The Pursuit to Mons: Veterans to ride in the footsteps of WWI soldiers

    The Canadian Light Horse going into action at Vimy Ridge.

    Story highlights

    • Riders have been practicing for two years in order to complete the grueling 10-day trek
    • Over 70 riders are coming from Canada, the United Kingdom, Sweden, Switzerland, Russia and Australia to take part
    • It's to mark the 100th anniversary of the end of WWI

    (CNN)In September, over 70 horse riders from across the globe will be gathering in France to set off on a long-distance remembrance trek to Belgium to mark the centenary of the end of the First World War.

    The ride, organized by the International Cavalry Association, will take place over 10 days and will begin in the northern French town of Cambrai. Riders will follow the grueling trek of the allied forces as they pushed the Germans through Belgium during the final 100 days of World War I in 1918.
      Ten Canadian riders will fly to France to take part in the 100-kilometer (62 mile) ride named "The Pursuit to Mons." Some of the riders taking part are currently serving soldiers of the Lord Strathcona's Horse, a regular armored regiment of the Canadian Army.
      "We're going to follow the exact same route that the Canadian Corp took," Allan Finney, Commanding Officer of the 1st Hussars Cavalry Troop told CNN.
      The 1st Hussars Cavalry Troop is a volunteer group based in London, Ontario.
      "It's exciting to go back and follow in the footsteps (of the 1st Hussars), the footsteps of what they call the 'lost generation' and see where they went, what they did and meet the great grandchildren of families they helped liberate (in Mons)."
      "The 1st Hussars are an actual army unit here in Canada and they have been in existence since 1856 and since its origins they were horseback cavalry until until 1939 when they transitioned to tanks."
      Canadians marching through the streets of Mons on the morning of November 11, 1918.
      Participants will either bring their own horses along to France, or have the ability to hire one for the duration of the 10 days.
      "We will look at your riding abilities and your history of riding," the International Cavalry Association Stanley Watts, who has spent three years organizing the trek, told CNN. "We will allocate a horse which (participants) will be responsible for during the whole ride."

      A 'nightmare' for inexperienced riders

      It'll be a grueling 10 days, Watts says, with riders covering between 15 and 20 kilometers per day at cavalry pace.
      "You need to be a fairly good rider," he said. "I think if you were in a position where you had a handful of riding lessons and think 'I'll have a go at this,' this would be a nightmare."
      In order to participate, Watts has stressed to attendees they need to be comfortable and able to trot, canter and gallop. He says some have been practicing for two years in order to improve their ability ahead of the trek.
      The 1st Hussars have been training three to four days a week ahead of the trek.
      Riders are coming from not only Canada, but also the United Kingdom, Sweden, Switzerland, Russia and Australia.
      In preparation for the demanding ride, Finney said the Canadians have been training three to four days a week both individually and as a group.
      "You need to know how to control the horse, maneuver the horse and a lot of my guys haven't done this before," he said, adding that many of the volunteers in the cavalry troop are mostly 'western style riders.'
      "They ride like cowboys, so when I got involved with this I started teaching them military riding.
      "The very first few rides we did were quite exciting -- horses everywhere, people going everywhere but we're now diving into some really good distance riding."
      Finney says once the team are able to trot for up to an hour the trek should be "fairly straight forward."
      "It's just a matter of whether your body survives or not," he laughs. "It's kind of like running a marathon but you only train for half of it."

      Original WWI saddles, replica uniforms

      The saddles the Canadians will ride on are all originals from 1918 and they'll be dressed in replica uniforms of those worn during the WWI. The group are even bringing along a saddler in case any repairs need to be carried out during the trek.
      Riders will sleep in tents each night and will also take part in various military and skills at arms competitions during the 10 days.
      For the Canadians, it's costing approximately $4,000 each to take part in the trek which includes the horse hire fee -- with some of this being crowdfunded and funded through other donations.
      In September 10 Canadians from the 1st Hussars Cavalary Troop will follow in the footsteps of the Canadian Corp of 1918.
      During the ride, which begins on September 14 and ends September 23, the Canadians will also visit the grave sites of members of the Canadian Light Horse, a cavalry regiment of the Canadian Expeditionary Force, who lost their lives during the war. They will also take part in local town commemoration ceremonies.
      While Finney says the troop has just about mastered the riding, Finney says the only thing they're anxious about is meeting their horse companions.
      "It's the unknown of the horses we won't see until we get there," he admits.
      "All of us have been riding horses for a number of years and we know that every horse has their own personality and it takes a little bit of time for the horse and the rider to connect so that's the only anxious part we've got really."

      'People are losing touch with the forces and cavalry'

      The Pursuit to Mons is also a chance to remember the horses that either died or were left behind.
      "We sent over almost a million horses to fight in the war and most of them never came back (to Canada)," said Finney.
      "Mainly it was to do with casualties but a lot of it was they were so well fed and so well kept (the soldiers) sold them to the French, the Belgians and the Dutch because they had no animals, so they sold them as farm animals.
      "They had nothing left from the war so when Canada came back it was only those who had a lot of money that were able to bring their horses back which is very, very few."
      General view of Grand Place, Mons, showing General Horne inspecting 7th Canadian Infantry Brigade on November 15, 1918.
      Finney says organizations like the 1st Hussars Cavalry Troop are important to keep memories alive of those who served in the past.
        "People are losing touch with the forces and cavalry -- we're losing a lot of our history," he added.
        "From our perspective (this trek is to) relive history, bring back the smells,the touch, the sounds for family members who had great grandfathers and great uncles in the First World War."