On Sunday we had our first HERD (Horse Explorers Roaming Devon) walk, which i had been looking forward to all week, taking the ponies for lots of little practice walks too. As could have been predicted however, on the morning of the HERD walk, the weather forecast changed for the worst! We arrived at the ponies’ field to see all four of them taking shelter along the furthest hedge line - somewhere they shouldn't have had access to, so must have broken through some electric fencing - oh, perfect! As Bill and I stepped out of the van, we were encased in a whirlwind of almighty gusts, and a world of knocking and crashing while the howling wind reaps havoc. I got in touch with Catherine to tell her that it was up to her if she still wanted to bring along her horse, Alice.
Alice and Catherine have a dressage clinic coming up, so the more loading and travelling the better, with short trips like this ideal in the run up to a longer drive. Alice loaded well, and Catherine set off despite the wind my end.
Then the rain came too! At this point I contacted those who had expressed interest in coming, and let them know that they were very welcome to still come along, but I quite understood if not, because we might not get the ponies out for a walk in this weather. As with any new group, even just meeting up to touch base and bounce ideas off of each other is a valuable piece in the cultivation of a successful group. As it happened, everybody still seemed keen!
Jenny Nott arrived at the gate first, and she and I exchanged pleasantries while I continued in my dash to complete the mucking out, making our humble field look presentable for visitors. Of course, we knew as soon as Alice was on the way down the lane, as all four ponies stood alert, nostrils flaring as they took in the scent of a stranger, with Skylark marking the occasion with a loud and resounding neigh into the wind.
Kind and gentle Alice took stock of her surroundings while Catherine opened up the horsebox, and then she carefully stepped out onto solid ground. She has met Skylark, Spirit, and Ash once before, so I imagine something like oh no, not them! May have been going through her head, plus the fact that they had an additional miniature Shetland (Shadow) with them now too!
Catherine walked Alice along our track and into the top half of the field, where Alice could enjoy the luxury of a dry underfoot field, and a reasonable amount of grass too. My four slowly realised that they could head out into the bottom half of the field, and actually meet Alice over the fence. When realisation struck, they raced over to the fence, and all jostled to investigate this stranger on they land! Alice purposefully positioned herself away from them and nonchalantly ate more grass. This may look like she was ignoring them, but actually she had her eyes on the intense four the entire time as she grazed.
It seemed clear that all 5 horses needed more time to process this situation, so we walked down to the tack room for a cup of coffee. Mickey and Emma from Munchkins then arrived and met all of us, plus Hilary the cat, who was delighted at having numerous people to receive love from! Bill headed off at this point, for he had already decided that this would not be a sensible day to take Ash, his pony, out on the roads in a large group of people and horses. Rather sensible, horse centred thinking on his part. We all walked back out to admire and observe the herd dynamics again, all from the other side of the fence so as not to interfere in their important introductions. Mickey and Emma found it a real treat to watch horses larger than miniature Shetlands, particularly Alice in all her Shire horse glory. As another band of rain came in, another cup of coffee sounded like a great idea. We arranged some hay bales to sit on in the hay shelter, and settled in to a discussion covering new ideas for the HERD group. We had all decided this would be just as productive as heading out for a walk, and seemed like the right thing to do in such horrendous weather. That is, until I got a text message from Devon Haylage’s Claire Burrow, saying she was ready to meet us with one of her horses! I quickly messaged her back to let her know all the horses were running riot in the storm, but would she be happy for us to come and join her instead? She agreed that was no problem, and that meant she could take her Dartmoor foals out as well. We headed off.
At this point I want to give a shout out to Devon Haylage, who work tirelessly to produce exceptional forage for whatever your equine's needs - click on the logo below to head over to their website.
Now, it turns out that it had been a stormy microclimate at our place, as we are very exposed to North Westerly winds, which gave us a completely false perception of what the weather was like everywhere else! Down at Waxway Farm, sheltered from the wind there was barely a breeze, and no rain! Each of us were heavily over dressed, and all a little overheated in this delightfully sheltered new environment. No wonder Claire thought it was bonkers that none of our horses were able to come for the walk!
We set off on Waxway Farm’s “walk around the block”, six of us, with three ponies and two dogs; Dora the Exmoor (also known as Dora the Explorer), Arrow and Gypsy the Dartmoor foals, and Alfie and Jess the dogs. The first challenge was walking three ponies through a field of Devon Haylage’s ryegrass crop - “Haribo grass” as Claire called it with regards to native ponies at least. This was a little too exciting for whizzy colt, Arrow. Catherine helped try to channel his energy as he sprang around on the spot like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. Soon we were out of this field, and I gave Dora’s rope to Emma, and offered to take Arrow’s lead rope from Catherine so that she could have a break from leading a pony like a kite! Dora and Gypsy seemed to take the whole walk in their stride, while the dogs played in the grass and delighted at new smells. New smells were a delight for the ponies too, each of them breathing in deep the particulars from any horse poo they came across as we walked on the lanes at the foot of East Hill.
I think we only came across one car on the East Hill lanes. It was a perfect Sunday stroll from that respect! What we did see were plenty of Primroses, which had popped out of stone walls, and decorated grassy banks. Daffodils were beginning to put on a joyful show too. The yellow of the Primroses and Daffodils begins to add colour into the the winter picture of dull greens and browns, and the overriding undertone of excessive mud.
Turning right down a bridleway, there was a gateway where previously, Bill and Ash and I have stopped and admired the view of rolling devon hills. At this point Arrow did some gateway grazing while I took my coat back from Jenny, who I had offloaded it to when keeping up with energetic Arrow had kept me warm. Arrow regarded a giant tower of haylage bales wrapped in black plastic. Although mildly fearful, he stood his ground and decided flight was not necessary. His equus curiosity was satisfied, and we moved on. We eventually got to a stony track, which has a constant stream of water running down it at this time of year. This is narrow and rocky, with plenty of interesting browsing opportunities for the ponies. What it does require though, is good scrambling skills, and to walk in single file. It is harder to negotiate this downhill rocky track if you want to walk beside your pony rather than in front or behind him or her. Emma queried this as Dora took off at her own pace, choosing her footing with perfect native pony precision, while Emma struggled to scramble after her. Claire advised her to loop the rope over her back, the technique of which I demonstrated, and then let her go, if need be. Once we did this, Dora was far happier with the arrangement, and marched down the track at her own pace, taking mouthfuls of sedge grass and investigating various different types of leaves and branches as she went. By this point in the walk Arrow and Gypsy were thoroughly enjoying investigating the stimulating smells and sounds of water, mud, and scents on the air. The various textures underfoot must also be so stimulating for proprioception.
After tackling this track, we arrived back out onto Waxway Farm - Arrow and I did this in style, scaling up a Devon bank, and then scrambling down the other side. Gypsy and Mickey followed suit. It is always nice to find onconventional routes - far more gymnasticising for both horse and human too!
The last little challenge was to head back over Claire’s narrow bridge to get to the ponies’ yard. Arrow and I went first, and then Dora with Catherine - Catherine stood no chance as Dora bustled in front of her and marched over the bridge, then out onto the bank, using trees as a slalom on her way down. There was me thinking me and Arrow had been adventurous in our little bank adventure!
Back on the yard and head collars off - the ponies disappeared into a field and had an obligatory roll. At this point Trevor the goat stole the show, and got plenty of fuss from us all, plus the odd goat treat provided by Claire. Everybody was delighted to have been out for a walk, even if not with the ponies we had originally intended to take out!
On arrival back to our field, we could see that introductions were still underway. Lunchtime was calling for us humans, so we said our goodbyes and parted ways, all very satisfied with the first HERD walk.
Catherine and I went back to mine for lunch, numerous cups of tea, and a business chat. In the afternoon we took Alice and Shadow for a tiny little walk up to the road and back, which was more than enough for them at this stage. It is so important to take the small steps, in order for our horses to truly enjoy the activities we want to enjoy with them. This is why we will never be afraid to take an extremely relaxed pace over these HERD meetings, and ensure that flexibility for horse’s sake is the overarching message, always.