Traigh Mhor Pony Trekking is a new company in Tolsta, run by biology teacher Leigh Minion with help of her husband Gavin and daughter Kirsty Hart.

The riding and trekking centre saw its first customers saddle up in the first week of September. Since then there have been beach and moorland treks, lessons on the croft and tips on horse care for riders from the age of six to those well into their seventies. Several grannies and at least one grandad have returned to the saddle after a long absence, and horse-riding parents have been able to bring their youngsters for first lessons.

“It has surprised us how much of a need the business fills,” said Gavin, who runs the company’s website at www.tolsta41.com. “We have people who came in the first week and have been back every week since – sometimes more than once. Some people are on holiday here and want the experience of riding on the beach and some are riding for the first time ever.”

The croft is home to four horses and ponies, three of which are now showing their gentle natures and patience to riders. 18-year-old black cob mare Ginti is the 'schoolmistress' and has just returned to Leigh after two years on the mainland, rejoining her old stablemates as if she had never been away.

Her companions are Oakie, a dun American quarter-horse, a utility breed with a good nature and stamina, and Six, a five-year-old gelding broken and trained by Leigh and Kirsty and keen on jumping and dressage.  Young Darby is a beautiful black horse who will be ready for his first customers by the end of this month(October).

The stables was passed by Comhairle nan Eilean Siar inspectors the day before it began trading, and Leigh and Kirsty have also gained certification as ride leaders from the Trekking and Riding Society for Scotland.Leigh said: "We have been really well-supported by the riding stables at Balivanich in Benbecula, who have given us training, encouragement, advice and moral support. I really think we wouldn't have been able to do it without them."

Traigh Mhor trekking offers lessons, treks and slightly more demanding hacks, plus a Saturday saddle club for kids and a midweek riding group for adults. The routes they take include moorland around Tolsta and beach rides along Traigh Mhor and Garry beach.

And it’s obvious the mix of tuition, scenery and good company is keeping customers absolutely delighted – even in the very mixed weather that has come with the end of the summer. Gavin said: “The weather doesn’t seem to affect people’s enjoyment in the slightest. I’ve seen people come back soaking wet with a big smile on their face. Of course we give the opportunity to cancel on bad days, but not many people have taken us up on it.”

In fact rainbows have been a feature of the first weeks of riding, with many pictures shared of happy riders in sunshine and showers. Comments shared on Facebook include: “Thank you so much for the fantastic beach ride this morning, Kirsty. It was totally exhilarating and Six was wonderful. Thanks for letting me fulfil my dream.”

Six is one of the horses making Leigh very proud as he settles into his new job. She said: “Six worked incredibly hard with a variety of ages, stages and abilities. For all that rode him, absolute joy – from the ‘oh my goodness this is an incredibly high horsey, I don't dare touch his nose’ granny, to someone having a jumping lesson. He gave a wee one a safe and gentle introduction to cantering, then calmly took a granny around who last rode Western Style in her youth.”

As the days get shorter, there’s plenty to look forward to for horses and riders alike, with plans in the pipeline for a Santa trot just before Christmas (complete with mince pies and a gift from Santa in his grotto), a Boxing Day special trek on Traigh Mhor and a special beach paddle for children on the lead rein, between Christmas and New Year.

To find out more about regular and special rides, visit the website or phone 01851 890453.

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