Footage from a daring equine adventure will be shown on BBC’s The One Show tomorrow evening (Wednesday, 11 January).
Trainer Emma Massingale travelled across the Scottish Highlands last September with two three-year-old Highland ponies, Hector and Hewie, who she purchased just before the trip.
Emma planned to develop a bond with Hector and Hewie across the 61-mile route from Alness to Ullapool with the ultimate goal of backing them for the first time.
The “Highland Adventure” followed Emma’s “Island Challenge” which involved her backing previously unhandled Connemaras on a remote island in 2015.
“I wanted to work with another native breed in their native area and it seemed only fitting to take Highland ponies to the Scottish Highlands,” Emma told H&H.
Planning the route
Prior to the trip, Emma monitored the behaviour of her Connemara herd at home using a electronic trackers.
She discovered the times when the ponies were more active and with this data she planned her route across the Highlands.
“It gave me an insight into what ponies naturally do so I could plan a route based on that,” Emma said.
“We would set off at about 3-4am each day to mimic what the Connemaras did.”
Emma covered six miles a day and slept in a bivvy bag at night, a small, lightweight and waterproof shelter, with the ponies by her side.
“The environment was really hard and the midges were horrendous — my face looked like I had measles within a day,” Emma said.
“Ticks were really bad too.”
For the first three nights the ponies wore head collars and were tied up.
“I was amazed how stubborn they were,” Emma said.
“I was also quite surprised how nervous they were, much more frightened than the Connemaras who have that instant love for humans.
“At first every time I put my rucksack down they would run off and when a logging lorry came I had to disappear off the track as they were frightened — that was quite tricky.
“It was a bit like being a taxi driver and having two best mates in the back completely doing their own thing.”
Emma realised she needed to change the ponies behaviour to progress with their training.
“I decided I would pick one and pair up with them. I would do things like stopping and offering him water first to try to split them up a bit,” she said.
“I chose Hector and after about one day he realised I was on his side. By the fifth day I was able to ride him.
“He went from feeling frightened to feeling like a horse that had been ridden all his life — on the first ride we were able to go through a big river.
“They were just fantastic. You can see exactly why they’re made for their area with their broad chests designed for getting them out of bogs and across the terrain.”
In time, both ponies could be left loose overnight and kept close to Emma’s side.
“They were in tens of thousands of acres and could have gone anywhere,” she said.
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“One night I couldn’t see them and went to try to find them only to find them back where I had left waiting for me.
“Another night I lit a fire and the ponies lay the other side opposite me.”
The Highland Challenge will be shown on The One Show from 7pm.