Thursday, 8 July 2010

Furry Friends - and Foes

One of the (many) things I particularly enjoy about off-road riding is spotting wildlife. Often animals are less fearful of a person on a horse than a person walking, and you can get quite close without disturbing them.

On our recent trip I had hoped very much to spot some beaver which are kept locally - although I knew it was unlikely, as they have pretty nocturnal habits and are most easily seen in the late evening. Riding past their home, then, there was sadly no sign of them, but many indications of their industry, like these downed trees with beavery teethmarks!

Some of the trees were positively huge - I'm not sure how long it would have taken them to knaw their way through some of the larger specimens.

Partner Bill has in the past done some veterinary work on this colony (they are prone to a certain kind of fluke I believe). He was called out to post-mortem one which had been found dead. 'Bloody fluke, I suppose' he grumbled as he set off - but no. In this case, the beaver had been knocked on the head by a tree which fell on it after it had bitten its way through the trunk. Very sad, but perhaps that particular animal was better out of the beaver gene pool - it sounded like a prime candidate for the Darwin Awards.

The ponies took no notice of the beaver colony: not so when we later passed a wild boar enclosure on the same estate. Lots of sniffing and snorting from them as they caught a whiff of pig! Unfortunately the undergrowth was so dense we didn't actually see any - although we have many times before - the little stripey babies are enchanting, Daddy a bit less so.

Most people who keep horses are ever on the alert for mice and rats around the feedhouse area. Since our property is bounded on three sides by running water, rats (yuk) have always been in evidence around here - although much less so recently, which I have put down to the efforts of our ratophile terriers, Oddjob and Mabel.

Although all our grain, feed etc is kept safely in an old chest freezer in our feedhouse, every so often you hear a scurrying when opening the feedhouse door, with some rat or mouse chancing their luck. My strategy is always to send the terriers in first, and let them deal with it, which they do extremely efficiently and quickly.

Hearing a tell-tale patter one morning, I sent the 'girls' in. Suddenly all hell broke loose, with yelping, yapping, and crashing going on. That didn't sound like a rat or mouse! Terrified that they might have cornered a cat which had sneaked in overnight, I rushed in to call off the dogs - to find them in the process of despatching a young male mink.

Mink are a huge problem in the rivers in this area, as in many others in the UK. They are not native - they are from North America and were brought over and bred for the fur trade. Many subsequently escaped (or were set free by well-meaning animal rights protesters).

Whilst I'm happy that the fur farms no longer function, the ones which have escaped (and bred) have murdered everything within sight of British rivers - fish, birds, voles and many other species.

Many landowners and farmers are attempting to control the population via mink rafts on rivers, which have a clay bottom where you can track mink visits - they are then trapped and humanely destroyed. We, too, are part of this scheme - needless to say, our mink rafts have never seen so much as a pawprint. Obviously this young fellow preferred the easy pickings around the feedhouse - perhaps it was him who was responsible for the recent lack of rodents around the place?

The terriers survived their experience without so much as a scratch - a miracle really, as mink are extremely aggressive when cornered and have very sharp teeth. The dogs' only complaint is that there isn't a mink in there every morning when they rush in excitedly, ready for a thrilling battle.

Wednesday, 7 July 2010

Riding the Angus Glens

Yeoman & I took a break from all that book typing a few weeks ago to head up the Angus Glens. For us, this is our 'backyard'. Now, we are almost certainly biased, but for sheer off-road riding pleasure, this area is hard to beat. It boasts a wide selection of routes, from low-level grassy tracks to much higher and more intrepid riding, suitable for the experienced horse and rider.
Here we have just crossed a trackless section in the Caenlochan National Nature Reserve (very fitting for Yeoman of Caenlochan). Yes, that is snow! Luckily most of it had disappeared in a piece of land famous for its bogs, or I wouldn't be typing this.

On this three-day excursion, we headed from home up Glenisla, then over the tops into Glen Doll and Glen Clova, then home via Glen Prosen, the prettiest of them all. We were accompanied by Vyv Wood-Gee on her Fell pony Micky, using it as a training ride for this summer's expedition from Skye to Smithfield in London, in the footsteps of the drovers. (They set off at the end of June).
With the exception of the section pictured, the ride offered some straightforward riding, with nothing too demanding - just perfect for a not-too-fit combination like us at the start of the season! It offered a perfect break from being hunched over the computer (for me) and non-stop eating (Yeoman and - er - me as well actually.) Stress, y'know.

Take a Bow!

Yes, you...for sticking with this blog which hasn't been updated for a while. The reason is I've been giving birth... no, not to one of those pink squally baby things, but to a new book, Discover Off-Road Riding, written in conjunction with my good friend Shonagh Steven BHSII.

The book, which has taken about ten times longer to produce than we originally thought, as is quite normal in the publishing world, aims to answer all those questions people have when they start heading off: where to ride, what to take, training your horse or pony, navigating, camping with your horse - and what to do if things go wrong. In fact, it's the book I wished I'd had when I started stravaiging the countryside on horseback, all those many years ago.

It was launched by the British Horse Society at the Royal Highland Show (many thanks to them) and has been selling very well ever since, hooray! Just as pleasing is the feedback we have been getting which suggests people really like it. There just isn't any other way of getting all that information in one place at the moment.

It's going to be available in lots of horsy places very soon, but if you really can't wait (and indeed, why should you?) you can purchase it securely online here. Alternatively, I hold some copies here and you can send a cheque for £16.99 + £2.50 p & p (payable to K Godfrey please) for rapid despatch to:
Inverquiech, By Alyth, Blairgowrie, Perthshire PH11 8JR.
OK, that's quite enough of the selling - let's move on to...