IT was like stepping back in time at the recent British Horse Society working horse open day held at Collessie, last week, when horse and handler put on fine display with machinery and implements from days gone by.

More than 750 members of the public visited the Black family’s Collessie Farm, in Fife, and not just those that can remember the days of working horses on the land as a large number of those who can only remember farm work with tractors were kept just as interested.

As the crowds gathered in the early hours of the event, it gave the exhibitors and their horses time to get used to the heavy ground which was fresh from a heavy mist on what turned out to be a bright and sunny day.

Throughout the day, George Skinner – who celebrated his birthday the week beforehand and was treated to a rendition of happy birthday by the pipe band – kept the crowd informed on every aspect of the days proceedings.

One of the points of interest during the morning was the Norwegian harrow pulled by a pair from Dave Nelson. This harrow, which was the only one of its kind in Scotland known by many round the demonstration area, pressed any stones down in to the seed bed instead of leaving it loose.

Another with plenty on display was local Fife man Benny Duncan, whose team of horses is truly versatile, taking part in ploughing matches, driving at weddings, doing a turn in the show ring and has even won the harness and decoration class at the Royal Highland for the past two years.

So involved is Benny’s family that his grand-daughter, Blythe Sinclair, was putting on her own display with her skewbald Shetland pony, Peanut. Blythe is already showing a keen interest and at only eight years old, she has her own ladies cart and is keen to take part in Clydesdale young handler classes as soon as she is old enough.

At Collessie, she and Peanut were driving an old coal cart to carry seed to the heavy horses working the land.

Another putting his skills on show was Ally Pearson, the Scottish champion with horse and plough who also secured a strong fifth position on his debut at the World Championships held at York just a fortnight before. He was driving Ross Kinnaird’s pair on the seeder and fertiliser spinner, Amy and Stanley, and told how he first got in to working with the Clydesdale: ““I was brought up on a farm with Highland ponies, doing some general farm work and taking hay out to the sheep on the hill ground.”.

“But when I first helped my late father-in-law, Jim Smith, at a ploughing match around 20 years ago I found myself competing at ploughing matches soon after that.”

Ally has four horses at home and aims to take a pair to plough at the European Championships held on Scottish soil at the end of the month.

Working the tine harrow to prepare the ground for seed was a team from across the water in Northern Ireland with John McDermot on the reins. John, who was piloting Poppy and Alec, was one of the 100-strong team that took in the record setting plough in County Armagh last year.

John first starting working with heavy horses when he hunted his 18hh plus Clydesdale horse before buying his own to break to ride as well as to the cart. He now uses real horse power for a lot of work on the farm, such as sowing grain bringing in hay bales.

“I enjoy working with horses so much as there’s no real connection to a tractor and they’re simply not as much fun – you can’t throw a saddle on a tractor and go for a hoolie after the working day is done,” John pointed out.

“We’re finding there’s now a resurgence in the heavy horse in Ireland as they work well for the typically smaller farm of 20 to 30 acres compared to over here.”

As well as a fine display on the field, there were a number of other attractions to keep the crowds busy – Robert Sibbald demonstrated the work involved in getting a Clydesdale ready for the show ring; a couple of renovated carts were on show from Ian Grant; Davy Walker and Beverley Brown gave the public rides around the field on their horse-drawn cart; Simon Alston put his skills in decorating harness on display; and a large number of vintage machinery was also on show, including a barn threshing mill in action as well as ploughs, turnip snaggers, a proto-type Bamford Triumph potato digger, whinnowing machine, seed drill, the list goes on.

Rounding off the six-hour day and tying up nicely with the display of horses during the war in the BHS tent, horses were hitched to a replica cannon and paraded round the field to mark when Scotland’s working horses were called up to help with the war efforts.