Sunday, 23 August 2009

The misery that is Summer 2009

I lost a lamb today. Smali Tomas, the grey katmoget twin. I'm not sure what of; he was just lying dead like he had fallen asleep. He always was a bit of a runt and I didn't give him or his brother 24 hrs at birth. Actually I expected to loose his brother but he has now picked up and is doing nicely.

The worst thing is that I know that I ought to have split the twins and given one to Robina when hers was taken by a predator. Perhaps then he would have survived. But I didn't: I was going to Norway for work the next day and didn't want to leave Chris with a problem if Robina rejected him.

We are having the most horrendous weather here and I suspect that he was small and weak and simply couldn't cope with this prolonged wet horribleness :o( The girls have now weaned their lambs and I think that this was perhaps just too much for him although he was trotting round with his brother and didn't look ill, he just wasn't growing.

The wet weather is affecting all of the sheep, but at least the rest are now putting on condition again. I have to get everyone in every day and tend to feet though. All hoof stock are suffering around here, my friends' horses feet included.

Sigh. I'm feeling really low right now, yet as I write this the sky is brightening through the still lashing rain. Things have to pick up soon, don't they?

Tuesday, 11 August 2009

Swimming with horses

Most people go for swimming with dolphins or beautiful fishes, but not here at Knapdale! Yesterday the sun smiled warmly for my first time in the saddle since moving up here six months ago. I now keep my sheep at Brenfield, a local riding stables and they have been encouraging me to come out with them for a while. Since the sheep were still wet from the morning's downpour, I had no excuse but to hop on a horse and enjoy the stunning scenery... and a bit of a dip!

My mount was Seamus, a dark bay little chap, very capable but with a bit of a determined streak. He is great with beginners because they let him get away with eating and going where he likes; and very popular with experienced riders because he's clever and forward going; for folk somewhere in the middle like me he is quite a handful and tests you every step of the way... which is exactly what I need!
I soon learned that Seamus likes to be at the front and steps out positively, ignoring the fact that the only other horses ahead of him were a good couple of hands taller. We were encouraged to ride as a group rather than a line and try to spend some time with everyone. Somehow however, Seamus would work through the group until he could see the way ahead again.

Under the expert instruction of Tove Gray-Stephens who is an international le trec judge, this was more than your average trail ride. Participants benefit from Toves instruction and the horses are extremely well trained, not suffering from "school fatigue" and following nose to tail in a bored fashion. 10 of the horses at Brenfield qualified last week for the British TREC Championships and these same horses are used for clients.
We negotiated boggy ground, steep rocky descents, ditches and streams. The horses took it all in their stride while those of us on board stuck our heels down and kept them collected; I think Seamus would have galloped off gleefully at some points!
The highlight of the ride was of course the much anticipated swim in a local sea loch. Seamus needed some coxing into the water but once he got going it was a wonderful sensation to be floating on horseback.

After the swim the horses were all feeling very fresh and excited and then my fun with Seamus really started! Because we had all been handling our horses fairly well and to burn off a bit of energy, Tove instructed us in how to take a very steep narrow rocky track back up to the stables. "The horses will need to gallop to this to get up and you must keep them moving for the momentum they need. Use the neck rope if you need to and lean right forward along your horses neck to avoid the over head branches."

Seamus knew where we were going and began to dance and fight for his head. One of the other instructors, SJ, looked at me earnestly, "if he tries to go just spin him on the spot and keep spinning him!" We went one at a time and we were third. I managed to keep him spinning until Tove was about to say go, when Seamus pre-empted her and shot forward. I lent forward as instructed as my experienced mount took the rocky track in his stride and bounded to the top in no time. It was such an adrenalin rush and I met the other grinning riders already waiting at the top.

Seamus however didn't want to wait for everyone else, he wanted to carry on galloping. I spun him round and round but realised that we were about to spin into a ditch so tried to steer him round it: he took his chance and lept sideways and tried to shoot off. I'm afraid to say that I lost my balance and, on realising that there was a tree about to smack into me, make the swift decision to take the fall; I'm not sure how much choice I had from my position anyway!

Muddily I got to my feet, shaken but none the worse for wear. I caught my horse, who had decided not to gallop off after all and, with SJ holding his head, I clambered back on board. We argued for a few moments about how we would continue but with SJ's expert instruction, I relaxed and rode Seamus at a calm walk back to the stables.
It is a much better feeling, despite the bruises, (and quiet teary moment with seamus in his stall - sorry I'm a wuss and was a little shocked!) to feel as though I've been riding, rather than just sat on a horse! Seamus and I will definitely be having another trip out together soon. Apparently he only tests people he likes!

Sunday, 9 August 2009

BFL fans in Argyll

Yesterday, Chris and I went along to the Mid Argyll Show. Local Agricultural Shows are a bit of a British Institution; a traditional gathering of local people showing off their wares and skills. This of course dates back to a time when to escape the farm was rare. The men and women would have led insular lives, probably only seeing folk other than their immediate neighbours (who may not have been very immediate at all!) during church, trips to the market and other such necessary events.

Local shows were important for social and networking reasons, but also to promote the farm's quality of livestock. Good results would improve demand and market prices for breeding stock. For the women, it gave the opportunity to show how well they did their job: feeding their family and keeping the home (of course they would also have worked their socks off on the farm), hence the "craft" and "home produce" tent.

Nowadays little has changed, although there are fewer farmers and the country is no longer full of those likely to enter such contests. Many small shows are in danger of dying out. I think it's really important to conserve this aspect of country life. The beer tent was reassuringly full of smiling folk catching up with oneanother and so I think that the Mid-Argyll show is safe for a while yet!

Sadly we were without sheep since I had so much on my plate that I didn't know whether I'd be able to attend at the entry closing date. I had hoped to see some other Shetlands there, but all I found were meat breeds, Scottish Black Faces and lots of these:

But I thought that BFL fans might like to see them!
We also found lovely Highland Cows
perused the impressive vegetables in the produce tent
And the beatifully crafted crooks on display.

We found our friends Mary-Lou and John Aitchison and their three super kids, Freya, Rowan and Kirsty riding their ponies in the showing, jumping and games competitions.
It was great to see the young riders enjoying themselves, and ponies Glen and Pebble made sure that the Aitchisons didn't go home empty handed.
Pebble seemed rather pleased to have completed her duties however and relaxed in her posh new bandages while waiting for home.

Friday, 7 August 2009

A holiday!!!!!

It has been a long time since Chris and I had time off away from home, we've hardly left Knapdale since we moved here 6 months ago and since the beavers were released I've scarcely had a day completely work free.

This week and next however, I am OFF WORK. That means that I haven't even replied to a single e-mail! Ha, now that's self discipline! To ensure that I stuck to this, we took the dogs off to a secret little spot somewhere near Campletown where there was no mobile reception, no TV, no Internet, no running water outside the streams and absolutely no talk of beavers!

We had a rare beautiful couple of days:

we walked miles across open countryside
climbed rocks
caught crabs in the rock pools

Found a secret beach
with feral goats!
and a poignant reminder of the power of those waves.
We found beaches of fine white sand, and multicoloured pebbles.
Fabulous wild flower meadows
and golden eagles, a juvenile fox and this silky female slow worm.
All just an hour from home. Now why would we go anywhere else?