Gayle spends a morning volunteering at Touchdown Memorial Home for Horses near Keith and meets a variety of equines in need.
Hanging out with horses is definitely one of my favourite things.
So when I turn up at Touchdown Memorial Home for Horses near Keith, I’m 100% in equine heaven.
Boasting 40 acres of paddocks with views across the rolling Moray hills and glens, the charity rehabilitates horses and ponies and offers a life-long sanctuary for them if suitable homes can’t be found.
Residents include retired police horse Lauder, ex-racehorse Dave, injured showjumper Cyd, and 36-year-old thoroughbred Lydia.
The centre runs equestrian therapy experiences for people living with a range of disadvantages, including PTSD sufferers, victims of domestic abuse, addicts, ex-offenders and those with cognitive or mobility problems.
While two members of staff work here – yard manager Mel Foley and groom Yola Brunier – Touchdown relies on volunteers to help with duties ranging from mucking out to grooming and keeping horses fit.
Being a horse owner, I’m well used to such chores so I don’t mind lending a hand.
Mel is happy to hand me a poop scoop and sweeping brush and I get stuck in making the stables spick and span. Before I know it, I’ve broken out in a sweat.
“Mucking out multiple horses keeps us fit!” she laughs. Yup, I can believe it!
A highlight is getting to cuddle a variety of horses, and first up is 18hh Clydesdale Lauder.
This gentle giant served on the frontline of crowd-control operations in Glasgow for 15 years, regularly policing some of the city’s biggest football matches as well as marches and demonstrations.
Sadly his arthritis and asthma meant he needed to rest up but he’s certainly come to the right place!
Once I’ve given him a good groom and put on his saddle and bridle, I lead him down to one of three outdoor arenas.
Mel jumps on for a walk and a trot and then asks me if I’d like to have a shot. Of course!
I foolishly haven’t brought my jodhpurs or riding boots but I’m able to borrow a hat.
It takes me a while to get used to Lauder’s huge strides – my own horse is much smaller – but once I get into to swing of things, I’m beaming like a child in a sweetie shop.
It’s hoped Lauder will soon be pulling carriages, having been a carriage horse taking brides and grooms to weddings before he joined the police.
Another good way of keeping some of the horses here fit is to lunge them. I’d never attempted this before but Mel and Yola show me the ropes with ex-racehorse Dave. It’s not as easy as it looks but the handsome 15.3hh Thoroughbred is patient with me.
Back at the yard, I finish poo picking and dump the stinky contents into a manure heap. Glamorous this is not!
Before we lead the horses back to their field, I meet stunning 16.2hh Dutch Warmblood Cyd, a showjumper who injured herself in a field. Although she is “field-sound”, she can’t be ridden.
Then there’s 16.3hh Belgian Warmblood Donnay, a successful eventer who incurred a stifle (a joint in the hind legs) injury and can no longer compete.
The one pony staying tucked up in the stables is 14hh Welsh Section C cob Rodney.
He’s only 10 but he’s already been through 10 homes and is currently in the horsey weight watchers club, being a bit too chubby and showing signs of laminitis.
“He needs to be stabled to lose weight and so we can control his diet,” explains Mel.
Recently, 16hh piebald cob Roisin, who had sarcoids (skin tumours) which were successfully treated, went on loan – to Yola.
“I started here as a volunteer in January, fell for Roisin and got her on loan in April before becoming the groom in October!” she reveals.
“It’s been a bit of a whirlwind, but a brilliant one!”
Some of the horses here are rehomed but it’s not a quick process and, says Mel, it’s got to be the “right match”.
As winter approaches, Touchdown is looking for more volunteers to get on board.
“There’s a lot of hard work but there’s always time for cuddles with horses!” says Mel.
“We’re happy to guide people along and teach them about horse care.”
Touchdown was set up in Shropshire in 1998 but moved to Moray in 2007 when it outgrew its premises.
Sessions run by the charity include the Countryman’s Club, aimed at older men with conditions like Parkinson’s and dementia, and is a chance for them to have a taste of rural life.
Then there’s the Blue Unicorns group for children, which covers stable management and pony care.
And the Lark Rise programme is for people who’ve encountered barriers to employment, whether physical or learning disabilities, mental health or addiction issues, those who’ve experienced domestic abuse or forces veterans.
The charity is named after chairwoman Frances Davies’ first horse, an Arab cross Welsh mare called Touchdown.
“The horses have been rehomed from all kinds of different backgrounds – some have been rescued and rehabilitated, some have had bad injuries – but they bring joy to so many,” she says.
- Touchdown is running a charity Christmas Show on December 4 with a showjumping competition, fancy dress, Santa and fun showing classes.
- During October, Touchdown operates Monday to Friday from 9am to 1pm. From November to March, it operates seven days a week from 9am to 1pm.
- Volunteers must be at least 16 years old.
- For more information, check out the Facebook page or see touchdownmhh.org