Dealing with an extraordinary horse calls for an extraordinary solution. And in this case, Karen Inkster, from Perthshire, was pushed to her limit before coming up with a last-ditch plan to court some sort of bond with Connie, her troublesome mare. That plan involved walking 230km across the Outer Hebrides, unsupported, with Connie the mare, and Pip, her deaf collie. Karen has written a book about her adventure, called The Deaf, the Daft and the Ditzy, with all proceeds going to animal charities.

However, we are ahead of ourselves, it took 18 months before Karen got to the stage that she was booking ferries.

Karen bought Connie for £300 from a charity in Yorkshire. She realises she should have known better. “Unfortunately, the horse hasn’t been ridden in years, so no, you can’t ride her,” was the information she was given.

In reality that meant that Connie was a rearer, and a biter. She reared so much she would flip over.

Karen thought there must be a medical reason for this extreme behaviour. She spent around £2k on vet checks. Scans, feet, teeth, back everything, all came back negative. She even got a horse whisperer out, who wasn’t sure if it was safe to even go in with her, the advice was the horse was on the edge of a breakdown.

“Connie broke my ribs twice in 18 months,” says Karen, when we meet in her rented accommodation in the countryside of Dunfermline, “once falling over and squashing me, which wasn’t her fault, and the second time she kicked me, and she meant it.”

At this stage it’s a fair question to ask why she kept her, and Karen says that she noticed that Connie had bonded with Pip, her deaf collie, and was always extremely gentle with her neighbour’s grandchildren who would visit, and would be allowed to plait her mane for as long as they wanted with no reaction.

“She would have tantrums for hours, I wondered whether she had a brain tumor, but again there was nothing medically wrong with her. I started reading all about natural horsemanship methods. That is the philosophy of working with horses based on the horse's natural instincts and methods of communication, with the understanding that horses do not learn through fear or pain, but rather from pressure and the release of pressure.”

Karen laughs when she looks back at the antics of the two of them. “I would grab my book and a coffee and go and sit in the corner of her field. My thinking being, I’ll let her come to me. And she did. She wandered over, had a gentle sniff, and I wouldn’t react, then bam! She would sink her teeth into me, and I had done nothing!”

She realised she had to rethink how she dealt with this horse, and she wasn’t prepared to give up. She sought advice from respected horsemanship tutors. Connie had come over from Ireland with a foal at foot when she was just five years old, and with little information on her formative years, it was hard for Karen to gauge what her background was. She did know that when she lifted anything resembling a stick, Connie took off.

“Pip and I had previously gone on lots of trips and I thought, I have to take this horse somewhere that she has to rely on me completely. I think she didn’t know how to bond with people.”

The trip was booked, some 18 months after getting Connie. As a precaution, her vet gave her two syringes of sedative in case of a bad tantrum as she would run right through Karen when she was in a blind panic.

“I only booked the ferry for the first trip, as I wasn’t sure whether this was going to work.”

Karen had also only booked ahead to one or two places, again as she had no idea where she would be on which date. She did start a Facebook page detailing what her plan was, and that she was raising money for animal charities along the way.

First day there, and Connie broke out of her coral and cut her foot quite badly. Karen’s friend had come along for the first couple of nights which helped. There’s a more detailed explanation of what happens in the book but it’s safe to say that one islander didn’t give a great impression of the island’s usually welcoming nature. She, and her horse were basically hounded out of the camp area she had chosen. Leaving Karen in tears, and wondering why she ever thought this was a good idea, she was all for going home.

“Is this what it’s going to be like, people not wanting me here? Is it going to be awful?” she thought. As it turns out, the islanders couldn’t have been more welcoming, and generous beyond what she had ever expected.

Islanders would drive her horsebox to the next point for her to walk to, they gave generously to the charity buckets, they were bringing her food, and for Pip, and were genuinely interested in what she was doing.

As for Connie, well it took a couple of days before Karen noticed any change. After a few nights she would be wakened by Connie pawing the tent door to wake her up. Impatient to get moving. “Come on, I’m ready!” was the clear message.

They walked 19 of the 21 days, half and half riding, or walking alongside Connie, with Pip following.

Halfway through the trip, Connie was following Karen like a dog. It was working.

During the trip Karen thought she would aim to raise £1500 for Riding for the Disabled. By day five she had £2000. She had a Justgiving page as well as collecting donations along the way. Local journalists would come along and talk to her, local schoolkids were out waiting for her to pass. Locals were bringing her food, and she had lovely chats with some of the older residents who would talk fondly of when they remembered riding to school on the peat ponies, which would then go off and help lift the cut peat. Walking through Tarbet High Street, a distance of just 1km, she collected £225. It was humbling.

The last journalist who came to chat was given a ringside seat of Connies behaviour when she took a bite at Karen while she was being interviewed. “I was mortified!” she says.

In total she raised £5000 for Riding for the Disabled, and as funds continued to come in with the sale of the book she donated £1000 or Dogs Trust, where Pip came from and £500 went to other animal charities.

“I doubt Connie ever had a relationship with a person before, the overwhelming memory of the trip was of just having the time to wander. If it was cold or wet we would stop and make camp. If we found somewhere beautiful to explore, we explored it. We just wandered til dark, there was no clock watching. It was a different kind of experience.”

Also, she came home with a different horse. Connie now is her absolute love, she adores her.

When you crack one problem, why not give yourself another one?

That problem came in the form of Monty, a Spanish Mustang, brought over through a breeding programme. Monty’s mother was a wild mustang, so he is just one generation down from a wild horse.

She had been reading about Mustangs and as it happens noticed one for sale in Perth. “Ooh, she thought, that sounds too good to be true.” It was.

It was the same story, hadn’t been ridden in a while, so she wasn’t allowed to try him out. “He was cocky, in your face, I was told he was broken, rideable usually and important to me, was he good with dogs.” The answers were all a resounding yes.

You can tell what’s coming. He immediately tried to kill poor Pip, who couldn’t hear him coming. He didn’t rear like Connie, he would bronk like in a rodeo. However, the vet checks this time found a horse with a very sore back. And he was probably trying to tell his previous owners and no one was listening. Three months of treatment sorted his back out.

Karen thought that now she had the experience of helping Connie that she knew a thing or two about troubled horses.

Throw that handbook out the window, as she had a whole new set of issues to deal with. It turns out that Monty has had 15 previous owners, three of which she has been in contact with. This boy had no idea what Karen was asking him to do, as he had never been taught anything. He would bite, he pulls toggles, would kick, push you over.

She started from the beginning. Taught him to stand, to give space, to not bite.

“He’s a total goofball, he still nibbles out of pure mischief but he doesn’t bite, and he has come such a long way. He still grabs the toggles on my jacket and pings them on my backside, I think just for a laugh.” Though she feels that he is respecting her now after having him for just over a year.

“I’ve had so many battles with him, if previous owner had just been truthful, we would have been so much further on. I’ve had to introduce Pip as part of the herd, to stop him trying to hurt her.”

She has had a few overnight trips with him, his issue being he can’t stop eating along the way, she hopes to plan a longer trip with both horses, maybe to the Cairngorms.

Karen’s plans extend well into the future. She has one issue standing in her way and it doesn’t have four legs this time.

She sold her cottage within 17 days and has been trying for a year to find somewhere with land that she can buy with the hope of opening a natural horsemanship centre, to share what she has learned.

So far, nothing has been suitable, in no small part by the fact that no one is selling land until after Brexit, but she is hopeful that she doesn’t have to spend another winter in her rented accommodation. She is willing to stay in a caravan if that’s what it takes to be beside her ponies on her own land. (see panel for more details).

Karen rides her ponies with no bit, and shoeless. “People are interested in trying it out, I think there is something of a revolution happening, there’s a lot of scientific evidence that shows that horses mouths can be damaged by bits. I get asked a lot of questions when we are eventing. I think people don’t have the time to devote to them as it takes longer to train your horse.”

Karen is an ambassador for the World Bitless Association, she was chosen as a champion for last year, which she is delighted about.

How does the traditional riding fraternity react to bitless riding? “They think I am a tree hugger,” she laughs. She feels that it works for her horses, and she is happy to spread the message.

She continues: “These horses are my life now, they take up all my time when I’m not working.”

What has she learned from this adventure with her horses? It’s no surprise what her answer is: “Patience, patience, patience.”

She looks forward to the day when she can open her centre and help other people find the connection they seek with their horses. It takes time, devotion, and patience, and she has that in spade loads.

If something doesn’t work, she just keeps trying until she finds something that does.

With that she takes me outside to meet the horses, first trick from Monty is that he grabs the button on my cardigan and gives it a good tug. He’s full of fun and nonsense, but as he will do anything for a treat he gives us a display of his cheesy smiles on command. Connie, ever the lady, is appalled by his behaviour.

“These horses are humbling, they challenge me, and have taught me so much, I can never rush them, I need to give them the time they need.”

It took a long time for Karen to understand what Connie needed, and in Karen’s words she is now ‘awesome’.

“I would never sell her, part of her soul rests in mine,”, she says, and it seems that even the troublesome Monty has wormed his way into her affections. She would never be parted from either of them.

Land search

Karen is looking for at least eight acres of land, ideally within Perthshire (to be close to family), Fife, Angus or Stirling. It has to be away from roads as she had Pip who is deaf and two cats with no road sense. She is happy to put a caravan on the land if needed until planning permission can be sought.

Buy the book:

Karen’s book detailing the trip, called The Deaf, the Daft and the Ditsy, is available to buy from her, priced at £6.00, including postage and packing.

All proceeds go to animal charities. Contact Karen on