Under the spotlight
Why the Rare Breeds of the Year Horse Show is deserving of jumping out of the shadows
Everyone has heard of the Horse of the Year Show. It’s one of the world’s most famous equine events, and for British sports fans it’s a national institution. It was set up to celebrate the end of show jumping’s annual competition season and this year marks the 70th show. The organisers are promising thrilling displays and plenty of spectacle to mark the milestone at the NEC in Birmingham in early October. But at around the same time, a less well-known event is taking place – one that’s a must for anyone who loves Britain’s native and traditional horses.
The Rare Breeds of the Year Horse Show is a really important showcase for the UK’s native equine breeds; there are 14 in total, 12 of them are officially classified as rare and three heavy horse breeds have been identified as being at threat of extinction. For rare breeds enthusiasts like me, a world without the Shire, the Clydesdale or the Suffolk Punch is unthinkable. These mighty working horses were once vital to British farming and industry before machinery and the motor engine made them redundant.
The names of the breeds is an evocative list that conjures up images of famous and familiar parts of the British
Isles. Exmoor, Dartmoor, New Forest, Fell and Highland are iconic British pony breeds that are instantly associated with the distinct landscapes where they originated, all adapting to their local grazing, climate and conditions. The Dales pony was developed as a draught animal on the bleak North Country uplands and worked in the region’s lead and coal mines. The Eriskay is a tough, grey-coloured pony from Scotland’s Western Isles with ancestry that goes back to the Celts. The Cleveland Bay is the pride of Yorkshire’s North Riding, a beautiful bay breed and a favourite with the Queen. Finally the Hackney is descended from the trotting horses of the 1700s and today it’s considered the finest carriage horse in the world and the ‘ballerina of the show ring’.
Although the history of British horse breeds goes back hundreds, and in some cases thousands of years, the idea of an event dedicated to them is relatively new. It was only in 2012 that the first horse show exclusively for rare breeds was staged in Buckinghamshire. Six years on, I’m delighted that the Rare Breeds of the Year Horse Show goes from strength to strength. You can see for yourself at the Arena UK Equestrian Centre in Lincolnshire on Saturday October 6.