DIVERSITY is the name of the game for a young rider in Fife and as producers go they probably don’t come with a more varied group of rides than Kirsty Aird. 

She’s still a relative youngster at just 26, but has already made her mark in the show ring by winning a number of top tickets while producing horses and ponies for others. But it’s the real diversity that makes her stand out, as she can be seen flying over working hunter fences on a hairy wee native pony, piloting a heavyweight hunter or jumping a 16hh warmblood round a 1.4m course. 

Kirsty originally planned on heading to university to study veterinary sciences, and even gained four unconditional acceptances, but the equine bug runs strong in her family thanks to top showjumper father James and mother Trudy, and after working on a number of yards to gain experience, Kirsty was busy enough that university was put on the back burner.

The Scottish Farmer:

          Kirsty works Greenholme Emblem, aka Rio, ahead of HOYS

Her first taste of success came in the shape of a Welsh Section A pony, which Kirsty bought straight off the hill at a sale, backed it and won a trophy at her local pony club. It was a few years later that she piloted Haysford Hideaway Harry, a 14hh plaited working hunter pony that Kirsty admits was very complicated. 

“There was a lot of blood, sweat and tears involved in getting him going, but he was the one that really taught me how to ride,” recalled Kirsty, who has a total of 12 under her charge at her base at Netherton Equestrian, near Bridge of Earn. “I was mostly working with big hunters and my own showjumpers but luckily I’m wee and so it’s a case of one size fits all as I’ll work with anything from 12.2hh up to 17hh and, of course, the Clydesdale.

“I’ve not got six horses of the same mould,” she continued. “One minute I can be working with a Fell stallion, the next minute I’m on a Connemara mare and then I’m jumping the big horses. But you’ve got to get used to adapting to the individual horse or pony, not making them adapt to you, and it’s a constant process of trial and error.”

It almost seems like a juggling act, balancing the different types at Netherton, but that’s what keeps Kirsty going and the busier she is the happier she is, and mum Trudy can vouch for that. 

The Scottish Farmer:

           Working Jumping Mac Flash in the stubble fields

Currently under her care are two Fell stallions from Gwen and Stewart Rae, Greenholme Emblem and Nicholwalls Black Jack; a heavyweight hunter named Digger; Winsome Aird’s six-year-old Connemara mare, Castle Diva; Highland pony mare Holmedown Charlotte from Susan Fox; Cheryl Young’s coloured novice riding horse, Maisie; her aunt’s ‘old faithful’ cob, Tinnakil Dellboy; as well as the Clydesdale mare, Westbank Jessie J, from Jock Wilkie, who owns Netherton Equestrian. 

As if these weren’t enough to keep her busy, she has her own Grand Prix showjumper and Scottish puissance champion, Jumping Mac Flash; a novice jumper, Breckenridge; and two youngsters bred by the family – a three-year-old out of Novella Gold, a mare Kirsty did well with, and a two-year-old by Monte Carlo, both of which the mother and daughter duo think have a promising future.

Nevertheless, it’s the Horse of the Year hopefuls that Kirsty is concentrating on, and with three heading to the Birmingham event – Westbank Jessie J for the British Ridden Heavy Horse final, Holmedown Charlotte for the Mountain and Moorland Ridden Pony of the Year, and Greenholme Emblem for the M and M Working Hunter Pony of the Year – there’s plenty to keep her busy. 

The Scottish Farmer:

          Jumping her own up and coming showjumper, Breckenridge

“It’s really nice, if a little unexpected, that all three qualified in just their first season, but it’s really exciting for the owners as it’ll be their first time there too,” said Kirsty, adding that balancing the needs and wishes of her list of owners can be tricky but she’s grateful for a group of owners that are very accommodating to her busy schedule.

It’s not just the owners though as Kirsty is quick to point out that it’s very much a team effort with Katie Dickson and Lara McLeod always around to lend a hand when Kirsty is competing.

When she’s not on board one of her many steeds, Kirsty can be found teaching up and down the country thanks to her UKCC level 2 qualification, and has started judging at several shows too. 

“I can be quite selective of my students as they’ve got to fit in around the horses, but I take a lot of pride in seeing them progress over the years. I think instructing keeps you grounded, and you see where you can improve not only your teaching skills but your own riding skills too.”

Having won the title of Young Judge of the Year in 2014, Kirsty has now been added to a number of judging panels, including for hacks, cobs and riding horses, and 2017 marks her first year on the sports horse breeding (GB) panels. 

“There’s good variety when judging and it’s great to get a shot of some of the well-known producers’ rides as it acts like a good benchmark for my own,” Kirsty explained, pointing out that it’s easy to criticise a judge but it’s a tough job. “One of the biggest challenges these days is that not many ride on grass anymore and do their schooling in the arena, but you really see it in the show ring when a horse in unbalanced.

The Scottish Farmer:

          Castle Diva is another to look out for next season

“All of ours are schooled in and out of the arena, hacked through the woods where you have all sorts of things jumping out at you, and go over a course of jumps too as I think it’s important to keep their work varied and interesting,” she added. 

As for the future, there’s a wedding to fiancé Kenny to organise when time allows and plenty to keep Kirsty and her charges busy through the winter, but she’s always looking for her next challenge: “I like thinking out of the box and going against the stereotype, like when we started showing ‘field ornament’ Jessie J and got her HOYS ticket. But I love a challenge – it really spurs me on.”