The following information is designed to give you the best idea about what you might face when riding the South Downs Way and how you may decide to plan for the challenge.
Distance & Route
The South Downs Way runs for 100 miles between Winchester and Eastbourne though the South Downs National Park. It is a long distance bridleway so can be travelled its whole length by foot, by bike or on horseback.
There are a few key places where the Trail is divided in to bridleway and footpath sections, both routes are signed, on horseback you will need to stick to the bridleway routes.
Surface, Terrain & Time
The South Downs Way cuts across the ridge of the South Downs going over some of the highest points. There are also a number of river valleys to cross, which mean that there is a lot of ascents and descents along the whole route.
The tracks which make up the South Downs Way are mainly surfaced with the natural geology of chalk and flint and can be tough on your horse. In dry weather the ground is hard and unforgiving and in wet weather the chalk can be slippery. With this in mind it is worth considering no more than about 16 miles a day which according toother riders would be about 7 hours in the saddle. This means that your horse doesn't wear out in the first few days and has a good time to recover after each day’s exercise.
The South Downs Way bridleway route has a total of 3,800 metres (12,600ft) of ascent.
You and your horse must be fit to do these types of distances over a prolonged period, but you will know your horse the best.
Many riders have commented that it is best to have your horse freshly shod before you start your ride on the Trail to give your horse the best advantage on the tough ground.
Roads & Bridges
Most of the Trail is off-road, but short sections of the route do follow small country lanes, or go through little villages. The South Downs is farmed landscape so you will also need to be aware that you may encounter farm vehicles when you are away from roads.
There are also a number of road crossings which you will need to negotiate, the busiest of these roads do have bridges enabling you to cross safely.
Both you and your horse must be confident opening and closing bridle gates along the Trail. It is also advisable that you are capable of mounting and dismounting without assistance in case you encounter any other obstacle which makes it tricky getting through a gate or similar sized gap.
All details about accommodation with stable/paddock provision can be found either on the accommodation pages of this website or in the printed SDW Accommodation Guide available from the South Downs Way national Trail Office priced £5.50: more information here.
There are a number of drinking water taps and troughs on the Trail but not all taps have troughs so it is worth taking a collapsible bucket or equivalent to fill up for your horse if the weather is going to be warm. Water points can be viewed on our interactive map here or downloaded as a list here.
Some riders will want to meet with a horsebox at some point on the Trail in order to break up their journey or in case of emergency. A list of Car Parks on and close to the Trail which can accommodate horse boxes (do not have height barriers) can be downloaded here.
No matter how you travel along the South Downs Way and how well you plan your trip, there is always a chance of an unforeseen problem. We have complied a list of Farriers/ Saddlers and Vets for use in emergencies incase you get stuck, click here to download.