Un­der the spot­light

Kent Life - - Countryside Life -

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 forms 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, gr­ey­coloured 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 6 Oc­to­ber.

ABOVE: Young Cly­des­dale horses in ru­ral Northum­ber­land

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