EDWARD FERNON says long-distance horse riding has things in common with depression: ''It's a long struggle and you're often on your own.''
In May last year, after qualifying to represent Australia in modern pentathlon at the London Olympics, he felt a drive to do something to help others.
His mother, Alex, suffered severe depression for more than a decade and so, being a horseman - showjumping is a pentathlon sport - he hatched a plan.
He would follow in what, according to mythology, were the hoof-steps of Archer, the horse that won the first Melbourne Cup in 1861. Since watching as a boy a Nicole Kidman telemovie about the horse, he had been hooked on the yarn that's part of Australian folklore.
The story goes that Archer was walked from its training base at Nowra on the south coast to Melbourne to line up in the Cup.
Yesterday at dawn, at the farm where Archer lived at Jembaicumbene, 95 kilometres south-east of Canberra, Mr Fernon commenced his five week ''re-enactment''.
Riding a horse also called Archer, Mr Fernon will wend his way 1100 kilometres to Melbourne, heading to Queanbeyan today and Canberra's Yarralumla horse paddocks in Tharwa tomorrow. He will then head south through Khancoban, over the Snowy Mountains to Omeo and then to Marysville.
The plan is to be at Healesville on Sunday November 4, and arrive at Flemington racecourse on Melbourne Cup Day, Tuesday November 6.
Mr Fernon, 24, from Sydney, had aimed to raise $50,000 for the Black Dog Institute but has already raised $40,000 from the website Everyday Hero and fund-raising events.
But another goal is raising awareness. The route deliberately passes rural sites of drought, floods and bushfires where depression is rife.
''It's good to go through these areas, starting a dialogue with people, saying it's OK to talk about it, and 'go and seek help' because 50 per cent of people who experience depression don't receive help,'' Mr Fernon says.
At yesterday's starting ceremony, Mr Fernon, his mother and a local farmer, James Royds - a descendant of Archer's breeders - unveiled a memorial for Archer on the banks of the Jembaicumbene Creek where Archer was buried in 1872.
It has long been established that Archer did not walk to Melbourne for the Cup.
In September 1861, newspapers announced Archer's departure from Sydney by ship, bound for the Cup, and Melbourne papers reported his arrival in Sandridge.
Mr Fernon is aware of this, but ''it doesn't matter''.
Donations can be made at everydayhero.com.au/event/followingthelegendofarcher.