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15 September 2014

The Versatile Quarter Horse

By Susan Jacyna

Simon and I live in Keith and are lucky to have really beautiful riding country on our doorstep.  Orinoco (sire Venture Max, dam Waccabuc Jr) is now ten and I bought him from Joan Cadzow when he was a just-backed and very green 3 yr old. He is quite a tall (16hh) rangy Quarter Horse – racing being in his pedigree.  Our main discipline is Endurance, because he excels at this, being fast and possesses great stamina – oh yes, those who know Orinoco as an idle, switched off plod in the arena, would not recognise the very alert, forward going horse enjoying himself out in the hills and with purpose in life!  We also do a little dressage and Western and he loves jumping.  He would do well at eventing and hunting, but I am getting too long in the tooth now for such activities  When I bought him I had not long  recovered from a bad riding accident, resulting in a spinal fracture, so my family and  friends wondered what on earth I was doing buying a youngster.  But my instincts were right, Orinoco had an old wise head on young shoulders and he has looked after me from day one.  We have done quite a bit of Endurance, and are aiming to complete our Bronze Thistle Final next year.  Orinoco has been in lots of different environments, and is never fazed by anything.  His intelligence never ceases to amaze me – teaching him tricks is very easy as he loves to fiddle with things.  He thinks first and checks it out, more like a dog!  I remember our first time out on a hack where we were accompanied by my husband Simon and Bobby, his experienced older horse.  We came to a very spooky farm yard with loud machinery clanking away. Bobby decided that it was not safe to go through the yard and planted his feet. Well, with no prompting from me Orinoco walked past Bobby and on boldly through the yard wondering what the problem was!  He will go through, under, down, and over absolutely anything, if he knows it is safe.  During our early forays we had one or two narrow escapes with bogs and rocky going, but that was because I didn’t listen to him, and because he trusted me he just went.. Amazingly, after our narrow escapes, Orinoco still trusts me!  I also have learnt so much listening to him.

Last year I took him on his first Silver Boot. The main objective is to keep alive the use of old drove routes and hill paths in the Scottish mountains.  Although there is a winning team, it is not done at speed, mainly because it involves serious off road riding. Points are gained by using mountain passes, old drove routes and  tracks, high mileage, and using pack ponies and camping.

It involves teams of riders and horses (up to 4 in each team), planning a long distance route starting anywhere in Scotland, but all teams have to finish at the same place.  This year all the teams had to finish in Glen Clova in Perthshire.  One team started on the island of Luing on the West coast, (taking horses on the ferry!), another at Speybay in Morayshire.  Our team, was my husband Simon who was expedition leader, and friends Roger Searle (75+yrs young), Mary Stelmach and me.  Mary’s husband Leon was our crew, and met us each night with the lorry and all our supplies and gear. He always had a pot of tea brewing at the end of each day – I’ve never enjoyed tea so much in my life!  We started at Smallburn, Mary and Leon’s farm in Cairnie and covered 190 miles over seven days.  It is very important to investigate new routes before taking your equine partner on them. This required many months of planning, liaising with farmers and landowners, arranging accommodation for ourselves and the horses, reconnoitring by foot or mountain bike to check if the going is safe enough for horses – horses can be excellent rock climbers but peat bogs are dangerous and not much fun, and the last thing we want is to call out Mountain Rescue!  Riders also need to be experienced at compass and map reading, because our route included 6 mountain passes - we were nearly at 3000ft a couple of times.  We also had to carry emergency blankets, first aid for riders and horses, and as we were riding from between 8 to 11 hours a day we had to carry extra food for the horses in our saddle bags, and energy snacks for ourselves (huge breakfasts also helped).

Our route took us along the River Deveron, across the Cabrach on the ancient Steplar Road and over to Tomintoul on the first day. On the second day it was past the old seminary at Scalan, hidden deep in Glenlivet, through the deep cleft of the Eag Mhor pass into the ancient Abernethy Caledonian pine forest, past Ryvoan bothy, finishing at Glenmore Lodge, near Aviemore.  The third day took us South over Bynack More, where we terrified a lone climber as we loomed down on him through thick mist.  Then it was over the Fords of Avon, where I had to dismount and let Orinoco find his own way across as it was too risky for us to be together. Throughout the ride we occasionally let the horses go as it was safer and easier, especially on steep, rocky going.  We did walk a lot on foot as well to give the horses breaks, especially on the really long days. On long distance rides you have to learn to trust your horse, I soon learnt that they regard you as part of the herd, so they won’t run off without us!  After the Fords of Avon it was through the Lairig an Laoigh, down Glen Derry, finishing at Mar Lodge, near Braemar.  The fourth day was west through Glenfeshie, where we saw red squirrels and golden eagles, and where we had to cross and re-cross the river several times, to Feshie Bridge. The fifth was down the other side of Glen Feshie, then west over the hills, past large herds of deer, to the Minigaig, which is an ancient drove track, taking us to Blair Atholl in Perthshire.  Day six it was east, past Carn Liath on a narrow stalkers’ path, south through Gleann Fearnach, and onto Kirkmichael.  Day seven was the longest day – 34 miles and 11 hours – taking us from Kirkmichael, east to Glenmarkie, over to Glen Prosen, and along the Minister’s Path which lead us down to Glen Clova, Perthshire, the hotel being the finishing post, on the Friday night. Leon had replaced the tea with a glass of Champagne (chilled!!). Saturday was spent resting ourselves and our horses, and there was a dinner and celebration in the evening for all the teams and their crews and where the results were announced.  The horses sensed we had finished and the four of them lay flat out all day, even eating their feeds without getting up!   On Sunday we transported the horses back home.  Our team came third out of eleven teams in total.  The real heroes of the day were our horses, who never gave up, and all came back safe and sound. An adventure never to be forgotten!