When did you last teach your horse something new?

Since my last post, it’s been discovered through extra blood tests that Yogi does have an active Lyme infection – his mild positive on the initial one was because its a new infection. He could, I suppose, possibly fight it off himself but given his Cushings and given his recent illness, the Vet doesn’t want to take any chance and neither do I. His treatment has got me thinking…

My horses are now 18 (Yogi) and 12 (Swift). We’ve been here, there, everywhere and have numerous T-shirts. I’ve worked out their strengths and weaknesses and either alter what I do to cater for these or have trained some of those weaknesses away (see my page about the learning curve). 

When we were all initially new to each other the ratio of training vs doing was probably 9:1 – these days we generally sit at 0:10. They know all they need to know (to do what we do) and if there’s something they won’t do, then it’s probably quicker just to work around it. A work around is acceptable because the “thing they won’t do” is small fry in the bigger scheme of things (see earlier post about Yogi only approaching gates on his left). 

Having to syringe some meds into Yogi twice a day shook all this up. He has never been good with syringes / wormers but I had a work around for the 1-2 times a year I needed to do that. She is a friend and neighbour and is the fastest wormer in the west (or Scotland at least). I couldn’t call on her to come twice a day for a month to work her magic but I did call on her to help me get started with a system. 

She experimented with different approaches and quickly hit on something that could be worked with. Not only is she quick with a syringe but she’s quick to read a horse and to work out what they need. I was also quick to realise that I could do this – it was obvious how I needed to train Yogi to accept his new twice daily routine. 

So why hadn’t I worked that out myself?  Why had I needed a friend to show me the way? Because I’d forgotten that I knew how to train. How strange is that?  If I think of where my horses started to where they are now – we spent years concentrating on the training with very little doing taking place. Once we progressed with the doing though, it was a fairly rapid switch of ratios until doing was all we … well … did! 

Five intense but short training sessions later and Yogi is only stepping back a couple of steps as I put the syringe near his mouth. He then politely opens his mouth for me – anticipating (calmly) what’s coming next … bless! I’m pretty sure if I didn’t have an urgent need to actually get the medicine in him twice a day (which tastes disgusting he says) I could have him standing perfectly still in no time at all. 

That, however, is small fry and a couple of backward steps is acceptable from a horse who’s natural stress reaction is to move his feet as fast as he can. I’ve enjoyed the challenge and the reward and I’m already considering what to teach him and Swift next.  Swift is also accepting a syringe now and my neighbour – although still appreciated – is now redundant.  If we can’t do what we normally do due to illness, well let’s do something new! 

The vets who treated both Swift and Yogi when they have been unwell recently are astounded that I’m having success with the syringing and want me to teach them to accept needles next 🤣  That might be some way off but I will spend some time thinking of a trail skill that needs work or maybe a few tricks just for fun. 

Horse Trials

No not the type where you spend 3 days jumping obstacles in an arena, dancing with your horse or galloping around the country-side taking logs and lakes in your stride!

I’m talking more about horse trials and tribulations unfortunately…

At my last post, we weren’t sure what was wrong with Swift. She had definitely fractured her splint bone somehow, somewhere, but it was uncomplicated and just took time to heal. However, there was something else lingering on top of this – with intermittent lameness and stiffness in other legs, I had her bloods checked for all sorts of things. She turned out to be positive for Lyme Disease and Anaplasmosis and although her symptoms could be due to mild laminitis (she does escape on to grass from time to time the minx) we (as in myself and the vets) decided to treat for these just in case. An irony that isn’t missed on me – they do say that pets mimic their owners!

So, while she rested up that splint bone, I was busy shoving 50mls of antibiotics down her throat twice a day – well – when I say “I” – it did take two people to achieve success with this. She was quite good about it to be fair – all things considered – and so were my friend and husband who I couldn’t have managed without.

She became sound, but still lacked muscle so I started riding out Yogi (slow and steady as he was unfit too) and towed Swift behind. Our usual set up you could say, but without the pit stop to change horse half way round. All was going well and I was about to reintroduce the pit stop, when suddenly Yogi became unwell … erm … very unwell. 😦

Both were bundled into the lorry (because remember they hate to be separated) and we rushed to an equine specialist vet just over an hours drive away. NEVER have I been SO grateful to have two horses that load themselves without question (even when one could hardly breathe/stand and had a temperature of over 40 degrees C) and NEVER have I been SO grateful that I generally always have my lorry ready to travel at a moments notice. ‘Generally’ because you never know when the sun might pop out and lets face it – in Scotland you have to be quick off the mark to catch it sometimes. Lesson learnt though – there is a second more important reason to have good loaders and the lorry totally ready… Oh and if I’m busy throwing gratitude about, then a lot of that should be extended to my very good friend who dropped everything to meet me at the hospital to get me through this tough time (xxx).

We made it to the vets, Yogi was put on IV fluids and Antibiotics and 6 days later he was fit enough to return home. My bank account by then however, was looking in dire need of resuscitation. We still aren’t sure the exact cause of Yogi’s sudden down turn but his bloods indicated a viral / infectious load and I am in no doubt that I had caught it just in time. He’s home, he’s a little low energy and missing his cheeky spark but he’s home. Still awaiting more blood results and he will need time to rest and recuperate (eat hay uninterrupted he says). Incidentally (we think) -he also tested mildly positive for Lyme Disease and positive for Anaplasmosis. Both “rare diseases” according to most experts and rarer still in equines but that’s all us amigos (3 out of 3) sporting positive results so they can’t be that rare!

Surprises sometimes arise out of emergency situations and that surprise was Swift’s ability to cope alone without her favourite side-kick. She travelled well on her own, seemed sad but settled at home alone, managed a walk out in-hand on her own (well with me obviously) then I put on my brave pants and tried a ride out on her own as well! This was the first time since March I’d sat on her – due to lockdown then her illness and recovery. In fact in the 10 years we’ve been together, this was the first time I can remember EVER riding her out alone. It was a leap of faith on my part (it’s a long way up) and she didn’t let me down (that’s a long way too) – in fact more than that I’d say she was positively incredible. 🙂

The surprise that arose was awesomely nice and made me reflect on how far I’d come with both horses over the years. Then today, a special photograph popped up on my Facebook timeline that underlined that distance completely. I’m not talking about the physical distance travelled (although over the years that’s probably quite impressive), I’m talking about the lessons we’ve all learnt, the skills we’ve gained, the confidence, the teamwork, the understanding of each other, the companionship and the trust that has been hard earned. I appreciate all of this so much, but as the curve of progression in all of those things flattened out – when what once was a challenge becomes second nature – had I perhaps just a little, started to take it all for granted?

It’s been a hard horse trial this year and its not quite over yet, but fingers crossed the 3 amigos -Team Swogi will be back on the trails again next year.

Swift’s first solo ride
Yogi’s first river crossing (and first expedition) 2010!

Is Lockdown over?

Not for me it isn’t…  Just as Covid Lockdown restrictions lift in the UK… Swift imposes a lengthier break from long-distance riding.  Poor girl looks like she has fractured a splint bone, so that’s this season of long-distance treks over before it even began for Team Swogi.   There might be more to it than just the splint bone and vets are still investigating, so keeping all fingers, toes and hooves crossed that we get to the bottom of her discomfort and get her on the trails again next season.

Unfortunately for you lot… it means that my (more regular) sanity blogging will continue as I am gradually going insane with the lack of riding and adventure!  Roll on 2021!

So… Pros and Cons of taking a Packhorse:

Horses are naturally herd animals and it’s rare to find one that is happy to travel alone on the trail.  Whilst there might be a lucky few owners that achieve this – I’m not one of them.  Swift and Yogi (Team Swogi) very much come as a package and go everywhere together.  Even at home, they rarely settle out of sight of each other and get very stressed if separated.  Recognising this inherent herd need, in some countries it is even illegal to keep an equine on their own.  Its not just me being soft in the head where my two are concerned!

This means that even on shorter training/fitness-building rides, I always ride and tow.  While this has drawbacks, such as: negotiating gates, 2 horses to prepare and tack up (if you want to ride one and then the other), and a ‘wider load’ on thin trails  – it does have some advantages too.

  • On long-distance rides they are more settled in their little herd overnight in strange places and are able to stand nose to tail to flick away those flies.
  • Having a packhorse can allow additional equipment to give more comfort on the trail (in back-packing terms).  You can also be more self-contained to reach and stay in beautiful remote places.
  • On the trail itself, they give confidence to each other – particularly at strange obstacles you may meet.

Where one horse is reluctant to proceed over or through an obstacle, the other often obliges.  I’ve lost count of the times I’ve continued with packhorse up ahead instead of behind.  Each horse has different comfort zones, tolerance or confidence levels at the different obstacles you meet, and they help guide the other member of the team through any insecurities.  They learn from each other and this often saves me training them individually.

Here’s an example… I was riding Yogi and leading Swift but Yogi refused this bridge.  I didn’t really blame him, it was reasonably narrow, had funny shadows, it was made of metal that felt and sounded funny under hoof AND you could see through it to the rushing river below.  Swift had no fear though and without me having to dismount, she went up front and lead Yogi over.

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Another example here -I was riding Swift and leading Yogi and had to come down these steps.  Not fancying that up top, I jumped off but Swift refused to entertain the idea even in-hand.  Yogi said -absolutely no problem and Swift followed him down calmly.

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They each have their individual strengths, so, while it can be more trouble to have two horses along for a ride, it sometimes gives you clear advantages.

It’s also a big relief for your legs and bum (and no doubt for your horses back) if you can swap onto a different horse for a day or two on the trail, as they all feel/ride a little differently too!

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No particular obstacle here -Swift just fancied a spell upfront. lol!

Corralling Top Tips

More and more questions coming in regarding this subject -so here’s a look at the equipment I carry and specifically how best to manage building a corral on your own at the end of a long day with two hungry horses!

Equipment I carry (photos below):

  • 2 x spools of electric tape
  • 2 x collapsible water buckets and a collapsible water carry container
  • 8 x telescopic fishing bank sticks with rod rest tops (50-90cms)
  • Guys lines and pegs
  • Gaffa tape to insolate pole tops (if not rubber like mine)
  • Baler twine for around trees etc to prevent conduction loss
  • Electric energiser (if required) I use a Shrike Hotline 100
  • 2 D cell batteries

 

Top Tips for Corral Building on your own:

  • Get to the camp spot, untack, (de-boot if you use hoof boots), tie the horses up somewhere or if nothing available – put long lead ropes on the horses, trailing on the ground and take 10mins to just breathe!!! Most of the time they will stand on the ropes and just stop themselves from wandering too far.
  • During these 10mins see where your horses gravitate to.
  • Build your corral with your horses outside of it if you can, use as many trees, fences, attachment to walls / buildings as you can to make it stronger.
  • Accept that you will have to stop at times to return horses to where you can manage them (if no tie up).
  • I find it easier if building a free standing corral to build a square / rectangle -putting posts (bank sticks) in first -keep your lines straight, roughly guy out your corner posts, then add the tape last.  Remember to create a gate way and re-adjust guy lines when the tape is in place.
  • Once built, then pop your horses inside it.

The reason I suggest to build with horses outside, is that I once had Yogi panic about something during construction and he ran through the tape, took it with him, it hit the back of my knees, and dragged me a little before it unsnagged.  If you can tie your horses to something, all the better but often where I am -there is only a patch of grass!   Thus let them decide where they want to eat for 10mins before you begin construction a little further away… back to the tips…

  • In the morning saddle up and pack up as much as you can with them in the corral.
  • Have your saddle bags arranged that the corral goes in the last bag that goes up on the saddle.
  • If you can leave a patch of fresh grass (probably the bit they were on when you built the corral) then they can move on to it for when you are deconstructing the corral. -Similar set up, tie up if you can, but if not use long lead ropes.
  • Accept that during deconstruction you may be interrupted by returning horses to where you can manage them (if no tie up).
  • Put corral gear in last bag to go on the saddle/pack everything else should be totally ready to go.
  • Celebrate the frustrations of corralling on your own with two hungry horses.  Self-supported travel is an amazing experience and despite the faff and hard work, you are out there doing it when many wouldn’t!

I know other people use other methods such as highlines, tethers or hobbles that are probably much easier to set up on the trail, but I like the freedom a corral gives my horses at the end of a long tiring day. They can move around to avoid biting insects or keep warm, find a comfy spot for a roll or a lie down, stand nose to tail with their trail partner and just chill.  I’m also much more relaxed knowing they won’t get up to mischief or become tangled when I’m wrapped up in my cosy sleeping bag listening to their munching and snores through the fly sheet :o).

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Gates on the Trail

(don’t worry, those top tips on corralling on your own are still coming…)

Teaching your horse to help you to open and close gates can save a lot of time and hassle on the trail. It can save your horse’s back and saddle too if you don’t have to get on and off at each and every barrier.

Some gates are… well… just… tricky… and teaching your horse to manoeuvre into position, to cope with rattily/clanging sounds and to let you hang off their side are all important for success.

It can be even trickier with a second horse in tow -so you need to teach your packhorse the art of gates too. If they are happy to stand and eat grass if you drop their leadrope, while you go back to close a gate, it will make your life a whole lot simpler.

Swift will approach a gate from either side, but the latches are often too far down to reach from her lanky height. Yogi will only approach with the gate on his left. I recognise this is my preference and I’ve probably subconsciously taught him this. It was a royal pain in the backside when completely my North-East Traverse last year. We rode the Dava Way and it has gate, after gate, after gate -all right-handed when approached in a northerly going direction doh!

Think I need to dedicate the rest of the summer to teach Swift that it’s ok if I’m hanging round her belly to reach a gate and to teach Yogi that gates on the right are just as safe and manageable as those on the left! LOL!

Solo Riding Confidence

With lockdown still in place in the UK, I’m not getting my fix through my own long-distance riding.  Instead I’m watching (with encouragement) a friend in another country gear up to potentially undertake her first 100% solo trip.  She is quite rightly nervous about this challenge, mentioning worries about navigation, pack-bags slipping, avoiding bogs and the hard work of setting up camp (ie corrals) at the end of each day.

As someone who often challenges themselves to the max and who has finally come to realise that isn’t necessarily what it’s all about -this is the advice I offered.  It was well received, so thought it might be worth sharing more widely!

Breaking into solo long-distance riding  – Top Tips:

  •  Start out by practicing corralling on day rides so you get used to the annoyance of the setting up faff and the horses get the idea of what you want.  Treats scattered on the ground to keep them close during construction might provide training opportunitites.
  •  Progress to doing numerous short over-night rides (one night out) on your own.  Get confident with this before tackling more adventurous longer treks.
  •  Navigational mistakes happen, so pick easier trails for your first big excursion.  This way you will enjoy yourself more, rather than worry about what lies ahead.
  •  Accept that on your own, the setting up camp and striking camp is hard work and can take 1-2 hours each way.
  •  With this amount of time taken out of your day accept that you will only ride approximately 6 hours in between (giving another 2 hours backup/flexibility for difficulties on the trail).
  • If you get to camp early, get set up, eat then enjoy/explore where you are.
  •  It can be tough going with two horses to negotiate on the trails and care for at the end of the day.  Recognise this and turn frustration into celebration that despite knowing this, you are still out there doing it!
  •  Settle your mind to the fact that you will do less mileage and less challenging trails (first time out at least), but who cares?  You are out there doing it, by yourself, in a remote place and many people never take this first step/first try.  So first time out on a solo long-distance trek… give yourself a break and don’t feel that you have anything to prove!

Coming soon -tops tips on how to corral your horses on the trail (solo)!

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An Intro to Horse Camping Glen Feshie

At the start of August 2019, I again organised a weekend away camping with horses as an introduction to “dobbineering” for those that hadn’t tried it before.  I wanted to try something a little more adventurous (as an introduction) than I’d organised before, but to pull it off I needed a little support.  Yvonne came along to help during the ride -she is the most excellent tail-end charlie and I could relax knowing she would be ensuring the back of the ride was well and safe.  Yvonne would also be there as an extra pair of capable hands to advise during the corralling and camping part too.   For the logistics, I enrolled my hubby Dave and the local Gamekeeper Davie to get all the camping and corralling equipment across a River and to the Bothy where we would stay for the night.

In total we were a group of 8 riders from the Moray Equestrian Access Group, so heading to the Cairngorms was a little out of our area, but it was SO worth the drive.  The weather was as spectacular as the scenery and we rode approx. 19kms the first day into the bothy up the Glen.  Unfortunately the midgies when we got there were just as spectacular too…  We could shelter and socialise in the bothy for the evening before scurrying for our tents, but the poor horses circled around in the corrals for the night trying to evade the wee beasties.  Can’t be helped I suppose if you do anything outdoors in Scotland!

For most in the group -it was their first overnight adventure with their horses, first time corralling, first time at a bothy and first time camping.  Most of this was a first for the horses too (although we drew the line at letting them try the bothy and tents lol!) but they took it all in their stride.

The second day was a little damp -but since we were riding back out again, nobody seemed to care too much.  The scenery was still spectacular which took everyone’s mind off the rain.  We came back a slightly shorter route but still managed approx. 16kms.

I hope there are now a few more people hooked on the sport of dobbineering! :o)

A Traverse across NE Scotland

A solo trip this time for one week, travelling from Edzell (near Montrose) on the North East Coast of Scotland, across to Forres (near Elgin) on the Moray Coast.  A traverse of 200kms, several times travelling at heights of over 700m in the mountains.  I mostly camped or stayed in bothies (stone hill huts) and was self sufficient for the whole journey (apart from drop off and pick up by my wonderful husband!).

The horses were fit from their previous trek last month and seemed to be unstoppable.  We just picked up where we left off a few weeks ago. Thankfully however, we had much better weather than experienced during the previous Cairngorm Circular trip, with only the last day throwing some atmospheric drizzly weather our way.  We met some lovely people on our travels at the Mark House at Invermark as well as in Bob Scott’s bothy and Ryvoan Bothy, not to mention those I got chatting to on the trail side too!

That said -the trip didn’t get off to the best of starts and took a few days to “warm up” into an enjoyable experience.  I stupidly did an extra night shift the night before setting off -I was mostly ready and packed with just the saddles to sort out…  Sorting out ANYTHING after only a few hours sleep should be totally avoided!

Dave drove me and Team Swogi to the start… a 2hr drive with a planned 6km evening ride and camp for the night… only for me to discover when throwing the saddle up onto Yogi -I had nothing to secure the cinch (girth) to!  I’d forgotten a Latigo… I wasn’t all that surprised that something had got missed in the sleep devoid stupor but I was very angry with myself as this was something I couldn’t set off without and we were now a long way from home.

The horses were found local accommodation for the night and we set off back for home, to return in the car the next morning with Latigo firmly in my hand… least that was the plan, but shortly after settling the horses in a field, a lorry wheel blew out and we were then stuck at the side of the road for a few hours whilst that got sorted.

The next morning after more hours on the road, I rode up the Glen with a slightly changed plan due to the delayed start, only to have my plans completely changed again about 10kms in, thanks to a newly installed cattle grid with no side gate.  I had to back track and carry out the deepest river crossing the team has ever done.  Yogi and I had a slight disagreement about stepping into the river… it was nothing really and Swift was happy, but he was adamant that the ground wasn’t safe (it was).  I tried convincing him instead from the ground, but the battle continued and my finger lost when he suddenly pulled back on the reins.  Not sure if my finger was broken or just badly sprained but it very sore and was bleeding everywhere too.

I eventually persuaded Yogi to approach the river from a much more difficult angle (typical bloke!) and we crossed without incident.  We had to spend the rest of the day on tarmac playing in traffic (which I hate) but thankfully every single driver was patient and courteous. That night was spent in delightful company at the Mark House B&B which cheered me and my finger up no end.  The next day, however, half way up the next Glen, I developed a sickness bug so couldn’t eat for the next 24hrs and felt very weak and shakey.  I must point out that I was probably harbouring this before staying at the B&B… it was nothing to do with them, particularly since I ate my own breakfast lol!

I felt so rough and with the challenging start I almost pulled the plug at this point, but as always my rock (husband) reminded me that I could in theory just sit tight for a few days until I felt better, as I wasn’t under any time pressure.  I was camped in a beautiful spot with plenty of grass for the horses, so this wouldn’t have been too much of a hardship.  Thankfully though, by the morning all felt good and I was starving enough to eat my missed main meal for breakfast.  I figured curry would give me more energy for the day ahead than a small helping of porridge!

The trek then settled into a good place, with relaxed and happy vibes.  No more issues to come and the weather was kind.  We camped in beautiful places and enjoyed Bothy Banter some nights too.  The horses were incredible as always -tackling anything I put in front of them (the Yogi/river incident the first day was a very rare blip) -we walked over metal gridded bridges through which you could see the river far below, went up and down steep flights of steps, rocky river crossings, bog negotiations and narrow gates.  These obstacles on top of negotiating the standard challenges that the hill trails have to offer.

We all came home looking a bit trimmer, a bit fitter and a little bit wiser!  Can’t wait to do it all again -hopefully off somewhere next month too.  A big hello to those now following the blog after meeting me on the trail during this trek.

Day 1 Edzell to Invermark:

Day 2 Invermark to Shiel of Glen Tanar:

Day 3 Shiel of Glentanar to Gelder Shiel:

Day 4 Gelder Shiel to Derry Lodge:

Day 5 Derry Lodge to Ryvoan:

Day 6 Ryvoan to Cromdale:

Day 7 Cromdale to Forres along the Dava Way:

 

Day 13 Cairngorm Circular Round 2

Day Thirteen –OMG what’s that yellow thing in the sky?  Could that be what they call “the sun”?  Not warm enough for bare arms, but we were completely thankful of a respite from the rain.  A pleasant little ride back to Nethy Bridge with views of the other side of the Cairngorms… we’d done it, the complete circuit!

Horses and humans back home for some rest, a drying out and some home comforts.  Til the next time -which isn’t so long away for some of the team… watch this space…

Day 12 Cairngorm Circular Round 2

Day Twelve –started out pretty much how day eleven ended.  Cold and wet with a driving wind.  The horses were shivering again and I felt rotten putting the saddles on their cold hunched backs, but we had to get out of here somehow!  We were up and away by 08.30 –just glad to be on the move again, but close to hypothermic.

We couldn’t ride our horses for more than 20mins at a time before we’d be starting to get dangerously cold.  The only way to beat that, is to get off and walk until you warm up again.  At one point after walking fast for 10mins, this didn’t appear to be working and I was getting pretty concerned I’d gone past the point of return.  There was nowhere at all to shelter to put additional clothing on (I had most of it on anyway) and nowhere to stop and get a hot drink / food.  As I struggled on by foot, from behind me drifting through the howling wind, I hear a rousing rendition of “The Flower of Scotland”, this spurred me on to walk faster and get my sorry ass warmed up!

Chose your trail partner carefully… and try to look after them at all cost… they are worth their weight in gold :0)

Eventually we reached the shelter of some trees and had an easier ride the rest of the afternoon.  It was still very wet and cold though, so again we took advantage of a bunk house for the night to dry as much as we could out and to get some warmth back into the bones with a hot shower.  The horses too were found good shelter for the night and they appreciated the drier and warmer surroundings too.

Note the lack of photos from today due to very cold hands!