THE popular homegrown Borders Festival of the Horse starts in two weeks.
The organisers, the Borders branch of the British Horse Society (BHS), have made the annual event shorter, staging about 30 events over 10 days starting on May 18.
Local BHS’s Ann Fraser said: “It was getting longer and longer so we’ve cut it back to what we started from, just to make it more compact. We’re hoping for good weather and lots of people appreciating the horse.”
New this year are an evening with rare Caspian horses, an afternoon with donkeys, the work of an equestrian silversmith, the chance to see jousting practice, a horse science talk by Gemma Pearson, a vet from Edinburgh’s Royal Dick Vet School and – an addition to the ever-popular guided rides – there will be a rideout in the Newcastleton area.
The theme for the rides is “Families and Feuds” and leaders will talk about Borders history, infamous characters, local families and enduring “no-speaks”.
Mrs Fraser said: “Our rides are popular because a lot of people lack the confidence to go out themselves – they don’t know where they’re going or if they can get through or what it’s like. Our guides research the routes.”
Festival figures show about 10,000 people attend the event, which was started to boost the area and help it recover economically after the 2001 foot and mouth epidemic.
Mrs Fraser, who came up with the idea, cites Peeblesshire horse logger Rab Erskine as an example of the festival’s raison d’être.
“He saw the horse logging and thought ‘I could do that’ . He’s now in business (Homestead Horselogging) and has just bought another piece of equipment -– and that’s what the festival is all about.
“We are very proud of our horse logging: so many people who aren’t particularly interested in horses come and watch it,” she said.
She gets ideas for the event by “just going round talking to people”.
She revealed: “The donkeys I just heard about by chance and thought it would be something different. The Caspian horses are new to the Borders – they’re well worth going to see, they’re lovely.”
Friday, May 18, starts with the opening of the festival-long exhibition of equestrian art and jewellery at Smailholm.
Guided rides take place at Jedburgh, Duns, West Linton, Newcastleton, the Ettrick and Yarrow Valleys and the Eildons over the 10 days.
The equitation science talk is at Potsclose Farm, Kelso. The donkey afternoon, which will cover their care and include a driving and long-reining demonstration, is at the Heriot Water Outdoor School. The Caspian horses evening is at Stichill Stables House, near Kelso.
Two major events, Floors Horse Trails and Kelso Races Ladies Day, with a “fine fillies charity race” sponsored by Sir Alex Ferguson, form the backbone of the festival. Fast becoming regulars, Jedburgh’s Les Amis d’Onno Equestrian stage a cabaret and give demonstrations at Lanton Hill Farm near Jedburgh. British Eventing accredited coach David Gatherer is holding a training day at Floors. The Border Group RDA and Scottish Borders Vaulters will stage a display at Monteviot, near Jedburgh, Peter Neilson will talk about horse whispering, the ever-popular evening with heavy horses is at Gilmanscleuch Farm, Ettrick, and other regulars include the equine car boot sale, grand competition day including dressage, show jumping, showing and working hunter classes and judge Sylvia Loch, and the Classical Riding Club staging a dressage demonstration.
The festival’s last day features the Duke of Buccleuch’s FSC Lurcher, Terrier and All Variety Show, Kelso Races and the horse logging demonstration by north Northumberland’s Danny MacNeil and Mr Erskine with their horses Scout and Angel at Wooplaw Community Woodland near Stow.
For more information visit www.bordersfestivalhorse.org