Equestrianism in the far north of Scotland – Written for Scottish & Northern Equestrian – 2012
Scotland is well known as a destination for those who enjoy the great outdoors. The wide open spaces, great beaches and forests and miles of multi-use tracks for walking, cycling and horse riding provide facilities for a great visitor experience, bringing hundreds of thousands of pounds to the Scottish economy every year. For those with a passion for horses, Scotland is utopia. In addition to the miles of trekking with magnificent scenery, for those who enjoy competing whether as a spectator or participant there are top class venues such as Blair Castle in Perthshire where the International
Horse Trials take place every August and the flat and national hunt race track at Musselburgh near Edinburgh which also provides a venue for trotting races. Whether you are a planning a visit to Scotland or are considering moving home and are an equestrian enthusiast, you need to look no further than the far north of Scotland. The area has become very popular for those looking for equestrian properties as prices are lower than in other parties of the United Kingdom, with prices up to 20% lower than further south. Property with land is still relatively a
ffordable and with continuing price rises in the south and land at a premium, the Highlands and Islands can offer an economical retreat for those looking for a slower place of life.
The north of Scotland and Orkney offers a wide range of equestrian sports with everything from carriage driving to showing, show jumping, cross country, jumpcross and dressage leagues at certain times of the year. For the “happy hacker” and trekking enthusiast, you can enjoy the magnificent scenery of the Highlands on horseback or even take a carriage drive at Mey, Caithness, or on Orkney. The British Horse Society (BHS) in the north is represented by BHS Highland North, as is Riding for the Disabled. Indoor schools at Halkirk, Caithness, and the Market Stance on the outskirts of Kirkwall, Orkney, offer facilities for year round riding and driving. There are cross country courses at Northfields, Halkirk, and at the Market Stance, Kirkwall.
Clubs such as the Caithness Riding Club, the Caithness Pony Club, the Orkney Riding Club and the Orkney Carriage Driving Club welcome new members and encourage people new to the area to settle in. The Riding Clubs organise regular lessons in all disciplines both with local
instructors such as James Munro, but also with visiting instructors such as Margot Tiffany.
A number of trekking centres have opened over the last few years, and you can even trek from coast to coast. The main centres in the far north are at Brora and Bettyhill, with magnificent cross country rides and opportunities for having a good gallop on the beach. The only BHS approved riding centre in the far north is at Halkirk which provides lessons and instruction of a high professional level. Whether you are a novice or experienced rider, both the trekking centres and the riding centre can provide you with a horse to suit your abilities.
Agricultural shows such as those in Sutherland, Caithness and on Orkney, all have equestrian classes which are generally well supported, the Clubs organise their own shows, BHS Highland North also organises a show in September every year. Shows such as the Canisbay show near the Castle of Mey, Caithness, have a growing number of horse and pony classes including show jumping and in hand classes. The Latheron show has classes for carriage driving which has become very popular over the last few years. For those based on Orkney who wish to attend shows further south, many participants transport their horses via ferry to Aberdeen which is less stressful for the horse than the long road journey through Caithness and Sutherland.
There is a range of feed merchants and other support services in the far north, with some excellent veterinary practices and farriers in Caithness, Sutherland and Orkney. Equine dentists and other specialist services are few and far between and often travel from the central belt to attend to a number of horses. There is an excellent tack shop in Wick which is a relatively new business. The proprietor is very helpful and knowledgeable and can order equipment and feed for you as required. There are feed merchants in Thurso and Wick which also have a limited range of horse wear and gear.
The newly formed University of the Highlands and Islands offers both distance learning courses at HNC and HND level in equestrian studies, which also includes preparation for British Horse Society (BHS) examinations. For those wishing to pursue a career in equestrianism, these courses are highly recommended and are delivered from the college at Thurso and the equestrian centre in Halkirk. There may also be opportunities to study for a Scottish Vocational Qualification (SVQ) in equine studies by distance learning which gives a good grounding in equine welfare.
There is a growth of interest in Welsh cobs in Scotland, and the North of Scotland Welsh Pony & Cob Group (formerly known as Aberdeen Welsh Pony and Cob Exhibitors Group (ADWPCEG) formed in 1986, is now an affiliated club and has four shows a year dedicated to the Welsh Breed. This will put Scotland on the map in the competitive Welsh showing scene and encourage those who have ambition to qualify for the Horse of the Year show. If you are a Welsh Cob fan, there is a Welsh Cob stud in Elgin, Morayshire, which specialises in producing good quality Welsh Cobs. Aberdeenshire is a five hour drive from Caithness, so if you do want to get involved in showing in Aberdeenshire, there are some great liveries available so you can make a weekend of it.
In conclusion, whatever your equine interest, whether you are a visitor to the north or planning to move house, there are plenty of opportunities to go trekking on the beaches and forests, take a lesson and attend the local shows. If you do relocate to the area you can get involved in the equestrian scene, meet like minded people, go out hacking in great scenery and enjoy the way of life in the far north.