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Hey Everyone, this is my first blog for Sealskinz, I am really excited about using the Sealskinz products for my latest adventure, with horses you always seem to end up cold and wet so I am really looking forward to staying dry and comfortable while up in the Highlands! I have been a self-taught professional horse trainer pretty much since I left school at 16 yrs. old, over the last few years I have been developing my understanding of working with horses and enjoy the challenge of working with them in complete freedom...at Liberty (with no tack or equipment) There is something incredibly inspiring about working with horses in their natural habitat and without any form of restraint, it’s just you, them and the environment they live in. This year I wanted to push myself further and start to see just how far our relationship with horses can go.
Horses once such an important part of everyone's life here in the UK, but now horses seem to be constantly being restricted to literally our own back yards! The beaches that I train on regularly, I am now faced with more and more days you that you can’t more than days that you can! One such place In the UK yet to adopt this attitude is the Highlands of Scotland which still seem to be wild and free.
To be more precise, The Old Drove roads (they don’t look like roads more like ancient tracks) - Scotland s droving trade and the routes by which cattle and sheep were brought from every corner of the land to markets in central Scotland. In pastoral Scotland, the breeding and movement of livestock were fundamental to the lives of the people. These ancient ways across some of Scotland mountains and wilderness to me sounds like the perfect place. (Often ridden on horseback, while driving cattle and sheep).
Last year I completed ‘The Island Project’, a combination of survival and breaking unhandled ponies at Liberty ( in complete freedom) Now, on the island, although I was working with the horses at liberty (free) I may work with them for perhaps an hour or two before heading back to the security of my tent and sitting down to cook dinner, happy in the knowledge that they were ‘somewhere’ on the island and that they could literally only go so far away from me at any time, the result of this was 12 hour nights of good sleep and the comfort to be able to boil water and cook at a leisurely rate, knowing they would still be there in the afternoon for our session together.
This adventure in Scotland will be different, Liberty is about the connection / the relationship between you and a horse or a number of horses, just like any other relationship it can be exhausting both mentally and physically. Just like with a partner! You might feel being together 24/7 could be a challenge and that actually being able to do your own thing is key to a successful long term relationship! Well this is what I want to find out, can the horses and I stay connected 24/7 over the highlands along some of these wildness drove roads and passes for 14 days. I will aim to spend nights and days totally connected to two new unbroken Highland Ponies. For the first few days they will have head collars while we get to know each other, then I want them to be happy to follow and let me ride them completely at liberty. Horses sleep for a miserly 2/3 hours max in any 24hr period, once we are up in the hills with no way of fencing them in I will have to do the same, sleep deprivation a well-known tactic for torcher, would I have the emotional control to keep myself calm and be part of the herd for days like this? Horses don’t care for human emotions; in fact they can be detrimental to our relationship with them as it can create fear and unrest in a herd situation. I will have to cook my food very quickly as it won’t be high on their agenda to wait for me. If I was unfortunate enough to fall asleep, I could wake up only to find them completely gone, no island luxury of them just being on the other side!
I have chosen to use two completely new untrained Highland ponies for this adventure, just as the Connemara’s have evolved to live comfortably on the west coast of Ireland so has the Highland evolved to with stand not just the weather in the Highlands but they have thicker skin to cope with the midges they have short thick legs and substantial body width to be able to carry loads across the bogs without sinking and getting stuck, and should they get into a deep bog they have the body shape and strength to pull themselves out without issue or injury, which any other breed wouldn’t be able to do.
Starting in Alness we will head of up into the hills, the lower drove roads at the start will be the perfect starting point to learn to work together and forge not just our path but our relationship, as we go higher I will have them completely at liberty hopefully within just the first few days, without my other team ponies I shall have to teach them everything myself rather than relying on the other ponies to help me. The route gets tougher as it goes along with boggy areas, rivers to cross and a loch that the ponies will have to actually swim over so I will have to make sure the relationship is solid or they might not trust me enough to follow me across the water. The goal is to end up bareback and reinless on the beach on the west coast just above Ullapool.