Heather Parr, one of the Dartmoor Derby guides, has ridden on these moors almost her whole life. She explains the attraction, and why she’ll be guiding again this September
It was hunting really that brought us to Dartmoor. My father’s a hunting nut — hunting came before anything else for him — and we moved to Moretonhampstead on the edge of the moors when I was about 10 so he could indulge his addiction. He was a farmer, then, and Fieldmaster of the Mid-Devon for 10 or 12 years.
I had a pony myself when I was eight but before that I would ride sitting in front of my Dad on his saddle when he went out exercising — you’d never consider it safe enough these days.
Hunting became a lifelong interest for me too, and really it’s through hunting with different packs on the moors over the years that I’ve got to know my way around so well — it’s a sociable thing, we all enjoy visiting different packs and regions. I’ve never been much of a walker but there aren’t many places I haven’t ridden.
It’s always a challenge
The riding here changes all year round, but it’s always a challenge because you can get any weather in any season. I don’t have a favourite season — though of course there’s some weather I prefer! But on a clear day, Dartmoor is about as beautiful a place as you can find anywhere on earth.
In the summer I enjoy doing fun and charity rides and a gang of us take our horses away on holidays sometimes — it makes us appreciate Dartmoor all over again when we get back.
Perhaps it was inevitable, with these interests, that I should end up meeting Elaine Prior as she began developing the Dartmoor Derby.
Bogs — and their avoidance
My role is to guide one of the teams on horseback, answer questions, share what I know about the moors — and to do my best to keep people out of our legendary real bogs. I’ve been stuck on the moors a few times as a kid. You can get properly bogged and if you do, it’s terrifying. I wouldn’t ride on the moors for quite a long time after it happened to me once as a child.
How do you know where they are? You look at the terrain, the cattle and sheep paths, use your accumulated knowledge and you use your wits — as a Dartmoor local you learn what plants grow out of wet ground and what doesn’t so even the colour and texture of the ground ahead of you gives you an idea. Sometimes a horse will tell you if there’s trouble ahead too.