Hi, I’m David, married to
Liz, and I’m rather older
than most people in the group, although most people are kind enough
to say that it doesn’t show that much!
My brother with
Vicky holding my sister; I'm riding Jessie. Summer 1959
My first real encounter with horses that I
can remember was as a small boy on holiday on a Cornish farm: a
draft horse called Darling, who I rode on whilst bringing the
wheat sheaves back to the stackyard, and a chestnut pony called
Jessie, who we rode bareback whilst firmly holding on to some
mane and being confidently lead by Vicky, one of the farmer’s three daughters.
there had been several much closer encounters since then, I did not
learn to ride ‘properly’ until about twenty years ago. Finding a
riding school that is willing to take an adult male can be quite a challenge
(no suitable horses or suspicious of my motives) but there was a very reputable dressage school not so far away
and lessons were arranged. Hah, after about five nanoseconds, I
realised that this hour was going to be the highlight of my week
for some time to come.
My real reason for wanting to
learn to ride was so that I could go out for hacks with
Arab x Hunter chestnut mare), who was Liz’s horse at the time and
who was not a novice ride. Fortunately for me, one of our friends
kept her mare in
Rushymeade at our back gate and at stables at the farm across
the road where Liz also kept Fern. Cinders was more suitable for a
novice and I was soon able to take her out with
another friend riding Fern, as Liz and Fern did not get on well (their
temperaments were too similar, I think). However, Fern and I had
always got on well so, confidence built up a bit, I tried going for
a short hack with her. It took about the same five nanoseconds to
decide that this was what I was going to be doing in future.
So, for several years I took Fern out on the quiet bridleways around
Pulloxhill in Bedfordshire, usually on our own but occasionally with other people in the
village (no, let’s be honest, occasionally with young women in the
village!). Having ‘stolen’ Liz’s horse she then set about finding
another one and eventually found
Nenagh, who many of you will know.
Sadly, Fern's kidneys started to give up in the summer of 2007 and we said
good-bye to her in October. Read
My Fond Memory of Fern.
It was Liz who ‘discovered’ natural
horsemanship, through Hev, and she started working with
Nenagh. At about the same time, our farrier found
Claude for me; we’d
asked her about three years before to keep a look out for a
suitable horse for me because Fern was getting on a bit and I’m
Hev was very encouraging and complimentary in saying that, although we’d
not had any natural training, we were well on the way there on our own
with the way we looked after and rode our horses. Of course, Hev was
then equally discouraging by moving away to Devon! Fortunately, at
about this time we met Row and Sam who said there were other aspiring
natural horse owners in the area and, before not too long, a meeting at
Fiona and Estelle’s parents' home lead to what was to become the very
informal Naturally Horses group. As I was a cofounder of an internet
marketing company, I volunteered to manage a website
with an e-mail discussion group, the idea was accepted and
I also work for
who offer horse riding
holidays around the world. In the
spring of 2004, I went on a Moroccan adventure:
Atlas Explorer Trail (extensive write-up), which started in the desert
at a small kasbah in the palm plantation of Skoura,
traversed the High Atlas Mountains (pass of Tizi-n-Tichka at
8000 feet) and finished on the Plains of Marrakech. The complete trip was
230 miles and involved ten and a half days of riding in the
early part of May, although the weather was 'unseasonably
cold' in the mountains, hence the warm clothing I have on in
the picture. There were five riders, although only two
of us, and our two guides, had time to complete
the whole traverse.
At the time, Nassim was not a very 'personable' horse;
he would rather you let him get on with his job and then you can
just get on with yours. He didn't do this bonding 'stuff'
or whinnying and whickering like the other stallions on the
traverse would for their riders but I was still sad to
have to say good-bye to him after a fortnight.
(However, I rode him again as an escort for a
raising challenge (short write-up) in 2006 and he was transformed - we are now
following year, I joined two others from
Unicorn Trails as a horse guide on a corporate holiday for
150 people from an international management consultancy that
involved riding the first few days of the High Atlas
Explorer Trail. I was disappointed that Nassim was not
amongst the troupe that we used; I'd liked to have seen him
again and would certainly have asked for him if it'd been
possible. One day I must collate the
photographs and write up this remarkable desert experience!
By way of a rest from the corporate
holiday work, I went on the
in in Spain September last year. Here is just one
picture of Hasni and me in the mountains. It was a
shame that the weather was so wet in a region that is
normally so dry, and had been for about two years - until I
arrived! There are more pictures and a write up of this
canyon and mountain trail on my website.
Here I am with Nassim again, this time on
Skoura to Tarbahlt Desert Trail in February, 2006 when I
was an escort for Unicorn Trails to a party of riders who
raised nearly 100,000 Euro for the Irish Heart Foundation on the
Moroccan Horse Trek Challenge. Although the five and half days riding,
for up to nine hours per day, through taxing terrain was
quite demanding, the highlight of the trip for me was the
gallops to our final campsite in the sand dunes. On my
own website, there
pictures, and a write-up of this charity desert challenge
but here (to the left) you may see a video of the gallop* .
This video clip is 2½ minutes, and subtitled:
"I'm not sure if this was covered by the travel
OK, I could not resist just one more picture - here I am
(below) at the end of the first gallop; the last gallop was
to our white tents in the sand dunes in the distance.
The riders with their Icelandic Horses
Trails offers a riding holiday destination, a senior person
in the company goes to check it out - it's a tough job but
somebody has to do it! Liz and I recently went
together to check on the Yates Trail
in Co. Sligo in NW Ireland and then I went to Iceland to ride on the
Glacier Trail. We rode 160 miles in five and a
half days, from the coast in the south up over the
highlands, through the glaciers, to the Atlantic in the
north (almost to the Arctic Circle). We had 73 Icelandic
horses for 20 riders and we each changed horses once or
twice every day; the unridden horses ran free with us, a
group of riders at the front to stop them overtaking, and a
group at the rear to encourage them on when they dawdled or
stopped to eat the meagre grass.
I went on another exploratory ride for
Unicorn Trails: the Forest
and Lakes Trail in Sweden, riding with Natural
Horsemanship as the heart of the experience. The North
Swedish Horses (cold bloods) are powerful but biddable
animals, real ‘diesels’ in their performance (bit slow
to warm up but they go and go and go!) We rode in
side-pull (bitless) bridles. Rather than a
point-to point trail, this was a 'star ride', that is out to
different locations in the forest for a picnic lunch and
then back to a very
comfortable ‘pub’ (within the horse barn) and farm
house accommodation each evening. There is mandatory
natural horsemanship tuition, demonstrations and exercises
on the first day before a gentle ride on forest tracks.
On the daily rides, we had many
long canters, but we also had a night-time moonlight ride,
when we swam in a lake, baked bread, relaxed in an open air hot tub and
had a BBQ. On one evening we had hands-on
experience driving a draught horse for timber
collection. On my last day, I was privileged to be given Bull to
ride, the largest horse on the farm who was originally
trained as a draught horse and had only recently been out
on the trials.
is always in popular demand for riding holidays and, although
Unicorn Trails had rides there (including over
the Andes in Patagonia and Chile to Argentina - Across
the Andes ), I was fortunate to be able to go
out and investigate Andes mountain rides in the Salta region, in
the north west, and in the Mendoza region in the centre of the
riding in Salta, I was taken on a tour of the arid areas where I
delighted in the desert and mountain scenery with Giant Cactus
and the ruins of lost native cultures and I was already won
first ride was up and over the Chilo Slopes, in the Andes Range,
which divide two valleys: one green and lush, the other brown
and dry. It was fascinating to observe the vegetation
change from the familiar European grasses and oak trees to the
the cactus and other desert plants. Three of us rode fine,
native horses but we also took along a mule to carry our
provisions, as there there were no roads or villages on the way.
Ready to set
off up the slopes again.
the summit >
Our ride ended
at the tiny but delightful town of Amblayo at 8000 ft (2400 m) where
there were no cars and the only visible means of transport was
equine - or human.
It was here that our host
family proudly asked me if I would like to ride their Paso Fino
stallion around the square. Of course I was a little nervous
but how could I pass such an honour of an invitation? The
owner brought the stallion out and he offered to ride him first,
which seemed like a fair and reassuring idea to me. Excitement
mounted as he swished confidently around the dusty town square and
observers appeared from 'nowhere' - and then it was my turn!
Now, you know that feeling when you sense all a horse's energy is
stored in a big spring and it's time to go ... Actually,
although I say it myself, I thought I did quite well.
Having made my successful
circuit, our host raised his hand and, through my Argentinean
companion as an interpreter, commented that I had rode well but,
next time around the square, I might like to go not quite so
close to all the mares shading under the trees!
Riding the Paso Fino stallion around the square in Amblayo
I was able to sample only just this part of the Incas
Trail Expedition that is now available from Unicorn Trails.
really want to leave the Salta region because I was not really
looking forward to the overnight bus journey to Mendoza; I have
experienced overnight bus journeys in various parts of the world
before and there'd not been much to choose between them. But
this bus journey was almost the highlight of the trip! The
bus was more like a small moving hotel that left a very pleasant
central bus terminal in Salta at about four in the afternoon and
arrived at Mendoza at about nine the following morning. We
were served tea shortly after the journey began, then I read and
dozed, was woken up to have my evening meal with wine, and more
wine and a movie. At about eleven, I reclined my chair into
a completely horizontal position and the next thing I remember was
being gently woken up just after eight to be asked if I would like
some breakfast - and we were 600 miles to the south west in
The High Andes,
As I was in Mendoza
in November and early December, it was too early to be able to go
over the High Andes,
even if there had been time, but I was able to ride on just
part of the trail that is now Chile
to Argentina - Across The Andes, which follows the
historic route of San Martín in 1817 when his army crossed
the High Andes to liberate the people of Chile in 1817.
However, I promised myself that I really will do this one
day - and so I did, in January, 2010 - see
San Martín took cavalry horses, although many perished,
but to conserve them as best he could the riders rode mules
that were far more suited to the mountain terrain. The
animals for this trip were provided by the Argentinean army
in La Palenquera so I was able to ride an Argentinean army
horse for part of the way but I was privileged also to ride
one of their mules that is regularly used by the cavalry to
patrol the upland regions. She was sure footed and
very comfortable to ride so - apart from the larger ears in
the view - you would not know that you were with a
mule. I think mules have had a very bad press from horse riders.
Did I mention the wine? My
surveys our afternoon meal. All our provisions were
carried by the trusty army mules
Mules do not deserve their bad press (IMHO) >
After the riding, I was taken on a trip
around a vineyard in an open two-horse carriage and in a
4x4 to see abandoned slate mines (shade of my exploits as
a teenager in North Wales), which was all very interesting
but, eventually, we had to return by plane to Buenos
Aires. After the wonderful wildernesses of
Salta and Mendoza, the bustling and exciting city was
quite a shock but quite marvelous in its own way. I
was taken on the most extraordinarily different bus tour
(bus to first place, blinds are wound down, short
introductory video on the area, get out and walk, back on
bus to next place, repeat - brilliant!) but the less that
is said about my disastrous Tango lessons with a young
dance teacher the better. The Tango dinner and
lively entertainment afterwards made up for it, though.
Charity Riders in Wadi Rum, Jordan
In 2007, Unicorn Trails was asked to arrange another
charity horse trek for for the Irish Heart Foundation,
this time to be in Wadi Rum in Jordan. Again, there
were about 25 riders and much of the challenge was in the
basic accommodation and ablution arrangements - of the
latter there were none, and of the former there was the open
sky, all of which suited me but it was not universally
As well as the
desert riding, we visited Petra and stayed for one night in
a luxury hotel by the Dead Sea.
This ride was
adapted from Unicorn Trails ride, Wadi
Long canters and gallops in the crisp Russian snow
2009, I escorted
nine riders on a Snow Adventure in Russia; it was also a sort of
exploratory ride for Unicorn Trails so I was also there to check
it, although we were very confident that it would be fine
because our French counterparts had sent riders and an escort
for the past few years. It was a wonderful experience, quite
different from other rides: -25C but clear, still and bright
(actually, I used to live on the North American prairie, so it was
not a first in that sense - and improved by there being no
wind :) but wrapped up well with lots of layers and plenty of
long trots, we were never cold. With overnight sleeper trains
to and from the Vologda region where we were riding, we also
had a lightning tour of Moscow on arrival and similar visit
to St Petersburg, including the Hermitage, before departure.
Most people, who know that I went, thought I was nuts but I shall
always remember this adventure.
were also three non-riders and they travelled in the troika or
the duga; all our horses were willing but we all had a soft
spot for these courageous horses.
Not many people would think of Ethiopia as an adventurous
holiday destination but Ethiopia is a large country and
many parts are not representative of those that sadly make
the international news. By riding in the Bale Mountains in
the Ethiopian Highlands, I was pleased to be able to make
a small contribution to a co-operative conservation effort
in the Oromia Region that promotes sustainable and
community-based management of the forest.
Changiti Forest dwellers are encouraged to find
an alternative to wood collection as a source of income. All tourism in the region comes through the
forest users group union (representing the large
community) and a locally owned and run Tour Guides’
Association; payments go directly to them. Each day,
a new team of horses and assistants are hired from the
local community to ensure that each community (and not
just the ones at the foot of the mountains) gain from
tourism. Upon arrival at each forest camp the
assistants feed the horses and then bring them back to
their homes. The next day, a new team of horses and
assistants are hired from the local community.
through the dappled Changiti Forest ...
and into the open uplands
The brave little
horses are ridden in a bit-less, Cherokee-type of rope bridle, which
were easy to untie when we stopped for a break but not so easy to put
back again! The expert horsemen would retie them for each of us
in a few seconds.
My horse, Blanc,
pauses for thought during a break in the forest.
also brought along all our provisions, camping gear and personal
belongings; the horsemen walked as they had to take their horses
back at the end of the day.
The farmers are all
very proud of their horses and, of course, they all want theirs to be the
ones to be chosen for the ride for the day. Some are decorated in the
hope of making them more appealing, whilst others are decorated after they
are chosen as a celebration.
provided money to buy barley so that our horses could be fed each
morning, before the ride began, and again in the afternoon before
their owners rode them back home again. Most of the horses
knew what to do with their grain but some clearly had never come
across it before and were quite suspicious at first.
Here I am higher
up in the region - as you can tell from my clothes, it's rather cold and
windy; the air is also rather thin but our horses and Abyssinian
horsemen are quite adapted to it.
Our tents were set
up next to the unoccupied nomad huts, which we used as somewhere to cook
really was a trek that gave me memories that will last a
I mentioned that
when I was last in Argentina in Mendoza, it was November and early
December and so it was too early in the season for us to go
over the High Andes but I had promised myself that I really
would do this one
day. I have experienced several mountain crossing
'trips of a lifetime' but this has been the most memorable of all!
The crossing took us from the Andean foothills near Los Andes in Chile to
the plains of Mendoza in Argentina; we enjoyed seven days riding over
mountain passes, including the Espinacito Slope at 4500m (14,760ft) and
six nights camping in the remotest of places. There are no roads on this
historic route, which was taken by San Martín in 1817 when his army crossed
the High Andes to liberate the people of Chile in 1817, so we
had to take all our camping gear, provisions and personal belongings (limited to 10kg
per person) along with us on pack horses and mules.
My faithful Chilean Criollo took me from the start
of the trek in the foothills of Los Andes to the heights of the
Chilean- Argentinean border.
Here my first Argentinean horse and I pause at the
top of a pass whilst the rider of the accompanying mule takes our
picture. Sadly, my horse had a bad saddle sore and I asked to
change horses; she was used on light pack duties for the remainder
of the trip.
whilst we were in the highest part of the Andes, the mighty condor
would soar over us until they had decided that nothing was dying -
and then they would go away until the next day!
We might have been camping in the wilds but we did
it in style as you can see. Oh, and did I mention the
splendid South American wine?
On the third day, we arrived at the Chilean
Army boarder post. We camped here but we did not cross
over into Argentina until the we had ridden for much of the
My tent mates and me - we got along
really well :)
The three Australians who are clients of Unicorn
Trails so I 'kept an eye out' for them - they are a great team who
have done crazy things together since they were much younger men;
they welcomed me into their group, even though I am a Pomme!
After a fairly long day riding, we choose a likely spot to pitch our tents - somewhere dry and flat and not too far away from
the campfire or the water.
There were many times when we just had to stop and
take in the spectacular scenery and extensive mountain views.
I never cease to be amazed at the rough terrain
that horses will cover; they took all this, and much harder, in their stride.
At the Chilean-Argentinean boarder we said good-bye to
our Chilean horses (who were taken back by our Chilean gauchos) and we
transferred to our Argentinean horses, who had been brought up to meet
us. We rested here for a while in an Inca shelter; it was very
strange to think that we were using this for the same
purpose as people had done for hundreds of years.
for a while at the highest point, the Espinacito Slope at 4500m (14,760ft)
To reach the highest
point of the Espinacito Slope, we so depended upon
our horses as, step by step, they wound their way up in the rarified
There was no hurrying on this part of the trip and
patience was truly a virtue as each horse took its turn to advance a
few paces and then pause for breath. The long line seemed to
me like a caterpillar making its way along a branch.
I think it was a joke but I was awarded 'Best
Dressed Andean Rider' on this day!
There is no doubt
that this trip was quite demanding, although it was so exhilarating that I
didn't realize it at the time. To have been twenty years younger
might have helped but it wasn't the physical activity that was demanding
it was more the 'housekeeping' and the logistics of keeping track of where
each item of kit had got to so that you could retrieve it instantly when
needed (eg sun hat and spare camera batteries are in front of right hand
pannier bag) So, after seven days riding and six nights
mountain camping, I was delighted to be able to go on to look at a new
luxury ride in Patagonia.
In great contrast to
the effort of camping in wild places, I was pampered and lived in luxury
as I have never experienced before whilst on the Luxury
Patagonia Lodge Retreat at 'The End of The World'. The
estancia, in the mountains of southern Chile, is a very exclusive fly
fishing destination but horses have always been a way of life there and
the remote location is perfect for 'get away from it all' riding retreat.
The cabins and
lodge of the estancia nestle in the Andean foot hills; overnight snow
added crispness to the scene on my last day.
All the riding
horses were bred on the estancia and are wonderfully responsive and
sure footed. Natural horsemanship has always been the norm here,
which I found encouraging.
How wonderful it
felt to sleep in a real bed that had been made for me and to wake each
morning to look through picture windows, find fresh coffee and ...
roaring wood burning stove.
spot and river crossing
On our way to
visit a lake and a neighbouring estancia, we paused for a while on a
promontory; long ago, there had been a suspension foot bridge here but
only the rusty main wires remain spanning the gorge.
the estancia has been built by the family and is so well
appointed. The tack room here is a typical example of the neat
and tidy arrangements.
at the end of the day, there's always a hot tub waiting.
I shall write more about my
horse adventures from time to time but, meanwhile, you may read a bit more about them and what else I do
(model engineering, railway models, old tractors and other
old vehicles), on my website: