Wednesday, 17 August 2011

Custom Pack Rigging

Dino and I would like to say an enormous special thanks to Custom Pack Rigging, whose saddle was donated to the Long Riders' Guild for trial purposes and we were able to use.

Custom Pack Rigging are a Canadian company that specialises in all aspects of packhorse equipment and has - thankfully - designed a saddle that is fully adjustable and can therefore be made to fit any horse, pony (okay, not one as small as Dazzy), donkey, mule
and, as I have heard, even camels and cattle. Of course I also changed the width for Dino as he first lost weight and then put it on again with all the good grass we found on the way. We were really happy to use it as it made packing so easy. I always knew exactly where things were in the boxes, which are 100% waterproof, couldn't rub Dino's sides and were very durable even when they did get banged around. Again they were one of those things we would not have liked to go without and which made our whole journey that bit easier. They were especially good for me travelling alone without any help to pack up horses and keep organised.

Many thanks and thanks to the Long Riders' Guild for allowing us to do the first part of the trial!

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Home Sweet Home

Sorry for not writing sooner. I hope nobody has been worried that we might have gone missing in action.

Alas, we are home again - and have been for a little while. It's not easy to write when you are mentally still lost somewhere along the countless lanes we saw, while physically in something like your normal life again. Work is getting back to normal, though with its normal summer low and the ponies are having a well earned break, so there isn't much to do. I've taken to studying Welsh - which I had decided while still on the way - to fill the remaining time. Another language is at least a little challenge now that I can't spend all day walking.

So what happened with our trip?

Well, on the day we spent with the Hereford cows, Artax must have rolled in thistles or nettles or something similar and got a rash and lots of strange round spots on the left side of his neck. They did not seem to itch or hurt, so we continued. Then, the next morning, he had a very swollen nose. Again it did not seem to bother him and he ate and drank normally, so I put some anti-inflammatory cream on it and was happy to see it quite a bit better within a few hours, though it took several days to go down to almost normal again. We went on for two more days to the place with the friendly donkey who offered to wash the dishes and had a day off there, then did the short trip of just 14 miles over to Elizabeth's; that's the place with the outdoor shower from the beginning of our trip.
There we were really well received again and had already planned to stay for at least a couple of days to give us all some rest, have a nice time socialising, ride out on the common and go to the pace races on Saturday.

The next day Artax decided to get yet another thing - his left eye was swollen. Not much, it was only around the eye, the eye was the normal colour, nothing was inflamed and, again, it did not seem to bother him. I finally spoke to a vet, who was very reassuring. He said not to worry, to put some tea on the eye and just watch things. Apparently lots of horses were having allergic reactions to flies. Whether the tea helped or not, his eye was good the next day - only to swell up again in the evening, but again it was fine in the morning and then stayed like that.

So... in this situation... with just about six days to go to get home... I wondered whether we should do it or be really responsible and give it a miss. Elizabeth had just bought a new horse box and was quite eager to try it... and so it happened that we decided to drive the ponies home... very responsible...

Anyway, who knows what was actually wrong with Artax, but it cannot have been anything serious. Maybe he just felt his nineteen years a little bit.
Now the ponies have had a few weeks of rest and seem happy - though maybe a bit bored with the monotony of always being on the same field instead of walking all day. The same for Maggie, who doubtless is enjoying the comfort of her bed and often enough the settee, but misses the exercise and constant activity every day. We are compensating by going cycling, jogging and walking (must keep fit myself!) and normally take Dazzy on the cycling trips, too.

And what do we learn from all this?

Well, the trip was AMAZING, I enjoyed very nearly every single moment of it and hope to bore my grandchildren with the stories one day. As you will have seen from our stories, long rides are a very simple activity. When you are well prepared, have well trained animals and a little portion of luck to go with it, nothing dramatic or especially exciting happens. That's the wonderful thing about it - the simplicity. You just wake up in the morning and have exactly two jobs for the day: take care of the team and walk. It's physically demanding, but mentally relaxing.
Be well prepared, have a very good or, if you can't find a good one, no travel partner at all, be friendly, polite, open-minded and always in a good mood and you will receive the same in return from close to everybody. The people I have met on the way have been amazing! The hospitality has by far exceeded any hopes I may have dared to have before leaving - fields, meals, showers, baths, washed clothes, animal food... We were taken amazing care of!

An enormous THANK YOU to everybody who helped us on the way or just simply stopped for a friendly chat along the way.

Thank you for the hundreds of pounds in donations that were given to me on the way and through the Just Giving Website. Of course the website is still open for more donations :o)

The pages are: for Compassion in World Farming and

And thank you again to our sponsors for their invaluable supplies!
The ponies did brilliantly in their Easyboots, which lasted the entire trip and will still be given a bit of use before they are finally laid to rest. This was the first time I used gaiters, something I had been worried about before setting off. I had thought they would be sure to rub, but they were perfect! I can only stress how much better, safer, healthier - and of course cheaper - it is to not have metal nailed to your horses' hooves and really hope that more and more people at last make the change. Again, why do we spend loads of money on shoes with the latest technology soles for ourselves while we still keep our horses in an ancient invention that has few properties that we would expect of our own footwear?

Maggie would hardly have managed the journey without her RuffWear dog boots. She did not need them full-time like the ponies, but every few days for the first five weeks until her pads were sufficiently hardened off. Of course they are also good for dogs that do not get so much exercise, but have hurt a paw or have to go out on salted roads in the winter. Yes, they really do stay on the paws well! Maggie was also kindly given a backpack that was fantastic for her to carry her own doggie essentials around during the day. She accepted that perfectly and was happy to take a bit of weight. Then there was of course also the collapsible food bowl that lasted the whole trip and came back still looking like new - great quality!

The Satmap GPS was clearly the thing that made the difference on this trip, and made following the route a pleasure that required hardly any thought or attention. With a GPS you simply know exactly where you are at any moment and can therefore easily find the correct turnings without checking the landscape or counting junctions you pass and it simply doesn't let you get lost! It is completely stress-free navigation. I had spare batteries with me to last around 10 days at any time, that is five sets. Though I never used more than three of them as we almost always found places where I was able to charge the gadgets. The 1:200,000 map pages I had in Dino's luggage for emergencies were not needed a single time. Instead of dozens of OS maps, we just got away with one small unit that spent the trip glued to my side as my constant reference point. As a little extra, it was of course nice to know exactly how far we had been in a day.

Saturday, 6 August 2011

Annandale Observer

Craven Herald

Well, they didn't quite get the miles right and Artax is with an "a" and not an "e", but I like the picture. We were at about 800 miles when I met them and still went on from there.