2015 saw the Festival’s first foray into our equine heritage and we’re delighted to again welcome along representatives of some our wonderful native breed horses and ponies. Many folk getting into smallholding (and many existing smallholders) enjoy having an equine or two around the place – and they can do a job of work too.
The Shetland ponies at the Festival are from the Almondell Shetland Pony Stud, just outside Edinburgh. Shetland ponies are renowned for their hardiness and strength; on their native Islands, they were used by crofters to carry peat, for ploughing and other tasks around the croft. They were also used extensively as pit ponies.
Today, the Shetland pony is used mainly for riding, driving and showing but the characteristics of strength, intelligence and docility make it entirely suitable as a working pony on today’s crofts and smallholdings. Frances and Kevin will be bringing along driving harness and traditional Shetland peat baskets, as well as the ponies.
The Eriskay Pony Society will have some of these rare ponies on display.
Modern Eriskay ponies are the last surviving remnants of the original native ponies of the Western Isles of Scotland. Until the middle of the 19th Century ponies of the “Western Isles type” were found throughout the islands and used as crofters ponies, undertaking everyday tasks such as bringing home peat and seaweed in basket work creels slung over their backs, pulling carts, harrowing and even taking the children to school. Over the centuries of domestication, the Eriskay ponies evolved into the hardy, versatile, people friendly characters we recognise today.
On many of the islands increasing mobility and farming pressures led to larger ponies becoming fashionable. Norwegian Fjords, Arabs, Clydesdales and others were introduced to “improve” the native stocks and produce larger, stronger animals. On the remote island of Eriskay in the Western Isles, however, due to difficulties with access, other breeds were not introduced, leaving a stock of pure bred ponies which, due to mechanisation, had declined to around 20 animals by the early 1970s.
Through the work of a group of enthusiasts, numbers have risen steadily and now there are around 420 Eriskays in the world. The Rare Breeds Survival Trust with whom the Eriskay Pony Society works closely to ensure the long-term survival of the breed classes the Eriskay Pony as critical.
There have been New Forest ponies in the Forest since the end of the last Ice Age. The Forest and the ponies are inter-dependent. Without the ponies the Forest would be very different, more overgrown with fewer birds and flowers. During the 19th Century they were regularly raced and with prizes of £5 or £10 when wages were £1.25 or less, a good pony that might race in two races in an afternoon was a valuable asset. The colts also had the reputation of being excellent harness ponies, fast trotters, strong, docile and patient. NF ponies served in South Africa with the Forest Scouts in the Boer War and performed better than regular remounts, regularly carrying 13st all day under extreme conditions.
All in all, the modern New Forest Pony is an exceptional all-rounder with an endearing character, which has developed as a result of both its unique environment and strong association with the people who have been responsible for the development of the breed.
Tamsin James is bringing her graded New Forest mare and her colt foal, Cuckoo, to the Festival, so be sure to get along and see this lovely breed.
Folk might be surprised to learn that the Highland Pony is classed as a breed “at risk” on the RBST Watchlist.
An ideal working pony, the Highland is one of the biggest of the native pony breeds, standing up to 14.2hh.
Its strength and docile temperament make it ideal for driving, forestry and as a pack horse and many ponies are still used on shooting estates to bring deer off the hill. Highland ponies are also being used in conservation grazingto help manage grasslands to aid bird population.
The majority of Highland ponies are used for riding and they can turn their hooves to a great variety of equestrian activities such as, riding clubs, endurance, trec, showing, driving, RDA, and of course the ultimate family pony.
As you would expect, the breed is hardy and can live outdoors all year with shelter and is a “good doer”, requiring only a forage diet.
Gilean Docherty is a HPS Judge and a member of HPS Council.
She has been involved with the breed for over 30 years and bought her first Highland gelding in 1991. Over the years she has shown her ponies “in hand” and ridden, competed in many of the activities above and since moving to a smallholding in Lanarkshire last year hopefully will realise another dream – to breed. One her mares Ailsa of Mendick has been scanned in foal and will hopefully produce a foal in the Spring.
The pony Gilean will be bringing to the Festival is Pollyanna of Forglen – a 9 yo, grey dun mare bred by Gordon and Anne Towns from Turriff, Aberdeenshire by Highfield Glen Affric and out of Leone of Craignetherty. Gilean has had Polly since she was 2. They have competed in many activities and she has been placed 3rd at the Royal Highland Show. This year Polly was Reserve Champion Highland Pony at Border Union Show.
Gilean and Pollyanna look forward to meeting anyone who has an interest in the Highland Pony at Lanark.
The Cleveland Bay is one of the rarest of the British equine breeds and is listed as “Critical” on the RBST Watchlist. The breed dates back to the 14th Century, where it was developed as a packhorse for the travelling salesman or Chapman – and the horses were known as Chapman horses. Later, in the 17th Century, the breed evolved into the superior carriage horse for which Yorkshire was famed. The breed was particularly badly hit by WW1, when it was used as to draw light artillery and as officers’ horses.
The coming of mechanization almost finished the breed off but in 1961, HM The Queen purchased one of the last great stallions, Mulgrave Supreme, and made him available for public stud. The Cleveland Bay is now popular as a riding and driving horse and for crossbreeding with the Thoroughbred to produce quality hunters. Cleveland Bays and their crosses can be found performing successfully in almost all equestrian disciplines.
John and Eva Bennett at Brackenbrae are one of the few breeders of Cleveland Bay horses in Scotland so we’re delighted to welcome them along to the Festival.
The Clydesdale must be one of the most recognizable and popular breeds of horse in the world, yet the breed still features on the RBST Watchlist. Named after the area in which it was developed – now Lanarkshire – the breed was developed for draft work. At its peak, Scotland had over 140,000 horses on farms, plus an unknown number in towns and cities, most of which would have been wholly or part Clydesdale. The breed society says, “Male or female, a Clydesdale should look handsome, weighty and powerful, but with a gaiety of carriage and outlook, so that the impression is given of quality and weight, rather than grossness and bulk.”
Today the breed is still capable of working the land and is popular in horse logging; most Clydesdales are now kept for pleasure, being used for driving and showing and, increasingly, under saddle.
The Festival is delighted to have Ken Stewart from Craighead Horse Logging at the 2015 event. Craighead Horse Logging is part of an established and professional woodland management and training company based in Dalry, Ayrshire.
Horses can work in areas that are inaccessible to conventional machinery and in areas that are environmentally sensitive and would be damaged by it. Often, the horses work alongside conventional machinery.
The horses at Craighead are not pets but are treated with the utmost respect and care. Experienced horse loggers, using American and Scandinavian harness, ensure that the horses are kept safe and well as they carry out their work.
As well as providing a professional horse logging service, Craighead Horse Logging runs courses for those wishing to undertake a professional qualification in the use of horses in forestry. There are also training courses available in use of chainsaws, 4×4, ATV and First Aid.
Ken will be bringing his working Clydesdale horse and harness to the Festival. If you are interested in forestry and woodland management, make sure you get along to meet him.