adventure.

Ginnie is passionate about supporting the whole team, while also having the opportunity to expand her own boundaries and achieve her dreams. Ginnie’s strong, fun and caring attitude will most certainly be useful when the team are away in the mountains together and her experience and knowledge from both her time serving in the military and as a forces wife, will undoubtedly be beneficial to everyone.

As I look to next month in excitement and anticipation, I am so grateful to be sharing this experience with the best group of women, happy in the knowledge that, with each other’s support, the expedition will be a great success.

Your Comments

Leave a Reply