In Harness

WRITTEN FOR IN HARNESS MAGAZINE – 2011

Having ridden horses all my life, I decided to try carriage driving and where better than in Wales where there are plenty of opportunities and great facilities, whether you want to compete, venture round the lanes, or explore the Brecons.  As I was visiting Wales for the summer, I joined the Powys Carriage Driving Group (PCDG) whose members took me under their wing and taught me the basics of steering,  hold the reins, “mount” and “dismount” and tack up.

My very first experience of driving, however, was with a Fell Pony and a Welsh Section C gelding down Kirkwall High Street on Orkney, complements of the Orkney Carriage Driving Group – what a great introduction to a new sport!  I was taught to sit correctly and was amazed how obedient the ponies were.  Given that there was lots of traffic and things to spook at the ponies walked and trotted stoically on with a novice at the reins as though nothing strange was happening, and Suki Linnitt sitting beside me giving advice and guidance.  I was hooked. The thing which struck me most was the lack of contact with the horse, this being only through his mouth rather than control with both hands and legs. I was then given a lesson with a single pony at the Merry Men of Mey Carriage Driving centre in Caithness, north Scotland.  The pony was slightly more forward going but again the instruction was excellent and we navigated the lanes around the Castle of Mey without mishap.

Tina backstepping Emily Ham at Cricklewood 2011.

Backstepping Emily Ham of the Powys Carriage Driving Group (PCDG) at the David Broome Centre in May was my next challenge, and most enjoyable. At the next event, also in May, Emily introduced the group to arena challenges, a course of cones with balls on the top and a couple of obstacles.  It was very entertaining and a great way to learn, as I had to learn accuracy from the first effort and judging where the wheels were in relation to the cones is quite an art.  There often is not much leeway!  Andrew Bevan showed me the way at the normal speed of fast trot and canter with his lovely horse, Jack. What an experience and what fun.  I really began to appreciate how the horse can negotiate through obstacles and bend and cross his legs in a way I had never considered before.  After having twisted and turned through the course driving Jack myself under the tutelage of Andrew, I really began to have fun.  This was heightened at an event at Llynon Saddlery at another arena event, with more opportunities for long reining, a precursor to learning to drive.  It is important to ensure that the horse goes in the direction you want him to, and this is a great way to learn.  Two miniature Shetlands, Spots and Teds, provided me with driving and long reining opportunities, and their owner, Sally Lloyd,  was my tutor on this occasion.  I am now totally hooked and my two year old filly is already long reining well and pulling a tyre! Both my Welsh cobs will be backed for driving at the appropriate time and I am looking forward to years of fun driving.

Many thanks to PCDG for making me feel so welcome and for getting me started on the basics of the thrills (so far no spills!) of carriage driving.

In Harness magazine 2011

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Equestrianism in the far north

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

Richard and Wesley aka Trade Secret - Canisbay show 2004
Richard and Wesley aka Trade Secret – Canisbay show 2004

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.

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