Friday, 20 November 2009

Horses Welcome

I've been working my way through what my granny used to call 'bread and butter letters' , thanking all those who helped us, put us up, and supported us in so many ways on our trip.
It's a courtesy (although if I was as courteous as all that I would have done it before now - if YOU haven't received yours yet - it's a-coming!)
It's been a joy, actually, as I have relived all those wonderful memories of the great people we met. There are over 300 to write, so it's taking me a while. What was astonishing was that in all those miles, we didn't meet a single person who was less than friendly and hospitable.
Why was that? Most riders have tales of grumpy landowners or gratuitous rudeness, but there was no sign of any of that.
I don't have a definitive answer...but I do have some ideas about it. Firstly, where possible, I did contact people in advance. I've blogged about this before - in spite of the Land Reform Act, I do still believe that is a reasonable courtesy where horses are involved, unless the tracks are actively promoted for riding. My experience has been that, on the whole, landowners prefer to have some notice, especially if there's a gate to be unlocked!
Having said that, I didn't always do it - either because I simply couldn't find out who to speak to
or because I had to change my plans at the last minute and go a different route - usually as a result of flooding. So I did sometimes meet landowners unexpectedly but didn't have any problems, perhaps because I made an effort to be polite, including getting off my horse to explain the situation to them. (I remember reading in a newspaper article about how, during the lead up to the hunting ban, huntsmen were advised not to speak to the tv reporters etc when they were sitting on their horses - the difference in height automatically made it look as though they were looking down their noses in a superior kind of way. I think there may be a grain of truth in that, especially when speaking to the non-horsy).
Every rider's dream is probably to be able to ride along any tracks without having to ask permission - and in some places that is quite possible. For riders planning some sort of cross-country route, as I did, I don't currently believe that it is. I would also add that, for me, a huge part of the pleasure of the trip was in interacting with local people, learning about the area (and in many cases, scoring somewhere to camp or a bed for the night as a huge bonus.) In addition, it's this interaction which (hopefully) improves communication and understanding between riders and land managers.
Quite a few people have asked for my precise routes. That, to me, is a slightly difficult one - I think there is a difference between me - or anyone - riding a route (with the landowner's blessing) and then suggesting it's ok for anyone to do it - I simply don't feel I have that authority. There is an additional practical problem, in that I crossed some areas where a more novice horse could easily get into difficulties, and I wouldn't want that on my conscience either.
However, I am keen to share what I have learned with other riders! Other long distance riders were very generous to me with information. Perhaps a possible practical solution is to get together to create some sort of database to easily access who to speak to regarding access: a lot of this information is traceable on the internet, and BHS and Council Access officers and the like can be helpful, but it doesn't half take a lot of digging around: it took me a year to prepare for a three month trip. I would be very keen to hear what you think about it, and I expect this topic will resurface!
Going back to why I had so few problems, I also suspect that, because I was travelling alone, people felt more inclined to talk to me, which might not have happened had there been a group of us.
I might get some snark for this one, but I also suspect that native ponies are less threatening to the non-horsy than gleaming bay hunters - they're sort of a cross between a horse and a dog! Most people wanted to cuddle them. Really, they should have been prostrating themselves in awe and wonder - Doogs.
Today's picture is a quick watercolour sketch - I did quite a few of these on the trip, but due to the weather conditions, mostly there was a lot of 'water' and not so much in the way of 'colour'! I don't believe the boys thought that this particular tint was quite manly enough, either. And you've made me look fat - Doogs.


  1. Theres a lot of truth in what you say. I`m currently looking at riding from Corran, to Crieff along the drove roads, time is limited, so will miss the Skye bit!! So yes early contact is essential. I think that for anyone trying this out, it can not be assumed that landowners are always happy. Especially if a sudden "Posse" of riders descends on there otherwise quiet area?

  2. Your horses are lovely! and this sounds like so much fun and adventure. I'm in GA in the USA and would never try something like this (the idiot drivers would mow us down, not enough trails here) but I'm inspired by your story. really enjoying your site.
    Shelly Morris
    PS..I visited my friends last year in Forfar, did you go anywhere near there?