Pony Axe S (Axe S/Access, ghastly pun) takes anyone in any wheelchair, anywhere. I have just driven an iBex, a pony powered, wheelchair enabled vehicle, from Winchester to Beachy Head along the South Downs Way. I asked every walker we encountered, when they last saw a person in a wheelchair, on the South Downs Way. “Never” was the standard answer.
My next question “If you were in a wheelchair, would you want to be able to come back here?” made everyone think, and understand why Pony Axe S matters.
Pony Axe S took a wheelchair from Winchester to Beachy Head, and Andy Gattiker of the South Downs Way National Trail will confirm that I didn’t lay one bit of concrete. Hannah is right, many places could do better and Pony Axe S can make it easy.
The iBex is a unique vehicle because I am a very weird pony drawn vehicle designer. I have the advantage of no engineering background, an arrogant belief that I can do anything and a fear of horses. With this skill set I couldn’t fail.
Safety matters. Pony Access works with everyone, regardless of ability or disability. Some people cannot give informed consent, so the activity MUST be safe. If you can release the pony instantly, safety is a reality. In addition to the instant pony release, the iBex has a seriously low centre of gravity, is insanely manoeuvrable, corners like a sportscar and doesn’t mark the ground. 22”x11”x8” front tyres and a 16”x6.50”x8” rear spread the load and leave hardly a trace. Ground clearance is limited, but where a powered vehicle would struggle, when the iBex bottoms, the pony is pulling a smooth bottomed sledge.
The pony is the power unit, and for some, part of the attraction, but if you want to watch the butterflies on Salt Hill (which are awesome) the pony is just the engine; with the added attraction, that if he poops, butterflies come from miles around to settle on fresh horse manure.
Traditional horse people worry about releasing the pony. Doing the South Downs Way this summer I took two ponies, and let Obama, my experienced pony, run loose, while I drove my new, rather goofy and very inexperienced 7 year old, Toby. On the occasional road bits I put Obama on a lead rope, otherwise I left him free to enjoy the trip. If you train ponies with kindness, (I only use equipment I am allowed to test on children, so no whips, bits or spurs) they come to you when they are scared.
Travelling the South Downs Way with a wheelchair was half way between a challenge and a holiday. Tough, steep, flinty, narrow tracks are hard work. Not many of the people I know who use wheelchairs will volunteer to do the really steep bits. The point is that it will be their choice. Pony Access makes Salt Hill from East Meon or the climb heading East from Amberley or the climb after Devil’s Dyke possible, not fun, not easy, but possible. Driving round Chanctonbury Ring, in a wheelchair is awesome. The views over Devil’s Dyke, from Firle Beacon and galloping at Beachy Head with Obama hooning around like an idiot, and Toby joining in, are the stuff of great holidays.
Pony Access doesn’t need to change anything to make the countryside accessible to people who use wheelchairs. We completed the South Downs Way using the pedestrian and rider’s gates. We changed nothing, we damaged nothing, and we have made the countryside open to anyone. Inclusion is the buzz word.
Using the iBex is simple. Lower the ramp, drive or push the wheelchair into position and tie it down. Raise ramp, attach pony and you are off. No hoists, no need to transfer from a wheelchair. You can take people to where they want to be and park them for collection later. Family picnics, dog walks, birdwatching or just the pleasures of wide horizons are open to people who haven’t been able to visit the countryside for years.
I took Bex out in her wheelchair as my first ever customer round West
Town Farm, Ide. The piglets weren’t where I expected, the calves had
gone to market and it drizzled. As I apologised Bex said “That’s the
first time I have seen a rabbit hole in 9 years.” So much that we take
for granted, is not accessible to people who use wheelchairs. Pony AxeS
Updated information November 2017: