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Landward – Swogi on the TV!

On day three of my last adventure – we met up with Anne Lundon from BBC Landward for some filming. It was a strange but interesting experience – I’d never done anything like this before – so not only was I tired and dehydrated, but I was SOOOO nervous too lol!

The horses were perfectly behaved, so hopefully the editing will have made them the stars of the show (quite rightly) and my uneasy ramblings will be kept to a minimum!!

I’m intrigued, nervous and excited to see how it all came out… if you want to watch, then here’s the schedule.

Cairngorm Squiggle 300kms – 11days August 2021

With Swift’s back bite now well healed, we set off on another adventure!

Couldn’t quite manage a full two weeks between work shifts so my planned circular route became a squiggle with a drop off and a pick up at the other end (I love my husband!).

Working our way from Straloch (near Kirkmichael) in the south west, up to a high point at Tomintoul then east to Edzell to finish at the Burn House.

Weather was generally in our favour apart from our arrival day in Tomintoul (when it absolutely chucked it down with rain). The midges at times were horrific though!! Can’t expect anything else I suppose doing a trek in August in Scotland.

Swift and Yogi were absolutely incredible – we tackled really tough trails. The most challenging I’ve ever attempted with steep rocky sections, bogs and tricky river crossings. Revisiting some trails I’d done before that I had thought to be difficult then -now looked like walks in the park. Amazing where practice, experience and building up the layers of teamwork can take you.

Met up with BBC Landward at Glen Derry for some filming so watch this space for when we might be on the TV 😁 They described Yogi and Swift as the best behaved horses they’d ever worked with (they were both really tired lol!).

Deeside Figure of 8

Well – this trip ended up to be more of a squiggle than a figure of 8 in the end!

After the success of the Fort William to Keith adventure, I set off on another with the aim to complete around 125miles. A meandering route to take in some trails, hills and routes I’d always wondered about.

I would describe the first day in particular as incredible! We explored miniature gullies through the hills using tiny trails that weren’t always on the map. It was challenging but in a nice way and the three of us worked well as a team to find our way through boulder fields, boggy areas and heathered ground. There was a definite sense of achievement – to have finally explored this route – one that I had wondered about for many years.

The second day explored a route I’ve always wanted to ride too – having seen the valley from either end, but never ventured into it. They day started well, but the section through farmland was a nightmare – difficult to find the route through in places, gates that were extremely hard to open (didn’t look at all well used), young horses either side of us going a bit loopy with the excitement of our arrival, then knee deep mud / cow poo to wade through. It was a hot and humid day and this section seemed to zap all my energy! The day did finish well though in one of my most favourite places to horse-camp.

However, when I took Swift’s saddle off that night, I knew the trip was over. She had had a bad cleg (horse-fly) bite during our last trek and it was up on her whither underneath the saddle. It had settled down (initially was very swollen) and it hadn’t seemed to worry her in the final days on the Moray Coast but it had been slow to heal at home. I set off on this trip with it covered in a scab, but the scab had come off and she had very pink, soft and tender skin underneath.

To continue onwards risked the soft healing skin getting rubbed and then broken, so the right thing to do was to head for home. It appeared to be the seam on the fly rug rubbing it over night that was the problem – the one thing I was using to prevent more bites! No wonder it had been slow to heal during the fortnight rest at home between adventures.

So our 125miles became around 50 as we took our nearest exit down Glen Tanar the following morning. It’s good to have contacts in mind when undertaking these excursions and I’d already primed a friend Holly that we’d be in her area and might call if things weren’t going to plan. Holly kindly picked us up (Deeside Horse and Hound -highly recommended) and returned us all back to where we’d started to load up into our lorry and head for home.

A short adventure, but a very sweet one. So happy to have found such interesting routes through the hills – where it seems hardly anyone else goes – and lovely to satisfy some curiosity that has been lingering for such a long time. Yes, it was sad to leave the rest of the route undone – but it will wait for our next outing which actually isn’t that far away. ;o)

Fort William to Keith

Its been 2 weeks since my last adventure which was riding from Fort William to Keith – a 2 week trip, 225 miles, camping each night and during which I was blessed with the best kind of weather. Apart from one drizzly day and one night of strong winds and heavy showers – I mostly had dry weather, a large amount of sunshine (for Scotland) and a strong breeze to keep the midges away.

It was a trip of 2 halves. The first was remote mountainous terrain with little contact with the outside world, followed by a more sociable time catching up with old friends (and new) as I approached home on the Moray Coast. Funny how you never explore the area in which you live, but this time I rode home for the first time and used a large section of a local long-distance trail – the Moray Coastal Trail. It was stunning with the blue seas to guide our way in glorious sunshine!

This took me through more populated areas than I would normally plan to ride through but I loved the ride towards home. A familiar feel as I know the area so well but on trails I hadn’t explored by horse before.

I had thought that a year off from long-distance trail riding would have set us – as a team – back a stage or two but I was delighted to find that it hadn’t made an impact at all. Covid19 restrictions and the horses being unwell for the riding season of 2020, appeared if anything, to have given us a period of reflection which only strengthened our bond and made for eager horses to get back to ‘their work’.

We were all relaxed, took obstacles in our stride and had the most wonderful time. I was surprised and delighted to see how well Team Swogi coped with the challenges of the route and in particular how well they coped with built up areas and traffic (always my major fear). They appeared more confident than ever and I could see a huge change in how they tackled what lay ahead. The positive reinforcement training I’ve been experimenting with was nothing to do with trail riding but it seems to have made a massive impact on how I’m viewed as a worthy leader of the herd.

I’m writing this on the cusp of another adventure – a week long, figure of 8 trek in the eastern Cairngorms. The horses have had 2 weeks off and I hope will be well rested and ready for the challenge ahead. Again its an area I know reasonably well, but the chosen route takes in trails I’ve not explored before and weather allowing goes high and hopefully should see up top out a Munro or two.

I knew my luck with the weather wasn’t likely to last and the forecast isn’t great (but not a show stopper). My waterproofs will be needed for this trip, as will the midge spray I fear lol! This will be the 2nd of my 3 planned treks this year – I don’t usually manage this much riding but I feel the need to make up for the lost year of 2020!

Here’s some of the highlights from Fort William to Keith! – I’ve put together a wee video / slide-show of my trip. I’m now frantically packing for the next one, as I’m aiming to hit the trail this evening. 🙂

Looking Forward

Looking forward to my first long-distance trail ride of 2021 next month! West to East across Scotland this time on partly familiar trails and many unknowns linking them together – covering over 200 miles.

I chose a route I knew some of as recce under lockdown is proving difficult and the small amount of recce I have done of the unknowns proved to be well worth it. Locked gates, broken or narrow bridges, kissing gates, extremely boggy ground, cattle grids with no side gates – were the negatives – but the positives out-weighed all of this.

A recce of the route isn’t just about identifying (mostly manmade) obstacles to horse-travel, its about collecting useful contacts along the way too. Phone numbers for gamekeepers / landowners, informing them of your intensions to keep them onside, picking up better grazing than you might have found on the hoof and making new friends who instantly offer company for the night as well as food and wine!

I’ve started packing already, the horses are fit and raring to go and I can’t wait to get back on the trail! 🙂

BBC Radio Scotland

The Out of Doors programme and the linked Scotland Outdoors are featuring us in both the regular programme and a longer podcast this week. The episode airs on Saturday 27/03 – at the early time of 06:30 – but the podcast of the full interview is available now:

Swift spent most of the interview trying to eat the fluffy microphone, apart from one moment when she took a dive into the ditch for her favourite kind of grass (whilst I was slightly distracted). Yogi hung back, full of suspicion but he was at least less dramatic than last time he was faced with a grey fluffy monster lol!

Illustration by Leandra Sutherland

Corral and Morale Building

Spring feels like it is in the air – although you never can tell in Scotland! Mornings and evenings are longer, they are brighter too and the snow/ice has melted. I’m feeling so much better mentally and physically for getting out and about on the horses again – FINALLY!

Yogi and Swift certainly have a spring in their steps too and are both offering to go everywhere at the next pace up – if only I’d be kind enough to just say ‘go on then’ lol!

They aren’t fit enough for that though (and neither am I riding wise) as they still have a lot of muscle and cardiovascular stamina to regain after their summer ills. So on a lovely day like today, when I could have been out for a ride, I had the frustration of not over doing it with them – and had to give them a rest day.

I decided not to be annoyed by this, so instead turned to some constructive morale and corral building. I looked out my trail riding gear, made sure everything was ready to go (I mean my first summer trek is possibly only 2.5 months away lol!) and decided to create this video to help others who might be considering an equine staycation adventure for the first time this year.

Hope you find it useful – it’s all about how to construct a corral.

p.s. the poles I use are called Fishing Bank Sticks. I use the 50-90cm but you can get longer versions if you have a corral jumping horse!

‘Touch, touch’ Swift

On so many levels, I am delighted to say that Team Swogi and I have started getting out and about more regularly again. A lot of fitness to work on and muscle to build, so ride-outs are steady and short but oh so sweet!!!! That doesn’t mean that it’s ‘business as usual’ – as I’m still loving the learning of new things with Swift so the teaching continues.

Now, I would describe to anyone that Yogi is my soul mate – we think and act the same and have such a similar outlook on life. He is impatient, sometimes over dramatizes a situation or exaggerates. He likes to work hard and will attack any challenge with enthusiasm and optimism. He is pretty amicable in most situations and only gets high-spirited when backed into a corner – but that fight and grit is in there! He also likes to get things done quickly and efficiently then enjoys a good feed at the end of the day with the satisfaction of a job well done. However, I really hope this is where we differ… (sorry soul mate) but he is extremely boring to teach! His fixation on the end point (treat) overpowers all the interesting bits in the journey to get there and you can repeat and repeat the learnings but it doesn’t really stick as the treat seems to wipe the memory card of how he came by the treat in the first place. I don’t think I’m like that to teach as I always want to know every why and reason and so am probably therefore, challenging to teach in a completely different way. I’m hoping most view challenging as interesting here lol!

Swift however, oh well that is a VERY different process altogether and I’m LOVING it! The advances we’ve made in our relationship in such a short space of time of going back to the basics of teaching something new is phenomenal. Swift is and has never been a horse that likes to be touched. She’d just rather you stayed out of her personal space altogether thank you very much. The places she approved of being touched before this process started (lets say on a scale of 1 to 10) sat at around 1 – that 1 being the tip of her nose / upper lip. The other 9 places or anywhere else for that matter were no go zones unless she was in a VERY good mood.

The game of ‘touch touch’ with positive reinforcement that I’ve now instigated has currently opened up another 5 places – the bridge of her nose, her girth (both sides) and her hips (both sides). There’s also the bonus move of being allowed a kiss ‘kiss kiss’ on that oh-so-soft-bit just above each nostril that only a horse person will understand…

Today we’ve been working on saddle placement – something she has also always been stroppy about. I’ve done the usual back checks, saddle checks, ulcer check, hind gut build up etc etc etc – but this appears to be learnt behaviour which has either come from past issues or is something I’ve inadvertently taught her. Either way, I’m going to have a good go at unteaching it and then maybe I can believe what I’ve just said here – that it truly is just learnt behaviour. If not, then I need to go back to the drawing board of investigations from nose to tail!

Today’s session started with trying an ‘up up’ command with the saddle and getting her to face forwards rather than turn and mare-glare at me as I popped the saddle up. Boy she’s a quick learner and so impressive how quickly she worked that out. I’m probably straying from true positive reinforcement here (my impatience like Yogi’s coming to the surface) as I give a ‘ach ach’ negative response when getting an action I don’t want and a ‘gooooood’ when I do, then the treat follows after however many seconds (or smooches lol!) I deem appropriate.

It was a ten minute session in the dark, but it was a start and a good one at that. I still can’t believe I ended up with such a long break from teaching something new. Why did it take both horses being ill to re-light my coaching passion and for me to start to address those minor imperfections that sometimes actually are more than inconvenient? I don’t know why, but I’m glad it happened.

The ‘Journey to my horses’ – as I describe in my book – has just moved to a brand new level!

Learning Styles

You may have seen that both myself and the horses have been a little busy… If not, then you need to take a look at this page on my site, then head for Amazon to buy our book lol!

That’s not the only thing we’ve been busy with however! We’ve moved on from syringe acceptance to see what else we can make acceptable with some positive reinforcement training.

Starting small, I decided to work on areas of “no touchy” both horses have. For Yogi this is ears and for Swift this is the centre of her face. For Swift, between the eyes is fine, a good forehead scratch most enjoyable and her nose and mouth are acceptable places for humans to touch as well. But to walk up to her and just rub the centre of her nose -well that is a “no go zone”.

Yogi was pretty straight forward as always, he sees what it is you want to achieve, and the conversation goes something like this:

  • “Let me touch your ears Yogi” I’d ask
  • “No way, that will kill me for sure” (as he backs away frantically)
  • “You’ll be ok I promise”
  • “No, no I won’t, my ears are precious and very, very sensitive”
  • “Don’t you want this treat then?”
  • “Oh… well that smells good, maybe you could touch my ears a little then”

And the training commences and advances. It takes a while to work through his fear and I know with him, it only takes once false move on my part, to have to start all over. All he thinks about appears to be the black and white of – will this action hurt me or not? There is little thought about the process -the grey matter in between!

With Swift… things are a little different and the conversation is more indepth:

  • “Let me touch your nose Swift” I’d ask
  • “Why would you want to do that?” she’d reply
  • “Cos I like your nose and I’d like to be able to rub / pet it”
  • “Yeah -you say that, but what’s your ulterior motive?” she’d say suspiciously
  • “There is none, honest, this is just a fun experiment”
  • “Fun for you… maybe, but what do I get out of this?”
  • “One of these tasty treats? Or a nice nose rub -eventually” I’d offer
  • “OK I’d like a treat, but what’s the process going on here, how will it work?”

The training therefore takes longer to set up -she is like a curious three year old child always asking Why? All she thinks about is the process -the grey matter in between is hard at work and you can almost see the steam coming out of her ears! The black and white at each end is given only a cursory glance. The training is harder to initiate, but once commenced and with all the Why? questions answered – then no start overs will ever be required.

I’m starting to get the horses out for short rides now to start building them back up after their illnesses. Its going to take a while as they are unfit and lacking muscle. I’ve never seen them look so scrawny if I’m honest, but I am grateful that they are on the mend and I’m grateful too that it’s opened my eyes to other fun and interesting things to do whilst still spending time with them.