Our adult ‘Christmas reindeer’ (castrated males) are trained to harness at around 3 or 4 years old, so they can take part in a few events and parades in November and December each year, bringing in part of the income that then supports the herd for the rest of the year. About 25 of our males are trained so this enables them to take their turn at events, most of which are at weekends, and no-one is overworked at Christmas time (except, perhaps, us…)! Between weekends all the reindeer are back on the mountainside getting some good grazing and some downtime.
What happens during a training session? This photo blog will hopefully give you a taster of what we get up to during afternoons in October and early November here in Glenmore in preparation for Christmas tour.
These photos have all been collated over the past few days over several training sessions involving different reindeer and reindeer herders.
Step 1: Ready the sleigh! Here Lisette and Sheena are unloading the sleigh and trace. We also get the harness all laid out, ready to put straight on.
Step 2 (a): Retrieve your reindeer! We bring down reindeer from the hill enclosure and they spend a short spell in the Paddocks whilst we undertake sleigh training. At least two of the adults will be highly experienced sleigh-pullers who show the new recruits how it’s done. Here is a Christmas team (four adults and two calves) chilling in the Paddocks just before a training session.
Step 2 (b): Catching the slightly shyer reindeer in order to put halters on often involves a bucket of lichen! Thankfully their greed usually wins them over very quickly.
Step 3: Reindeer are caught, herders are attached to their ropes and off we go… Athens is the owner of the very wide antlers closest to the camera.
Step 4: Take them for a wee walk and jog to get rid of any extra energy they may have before putting their harness on.
Step 5 (a): Harness gets put on outside the shop. The “trainer” is the most experienced reindeer who stands next to the less experienced reindeer. In this photo 8-year-old Scolty is teaching 4-year-old Athens that all is calm and there’s nothing to worry about whilst Hen puts on their harness.
Step 5 (b): With Scolty’s harness on, it’s now Athens’s turn.
Step 5 (c): Reindeer like to be together in herds so whilst Scolty and Athens are getting their harness on the other boys and calves are right behind, patiently waiting for their turn.
Step 5 (d): After getting used to wearing a halter and going for wee walks around Glenmore, we can put harness on the calves too. Having their heads in a bucket of tasty lichen definitely helps the process! This is 6-month-old Yangtze having harness on for the very first time – completely unfazed!
Step 6: Once all reindeer are wearing their harness we go for another short walk to give the reindeer the opportunity to get used to their bells and how everything feels. Alba is the calf at the back wearing her harness for the second time.
Step 7: Attach the two sleigh-pulling reindeer to the ‘trace’. Here Frost is closest to the camera. The trace then gets attached to the sleigh.
Step 8: The four ‘back reindeer’ now get tied to the sleigh. Here Sheena is at the back with Morse and Jelly (both of whom have cast their antlers already). The calves are sandwiched between the big boys to make them feel safe.
Step 9 (a): All attached and ready to go! But Clouseau is asleep already!
Step 9 (b): Off we go! Here we have Clouseau pulling closest to camera, and Frost at the back.
Step 9 (b): The view from behind – lots of lovely bottoms! Along with the two herders who walk at the front and back of the sleigh, one person walks ahead and one person walks behind in hi-vis slowing down any traffic.
Step 10: Having a pause. Practicing patience is equally as important as practicing walking. Here Lupin is closest to the camera and is doing a super job for his 4th ever go at pulling the sleigh.
Step 11: Add weight to the sleigh! If we have a fifth person helping us out, we sometimes get them to sit in the sleigh to make sure the front reindeer are actually pulling. On a real event they will have Father Christmas in the sleigh who can weigh quite a lot!
Step 12: All done for Lupin and Clouseau – time to get unattached from the trace. At this point, we usually switch the back boys to the front so all four adults can have a go at being the sleigh pullers.
Step 13: Once all the reindeer have had their go and we’re back at the Centre then the harness can come off, and the boys do their “Christmas shake”!
Step 14: Back to the Paddocks they go! Well done boys and herders! The adults usually have around three or four goes of this over several days and then head back to the hills. Such wonderful animals to work with!