My crazy ride from Norway to Spain - driving through Europe with two horses and a dog
P: Pascuale Zena. @ Alcantara Equestre, Jerez, Spain
Last year I decided to do something a little crazy. Pack up and move to another country with my dog and two horses. This article is gonna be about our ride, driving through Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Germany, France and then finally to Spain.
For the last two years I had been living on a ranch in Norway, in the middle of the woods. I was training horses every day, developing my horse-business and working a lot. I travelled around Norway helping people with their horses and had lots of horses come to me for training as well. I think all together I trained and worked with around three hundred different horses the last years.
It was a great life and living life like that is probably how I am gonna end my days. But I was tired and sick of the cold weather and the dark, long winters. I needed to do something new, get new inspiration and new energy. I wanted some time for me and my own horses. I usually work most during spring, summer and autumn anyway so I thought: Why not go somewhere warm for the winter? I have a car, I have a trailer, lets go!
I came in contact with a Spanish trainer called Alfonso, he had been on TV in Norway and was a legend trainer in Spain. I never believed that I would actually get a spot at his stable, but sending an email asking couldn't hurt. A few days later I got a respond. "You and your horses are welcome to come to our stable and train with Alfonso". I was pretty surprised and suddenly I didn't just have an urge to go to Spain, I had an invitation, an opportunity. After weeks of thinking and planning I decided to go.
Most of the people I told about my plan reacted with saying "you are crazy!" But I didn't care. Why was it so crazy? I was a great driver - driving with a trailer as well, my horses were well prepared, my dog was used to travel with me all over Norway, and I was basically just gonna drive from A to B, just a little longer drive then usual. I had my car and trailer checked and fixed up before departure. I had the route perfectly planned. I had booked sleeping arrangements for all of us on the way. I had an apartment in Spain, boarding for my horses at Alfonso's stable, driving 4000km - what could possibly go wrong?
The day of departure - 30. September 2017. I was up pretty early and after feeding my horses breakfast I let them run free in the arena. I wanted them to play and get some energy out before the long drive. I could tell that they knew something was up, we could all feel it in the air. After packing the last things in the car, I loaded the horses in the trailer, said goodbye to my house and my friends, and took of on an adventure!
The car was packed from top to bottom, leaving just enough space for my dog Luna and me. The first day we were driving to south of Sweden, to a place called Malmø, which is very close to the Danish boarder. We had a smooth ride. Bringing the horses through the customs in Sweden was no problem. I had all the paperwork prepared. ((I only had to check my animles in in Sweden. The rest of the countries are part of EU, but Norway is not. So I had to stop by the customs at the first EU country I got to))
After that I stopped two times on the way to take my horses out. I walked with them a little bit, gave them water and apples, made sure they were okey. They had access to hay all time in the trailer. The only thing that I noticed was that it took a lot more time to drive then google maps had predicted. Driving from my current location to Malmø was suppose to take about 7 hours. We used ten. I knew we were going to use more time then a regular car, but I was not expecting it to be that much more.
In Malmø my horses stayed at a horse hotel and me and Luna slept at regular hotel. A horse hotel is basically a normal stable where you pay for a box with hay and water. So far everything was great. My horses seemed happy and relaxed and we were all exited to keep on going.
Malmø, Sweden 1. October 2017
We got up really early and continued on to Denmark. We were gonna drive all the way to south of Germany this day. I knew it was gonna be a really long ride. We were suppose to drive for seven hours the other day, but it took ten. This drive was suppose to take 11 hours. I didn't even want to think about how long time we were actually gonna use. (without taking our breaks into account)
But we had all the time in the world. It is not just about the destination, its about the journey as well. We drove over this amazing bridge that connects Sweden to Denmark. We then took a little ferry ride over to Germany. The ferry took about 45 minutes, and everybody on board was staring at me. I think it was because I brought my dog Luna in to where everybody was sitting and eating. (A guy that worked on the ferry told me I could bring her so I did.
.. Or it was because I was smelling like a horse and wearing my favorite cowboy- leather -fringe jacket. That usually makes people stare as well.
After the ferry ride the horses had been in the trailer for about four hours so they needed a break. We found a nice little spot to stop. Luna could run free and the horses got to stretch their legs and eat grass. So far, all was good, we made it to Germany!
At this point I was feeling very relaxed and happy about being on the road. Germany is a beautiful and comfortable country to drive through. Nice roads, nice people and fairy-land nature. But it is pretty much the same all the way. Uphill and downhill, trees and green fields. We stopped several times on the way, relaxing, going for walks, eating apples and enjoying the trip. We got stuck in traffic a couple of times and lost a lot of time, but even though the ride was long, it went pretty smooth.
We arrived late at night at the horse hotel and an old man came to meet me. He showed us into this very bizarre stable with boxes looking like metal cages. Like a dog cage, the boxes was made of metal all the way. I did not like it and neither did my horses. I knew I couldn't leave my horses in there, not even for one night. Luckily they had a paddock outside and my horses got to sleep there. The only problem was that the paddock fence was made out of rope. No planks or electricity. My horses were pretty exited about being in a new place, it was late and dark, so they were running around a lot. That fence did not seem very safe.
I sat with them for a while and gave them a lot of food so they would be busy eating the whole night. Me and Luna arrived at the hotel around 02.00 in the morning and I was getting pretty tired. But I couldn't rest. I was worried about my horses, afraid they would run through the fence and get lost in Germany. I kept telling myself not to think like that. I knew that I needed to rest. Easier said then done. At 05.00 I checked out of the hotel and went back to the stable. Shortest stay ever, but I figured I would rather stop later and sleep a little in the car to catch up. I drove to the stable and was happy to see my horses still inside of the fence. I connected the trailer to the car, loaded the horses in the trailer and continued on.
Saarbrücken, Germany 2. October 2017
I was getting a little nervous at this point. We were soon gonna drive through France. I know very little about France, honestly I am not exactly a France - fan. I dont really have a good reason for it, but I guess some places you naturally like and some places you dont. In France I felt a lot more like a stranger then in the other countries.
Our ride started pretty good and I have to admit that France is a beautiful country. We had our first stop at a big gas station. I started to walk with Luna and my horses, around at the parking space, so we all got to stretch our legs. There was a bus next to where we had parked, filled with Japanese tourists. When they saw me walking with my gang they all came running over, wanting to take pictures of us. Very nice and funny people. (at the picture the tourists are inside the gas station behind me)
We kept on driving for a few hours and then my GPS started to play tricks with me. Suddenly we were driving on a little country road surrounded by old farms, and nothing but fields as far as the eye could see. There were white cows all over the place, always white, never brown or black, and there was this stink smell in the air. I do not know how to describe it, but all over France it smelled really weird.
I didn't understand how we had gotten there, so far away from the highway. But since we were on the country side we stopped and went for a walk.
After our little break we kept on going. Somehow we had to get back on the highway. It is not too fun being in a strange country, driving around with two horses in a trailer, when you have no idea where you are going. Its great when the GPS is working, but when its not, you are lost. And trying to navigate in a deserted, french, peasant area, with no map, that is a challenge. After driving through village after village with old, strange houses, we finally made it back to the highway. We stopped to fill gas and get food. (Not easy getting food on the road when you are a vegetarian btw. What is up with that? Why do they have to put meat on every type of sandwich? This is not just un France, but everywhere. Would be nice to have a Subway or two on the road!)
One thing I actually was excited about in France was the place we were gonna sleep. I had found this amazing bed and breakfast for horses and had booked us all in for one night. The people who ran the place seemed very interesting and they were also into horsemanship and natural horse training, like me. The place looked great on the webpage and I was sure my horses would love it there.
It was getting really late, it was around midnight and we were getting close to the B&B, at least that was what I thought. I was on the phone with the in-keeper and I was asking him if my GPS was right because it was leading me far away into the Pyrenees forrest, on a very bumpy and horrible road. He was laughing and telling me "Yeah, just keep on going". At least that was all I could understand from his french - english accent. I was honestly getting scared. Where the heck were we going? It was not suppose to be so far away from the highway. It was completely dark, the road was tiny and horrible , surrounded by trees, and I was getting a really bad feeling. I felt that both the car and the trailer got damaged from driving there, and I could feel my horses getting nervous.
When we were suppose to be 15 minutes away from the B&B, we stopped at a gas station to fill up the tank. This was right before entering the forest. After driving for over an hour into the Pyrenees, we finally got there, but my tank was almost empty after my car had struggled to get us there. And I felt something was wrong with the trailer.
The horses were a little freaked out and for the first time ever in the trailer, they were sweating. I took them out of the trailer and put on them blankets. It was pretty cold, very dark and foggy. The place was very strange and the in-keeper came out to meet me. He had a pony tail and a beard. He showed me to a big open field where my horses were gonna stay. With a tiny thread as a fence... We were surrounded by all sorts of animal sounds. I felt that we had landed in a bad version of Alice in Wonderland.
After taking care of the horses, the in-keeper showed me and Luna to the house. It was a nice house, very old, french, country-like. The in-keeper later told me stories about bears eating some of their horses. I mean, I was pretty nervous already before that... The room I got was big and nice, old style but also modern, except for the water bed... I went out one more time to check the horses and then I decided to go to sleep. Just hope that the horses didn't get eaten by bears or got lost in the Pyrenees.
Pyrenees, France. 3. October 2017. I actually decided to rest until 9. I really needed it. After getting up I got some breakfast, homemade juice and marmelade, and after we went out to check the trailer. The in-keeper said it seemed fine, but I still had a bad feeling. The horses were very happy to see me. My big warmblood horse Bonus had lost some weight. They had probably been running around all night, not being able to relax in the middle of that creepy forest. I am a natural person and usually love being out in nature, but this place freaked me out, it freaked us all out. And again there was this smell, a very strange smell in the air.
It was a foggy morning. I almost felt like we were in some kind of jungle. I loaded the horses in the trailer and we were once again on our way. It was a little easier driving there when it was daylight, but the road was still awful and bumpy. I had the worst feeling in my stomach and I just prayed that we would get safely out of there. It was almost an hour to the highway and I felt that time stood still. "Please do not fail me now GPS".
After driving for about fourty minutes something happened. The trailer got a flat tire.
So there I was, stuck on a little road in the Pyrenees. At first I kept calm, I have changed many tires in my life, this was no big deal. I took the horses out and tied them to the trailer, and then tried to change the tire. The bolts were so tight that I couldn't move them, not even a little. A few cars passed and I tried to stop them to get help, but nobody understood me. I called my insurance company and told them that I needed road help. They said that if they could find me then they would be there in a few hours. A few hours! ... if they could find me.
Another car passed and I stopped him. I tried to explain my problem and he came out of the car to help. He was a road worker and had no problem changing the tire. I cancelled my road help, told the man how grateful I was, and was happily and relieved, back on the road again.
But it didn't last long. After a few minutes I saw smoke coming out of that same wheel. I stopped again, right on the entrance to the highway. The wheel was completely in the wrong angle, something was very wrong. I again called my insurance company, and loaded my horses of the trailer. Luckily there was gras and trees next to where we had stopped, so I had a place to tie up the horses away from the road.
After getting my horses settled into the bushes with food and water, I called my mother to get some emotional backup. I was starting to freak out a little and for the first time on my trip, I wished that I wasn't there all alone. My phone had 8% battery and I couldn't charge it for long in the car because it barely had any fuel left. My mother told me to just stay put and wait for help. We waited and waited and finally a little car came. A man in an orange suit came out and started to speak french. We had to use a translate app on his phone to communicate, and he said that his car was to small. He would come back with a bigger car to take the trailer, and somebody else would come to help me get the horses to a safe place.
On the picture you see Luna at our little road camp. We kept on waiting and waiting. After a while the man in the orange suit came back with a bigger car and took away my trailer.
This was the last time I saw him and the trailer. We kept on waiting for hours and the man who had earlier helped me change the tire, drove by wondering what was going on. I told him my troubles and he said that I should just relax, and that he would go home and get me some food and water. He later came back with a banana and a tiny banana muffin. Yum!
After waiting for several more hours, I realized that nobody was coming to help us. I texted my mother again. Since I barely had any battery on my phone I couldn't do anything. So my family called around to different stables, trying to get someone to come with a trailer. We got stuck there around 11.00, and when it was 19.00 we were still waiting. My energy level was getting low, but I kept walking with my horses in one hand, and my dog Luna in the other hand, so the horses could eat grass. I couldn't keep them tied up all the time, they were getting restless and hungry.
Finally a women drove by and asked if I was okey. (I probably looked a little like a zombie at that time). I said "No I am not okey, I really need help". Luckily she could speak english. She told me to wait while she would drive home and get me some food, and water for the horses. She came back with buckets, water, and a basket with food and juice. I chugged the orange juice, and basically ate the food like a homeless person that haven't had a meal in days. I remember sitting on the ground with the lead ropes to my horses in one hand, and stuffing my face with french cheese with the other.
I told her everything and she decided to call the cops. The cops came, looked really strange at me, talked a little bit to the women and left. I still have no idea what that was all about. I then called my mother from her phone and together they managed to contact a stable, and a man would come with a trailer to pick up my horses. When that man finally came, and I saw that he was a professional with a nice trailer, I was so damn relived.
I loaded my horses in the trailer and followed him with my car. We drove to a really nice equestrian facility in Saint Gaudens. The lady who helped me gave me her number and told me that I could stay at her place if I didn't find anywhere else. Very nice stranger.
My horses got nice boxes to sleep in, food and water, and I got a big glass of wine. The man who had picked us up and his wife, owned the equestrian center, and they invited me to have dinner at their place and get a good nights rest.
So far, one of the craziest days of my life.
Saint Gaudens, France 4. October 2017
I woke up and felt that I had finally been able to sleep well. I was exited to call the garage to hear when I could get the trailer. The owners of the center helped me make the call since the mechanics only spoke french. They said that it would take at least a month to fix the trailer! The axle was broken and they did not know if they could fix it, and it would be pretty expensive. I was in shock. A month? Are you kidding me?
After thinking about all my options, I decided to get transport for the horses the rest of the way, but we had to wait a week for it to arrive. So me and Luna booked us in to a hotel close to the stable and waited. The "hotel" was pretty much a white room with a bunk bed and a toilet. But better then sleeping in the car. We spent the day in the stable, training the horses a little bit, picking grass to them since the hay was a little different (my spoiled horse Bonus didn't like it), searching for vegetarian food, trying to pass the time. How typical it is, to be stuck in France of all places.
To wrap this up, we finally got to Spain 11. October. The transport I got for the horses was really good. They were called Trans Horses I think, a french company actually. I was driving behind them the whole way and I was able to text with them if I needed a break or wanted to check the horses. We had one stop in Valladolid, which is more or less in the middle of Spain. The horses slept in a really nice stable, and Luna and I slept in the car. The next day we drove for around seven hours and finally arrived at Alcantara Equestre in Jerez!
I was welcomed by Alfonso's wife Rocio and got invited to stay for dinner. I was so happy, finally arriving, knowing my horses were safe and sound, we had made it! I spent a lovely evening with Alfonso and Rocio, and a couple of Norwegians who were staying there for a riding vacation. Me and Luna also got invited to sleep in their amazing guest house, since I was not able to get my apartment until the next day. I couldn't belive it, but there we suddenly were, me, my horses and my dog, in Andalusia Spain.
It was a crazy ride and I learned a lot from it. I am so grateful to have family and friends that back me up and help when I am in trouble. Don't know what I would have done without their help. I am also very grateful to have met so many nice strangers all over Europe. Many amazing people out there!
And my horses Bonus and Jack. They couldn't have behaved better. I was so proud of them for trusting me and staying calm all the way, no matter what happened. They are the best. And my dog Luna, she is always by my side and is the best travel companion I could ask for.
P: Pascuale Zena. @ Alcantara Equestre, Jerez, Spain
My trailer is still in France, probably stolen, and I have yet to decide if I am gonna drive the horses back to Norway myself, or book transport all the way. We shall see in time! Hope you enjoyed reading this and please comment if you have any questions or opinions.
Btw. Sorry if my english is not perfect, it is my second language.