CLYDESDALE horses are steeped in tradition and have been in Annette Noble’s family’s blood for a number of generations, but it is the youngest generation that is keeping up with the times by saddling up and taking to the ridden circuit. 

The breed has a long history of being a canny and steady beast but with an ever-increasing number of jockeys getting on board, the sound of thundering hooves is becoming more common on the summer show circuit. Due to this increasing interest, a grand final, the British Ridden Heavy Horse Final, has been organised at one of Britain’s most prestigious equestrian events, the Horse of the Year Show. 

That final is the aim for mother and daughter duo, Annette and Ailsa Noble, who run the Peggyslea stud alongside a thriving bed and breakfast business at Nine Mile Burn, near Penicuik. They have been driving Clydesdales for many a year and no wonder, as Annette’s father is Hugh Ramsay, from the Millisle stud, who can often been seen at the top of the line in the main ring at the Royal Highland and Great Yorkshire shows. 

But it’s the ridden job that has been taking the Nobles all over the country recently, with the hopes of qualifying Peggyslea Andy for HOYS. The home-bred, six-year-old Millisle Solway Bay son has done well since Ailsa got in the saddle a few years ago and picked up his 2017 HOYS ticket when he won the ridden Clydesdale class at the Royal Highland back in June. 

The Scottish Farmer:

          Ailsa puts Andy through his paces

“I started riding when I was three or four but first got on Andy a few years ago when we broke him to ride ahead of driving him. He loved it and didn’t put a foot wrong so we’ve carried on,” said Ailsa, who has won the ridden class at the Highland a total of three times with Andy and also made it to HOYS last year where they finished sixth. 

“I used to ride show jumpers and every horse is different but with Clydesdales it’s all about the size and the power, as Andy’s 17.3hh and 900kg! They’re also willing to learn and to please and really love their work. It can take a long time to bring them on and get a collected canter but when you do it’s like a rocking horse.”

Ailsa and Andy have done so well on the circuit, having won the ridden final at Blair Horse Trials twice, that Ailsa has limited her mum from getting him in a cart until he’s finished for the season. 

Annette explained: “It changes their head carriage when they pull a cart but it’s more about the commands as Andrew is not as happy driving as he used to be since he got used to leg commands instead of my verbal commands.

“My ambition was always to drive and I’m just getting there 29 years on! We’ve slightly changed what we’re looking for recently, mostly because we always wanted fillies for breeding but now we want geldings to ride and drive.”

No matter what type they’re breeding, it’s a winning move as Andy’s younger brother, four-year-old Buddy, has also been broken to drive and is looking to be every inch as good as his brother. 

The Scottish Farmer:

          Buddy, although exuberant, is showing promise

It’s not always straightforward with the canny Clydesdale, however, and Ailsa admitted it’s taken Buddy a while to get to where he is now having been 'excused' from classes earlier in the year for bad behaviour. 

“He’s getting better, but still gets excited and bucks when we go in a grass field, so we’ll be doing plenty arena work and some dressage during the winter to keep him going.”

With Ailsa keeping Andy in work as well as Buddy when Annette allows, that leaves only three-year-old Woodhouse Hussar, also known as Woody, as a driving horse for Annette. 

The Scottish Farmer:

          Annette and Woody, with Paddy the Boxer as co-driver

The focus for 2017 has been to get Andy his HOYS ticket, but the Nobles feel it’s a shame that not all HOYS qualifiers are judged on the same points basis – 50 points for ride and 50 points for conformation – as at the final. 

“They should all be judged on a points basis, mostly so you know what to improve but it also keeps it a level playing field if you get to HOYS,” said Annette. “Some shows don’t show the marks even if they are judged by points, but it’s good to know if you’ve had a low ride score so that you can work on it and get better.”

Another factor is the number of HOYS qualifiers in Scotland, as only the Royal Highland counts and often attracts a number of horses from across the water due to there being no qualifying show in Ireland. In England, however, there are nine qualifying shows, so the Nobles feel more could be introduced north of the Border. It’s tough competition getting there though, as there have been at least 25 in each of these shows, proving that getting your hands on a qualifying ticket is hard enough let alone getting placed at HOYS.

“It’s something you always dream of, riding in the arena at HOYS, and it was just amazing to do so,” Ailsa said, who is hoping they can equal, or even better, their sixth place of last year. 

So for now, it’s more work for Ailsa and Andy with a couple of lessons in the next few weeks as the excitement builds ahead of the main event, which will be held in the Andrew Bowens International Area on Thursday, October 5.