We have an entitlement to graze an Eriskay pony (and it’s young up to a year old) on the common grazings in, well, in Eriskay. Sounds quite reasonable when you put it like that, but the ponies themselves don’t alway think so. They prefer hanging around by the bus shelter, the shop. on the road, in the way. Wouldn’t be so bad if they actually did some proper work, like they did in the old days – carrying peat from the gearraidh, or the messages (provisions) from the shop, or seaweed from shore to shaw. We explored the possibility of having a pony: explored as in went there, turned round, came back. We did at least try! That entitlement? It’s available for someone else to use, for a small consideration.
It’s been a ritual, for the past two to three months. Morning rations of sheep-nuts, and an armful of hay. The nuts go into plastic troughs, hooked over rails of a gate, and the bundle of hay is tied to the top rail.
Whilst D and I were away, it was Becky that hosted the party of six – Scott the ram, and five younger boys. But now I’m back from Navarra and dressed once more in my boiler suit, I’ve re-started – just this morning, in fact – work on the new fencing, further up the hill.
After I’d fed the boys, I set off up the hill with a big fence post on my shoulder. On reaching the depot for fencing materials, and having dropped my load, I stopped to take in the view – and a rest after my exertions. Somewhere in the near distance I could hear the whinnying of horses – Eriskay ponies, in fact. There’s plenty about in winter, when they are allowed down from the hill grazings.
Walking back down to the croft store for another load, what did I come across, but a troop of ponies passing along the ‘old road’ that crosses our croft, and helping themselves to the hay. Gate-crashers, indeed!
Gate-crashers: Eriskay ponies helping themselves to sheep feed.
After a few days of clear skies and warm summer sunshine, and more than week since the last rain, today’s low cloud and drizzle are good for the walled garden and the croft ; but they also make the morning rounds just a bit harder work – not least climbing the hill in waterproof jacket and trousers.
I reach the hill gate to find none of the sheep waiting for me – not even little Windy, anxious for her morning bottle of milk. (I’m going to have to start weaning her, soon.) I climb to a prominent high point and call Trobhaibh! Trobhaibh (Come hither! Come hither!), and listen for the echo resounding from the steep north face of Beinn Eisabhal. Satisfying, but unlikely to reach far in the low cloud.
I wait a while and listen: distant bleating: but from where ; from whom? And what’s that … neighing, too?
The cloud swirls and clears, opening up a view of the corrie above Seonaidh‘s crofts. In the distance, appearing over the high ground between Bun a Mhuillin and Roisinis, appears a few black heads, and the bleating becomes clearer and just perceptibly louder.
Suddenly, looming out of the cloud to the right, not the corrie below, appear two white Eriskay mares. A trail of others appear behind them. All uninvited guests, here for a free breakfast!
They’re friendly enough, and one older mare accepts my strokes around her head, but is more interested in the bag I have with me, containing the sheep’s morning ration. Within moments, I have twenty Eriskays pestering me for sheep nuts. “No way! These are for Queenie and her flock : you can [beep] off!”
Eriskay ponies, Beinn Sgiathan.
Eriskay ponies, Beinn Sgiathan.
Eriskay foals, Beinn Sgiathan.
Eriskay mares, Beinn Sgiathan.
Queenie herself soon appears at the head of the rise, Windy close behind, and the rest of the flock trailing along, all bleating ‘Wait for me!” “Don’t forget me” and more on that theme.
Queenie leading the flock, arriving after Eriskay ponies.
I lay down big fistfuls of sheepnuts, arranged in an irregular line (as tussocks and puddles permit), keeping it short so that the sheep crowd together and there’s few opportunities for the ponies to stick their heads in and steal.
But the sheep are skittish, nervous of the (to them) huge Eriskays: I stomp around the ewes in a circle, defending them and their breakfast from any disturbance by the avaricious Eriskays.
Soon, the sheep have had their fill, and move on: the ponies move in and comb the ground with their soft whiskers, their lips parting as they detect the occasional sheepnut missed by the sheep.