Holly Anthony, Far and Ride.
Holly from Far and Ride recently returned from a long weekend of riding in Dartmoor, driving cattle and trail riding across the beautiful, open moorland. Although this part of England is acknowledged as offering excellent riding terrain, the chance of working with cattle from horseback is rare in this part of the world with most travelling to the far fields of Wyoming or Montana in order to fulfill their cowboy dreams. Phil and his family can offer genuine, hands-on cattle work at their farm in south-west England, where you are guaranteed a warm welcome and can enjoy the company of the numerous cattle, sheep, horses and dogs on site. A typical week combines a few days of cattle work and some superb trail riding opportunities, making the most of this rural setting.
Cattle have a natural respect for the horse meaning that a rider can move them with minimum stress. The work is extremely satisfying, each member of the group having a part to play, whilst riding the horses over such open country is a real pleasure. Stays of two, three or six nights are available and can be flexible in terms of riding hours, pace and in accordance with what work needs doing. Riders should have a confident seat and be as happy to ride calmly behind the cows as they are cantering up the lush green hills during a hack out. Holly chose to ride in authentic western tack as this is both comfortable and practical for long riding hours, though English saddles are available for those who prefer it. Phil and Mandi’s horses are in excellent condition and fun to ride, some having been homebred or owned from a young age.
Guests are accommodated in a local hotel which provides clean, comfortable accommodation with a restaurant and bar on site. The hotel lies just a few minutes drive from the farm (guests could also walk or cycle) meaning that you have minimum travel during your stay but can still enjoy your own space. Breakfasts are provided at the farm each morning and lunches are eaten out at pubs during the rides and are included in the price. If Mandi has done any baking then you’re certainly in for a tasty treat and a cup of tea after your day in the saddle! You are then welcome to return to the accommodation at your leisure and can choose to eat dinner there or to explore the local area.
Here is Holly’s account of the weekend:
“After a four and a half hour drive from Bedfordshire, I was delighted to pull into the driveway of the farm and to be greeted by Foster the dog and his companions. Mandi offered me a warm welcome into the homely kitchen where I parked myself in a rocking chair. Homemade biscuits and flapjack were waiting for me, along with a cup of tea, and we had a friendly chat about the horses and the farm whilst waiting for Phil to return from checking the cows. As I was travelling alone it was particularly nice to be made to feel so welcome in this new environment and I immediately felt that clients could be comfortable. Although guests are primarily accommodated in the hotel down the road, I was to stay in the farmhouse for the weekend in order to learn as much about the farm as possible. My room was clean and cosy (I slept like a log!) and I loved the feel of the house, rich with horsey memorabilia, lovely rustic furniture and a big log burner in the living room. Guests can enjoy these comforts before and after their daily rides, also making use of the spacious games room equipped with snooker table, pool table, TV and multi-gym. I was invited to join Phil’s son, Darcy, in a game of pairs snooker against friends, another example of the family’s welcoming attitude (we won of course!).
Friday afternoon involved a short ride across the moors – my first taste of the Dartmoor countryside! Whilst riding Grace I enjoyed the vast amounts of open space and the grassy hills. The pace of the riding can be adjusted to suit the riders and there is certainly scope for enjoyable canters if you desire them. Grace was forward-going and comfortable with a willing attitude, clearly happy in her job. I chatted with Phil and Mandi as we rode and it was clear that they make a great partnership with genuine care for their horses as well as the enjoyment of their guests. I soon learned that the word “ideal” is vital in the West Country lingo and can be applied to a variety of situations… before long I was saying it myself. After dinner it was time for more tea and baked goodies before heading down to the hotel restaurant, where guests would most likely eat, for some traditional pub fare. Ideal!
Saturday was pub ride day and this time I rode Rock, a Quarter Horse gelding with a relaxed attitude. First off was a little impromptu cattle driving as Phil saw the opportunity to move a small group of cattle into the next field. We then headed off on our ride and encountered sheep and ponies living wild on the moor, including a mare with a very young foal at foot (amazingly cute as you can imagine!), and I enjoyed the fresh air and beautiful scenery. You can see for miles when riding on the hills. We eventually “parked” the horses in some convenient little paddocks, removed their bridles and loosened off their girths before heading into the pub for a relaxing drink and lunch. The pub was small and friendly, a real chance to get a feel for the local area as well as stocking up on energy for the ride home. The horses remained sensible on the way back and we enjoyed strolling on a loose rein as well as riding at fun canters. The pub ride was about four and a half hours in total and there are various pubs to head to and routes to take from the farm, depending on what guests fancy and how long they’d like to ride.
Once we had settled the horses back into their paddocks at the farm it was time to get cosy by the log burner, ready to watch some TV and eat more in keeping with my usual style! Riding burns off a lot of calories and Mandi’s baking was the perfect way to replenish my energy (that’s my excuse). Looking out the window I could see the lambs playing in the field next door, leaping on and off the roots of a tree. In the evening I went out with Phil to visit another of their farm areas nearby, a short drive away, to check for any new calves and to care for the others there. No new calves that night but it was a pleasure to see those that had already arrived, jumping around in the straw with their mothers. One of the weaker calves needed a little extra help with feeding and guests can learn a lot here about how they are handled.
In total, the farm is home to around 800 cattle and 1200 sheep so there is plenty to see and do. Farming has been in the family for a long time and both Phil and Mandi’s fathers are horsemen. Phil’s father, Courtney, is still regularly seen around the farm and you may get the chance to ride alongside his field of miniature ponies! Mandi’s father also has a horse and cart if guests are interested to see this. All part of this rural lifestyle!
Sunday was the “big day” when we would work together to move around 90 cattle from their barn on the farm to a patch out on the moor. Five riders set out with photographer in tow (their photos will be on our website and Facebook page), two of us leading the cattle out and the others working the sides and driving them from behind. The experience was something entirely new to me, my only previous encounters with cattle having been giving them an occasional stroke when passing them in a field! Once en route we moved them out across the dam and then onto the moor. Phil had told me that there is a lead cow who the others follow and in this case it was clear to see… the leader turned out to be a beautiful dun colour whilst all the others were black! With ‘Dunny’ leading the way we were off across the open country, navigating streams and rocky areas, and working with the dogs who rounded up any strays. Rock kept his eyes on both the cows and his girlfriend, another beautiful horse named Jesse, and was sure-footed across the difficult ground. The cattle walked with great purpose, no doubt enjoying the fresh air as much as me and looking forward to the excellent grazing that the moor provides them.
Having driven the cattle out to a lovely green patch of grazing, it was time to head back “home” with a real sense of satisfaction. We rode back to the farm, sorted the horses and then settled in the kitchen for a hearty bowl of chilli followed by cake, drinks and chatting. Before long it was time to pack my bags and go, though I must admit I was reluctant to leave new friends and this beautiful riding country behind. Even driving away I was able to admire the lush green countryside and open space of Dartmoor, a reminder that exciting riding is often closer to home than we remember.”
Read more about the ride here: Moorland Cattle Drives and Trail Rides, England.