As a favour to a good friend, I found myself judging in mid-Wales recently at a show by the name of Llanfair Caereinion – a newcomer to me, as I am sure it is to readers.

As far as I could tell, it had no significance other than it’s one of those small, old-fashioned shows which has held it’s place in the local community for a long time and kept going by a small number of enthusiasts determined not to be the ones who let it go by the wayside. How familiar a is that?

It was refreshing to see that health and safety – while naturally was observed – hadn’t taken over, as witnessed by the odd little jockey cantering her pony through pedestrians totally unaware that her actions could be life threatening.

There were no cattle rings, just a space where they could be shown and at one point the main ring was shared by the driving classes, presentations of prizes and the dare-devil team setting up their stunt material – but not a barrier to be seen.

Later on, families were encouraged to leave their ‘village green’ area of the show ground to participate in some ‘high-powered’ competitions, with familiar names such as the wheel barrow and sack races. As antiquated as this may seem, believe it or not, there were plenty of volunteers.

There were two particular features of the show which interested me. Firstly, there were no entry fees for any classes only admission charges for everyone attending with livestock. Secondly, the main marquee was taken over for a charity lunch event the following day by a local fund-raising committee, with a proportion of the funds raised being shared with the show.

Given that there is a two year waiting list for charities wishing to take over, it speaks volumes for the popularity of the event and a good money earner by using facilities already on site.

The pattern of entries was much the same as at home, with some quality animals forward but small class sizes, despite a healthy paper entry – so it would appear that competition in Wales is suffering much the same as it is in Scotland.

That said, this certainly wasn’t reflected in the non-eventing competitions at ‘Blair’ at the beginning of the month, where rings were full and entries forward in good number. It never fails to amaze me how many competitors take on the working hunter classes, where top quality horses are thin on the ground, despite the volume of entry.

Amy Ogilivie’s lovely big mare, LA Diamond, was the obvious champion, for not only does the grey eight-year-old look the part, she put in one of the best rounds over a big and impressive, well-dressed working hunter track. It would be fortuitous if Grandstand Media added Blair to its list of working hunter qualifiers in 2019.

Highland ponies look at home in front of Blair Atholl Castle, with the surrounding hills a perfect backdrop. Not only did they put up a good show in their breed classes on the first day, but they also featured in the major championships among the other breeds on the second day.

Former breed president, Gillian McMurray, took the prestigious NPS/Kilmannan Silver Medal Rosette (Scotland) in hand final with her home-bred 11-year-old Trialtrow Lille, while another Highland pony mare, Knockandy Abigail, stood runner-up for Morven Campbell following a championship at Kinross among others this season.

In the ridden equivalent, the breed was not quite so lucky, although Jane McNaught’s Royal Highland champion, Heather Jock of Fourmerk, was selected to stand reserve to the eventual champion and gold medal winner, Margaret Whiteford’s well-known Connemara stallion, Fuinseoid Boy, ridden by her son, James.

With not a single late entry in the catalogue and a mid-week slot in the timetable, this event bucked the current trend of the apparent need for entries on the day and questioned the real pressure placed on parents by schools to keep children in school during the week.

The former demonstrated to exhibitors that ‘where there’s a will there’s a way’ and, hopefully, the latter suggested that schools do in fact value the extra-curricular nature of equestrian competition.

Talking of which, the biggest of the classes had to be that for lead rein ponies, which filled the large ring nose to tail. Given the small numbers currently seen round the shows, one had to wonder from where they had all come.

Most successful among them were the Smith sisters, Isla and Lucy, who travelled all the way from Dalbeattie, in Dumfries-shire, with their Welsh ponies, Lacy Flight and Calderberry Raider, which took first and third places, respectively. Flight went on to take the mini-championship from the in-form first ridden winner, Wellbank Gabriel, ridden by Lexi Brash.

Competition aside, I have to admit that one of the season’s highlights for me is my role as collecting ring steward for the working hunter pony ring, which attracts all ages, sizes and abilities. Potentially open to some pressure from competitors, who have their own ideas when they should jump, I love it and thoroughly enjoy the banter.

Almost without exception everyone is so polite and friendly and eager to enjoy their day out irrespective of the outcome. There is pressure to do well and win, however I wonder if the lack of a qualifying ticket for HOYS changes the perspective on that?

In between classes, I was interested to observe in an adjacent ring a polite and enthusiastic group of competitors, this time in the Scottish Grassroots Eventing Festival BE90 and BE100 competitions, which were staged at Blair for the first time this year. With more than 70 taking part in the former and 40 in the latter, it certainly proved popular as have the qualifying events held round Scotland during the past two seasons.

Aberdeenshire’s Sophie Bultitude rode Laghey Clover to win the BE90, as she did at Forgandenny and Kirriemuir this summer.

Leading the BE100, was the bay seven-year-old mare, Ballingowan Carrie, ridden by Crieff-based Rose MacPherson, whose victory backed up her win at Hopetoun. Although she has always enjoyed an interest in eventing from an early age, show goers will be more familiar with Rose as pilot of Trowan Moulin, one of the most successful ridden Highland ponies to date and a former champion at Blair.

Time will tell if either riders’ names will appear in the lists of nominees for the 2019 horsescotland awards, which were formally opened at Blair by Alan

Murray, honorary hreasurer for the principal sponsor of the scheme, the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland. With the prime purpose of recognising

and celebrating the outstanding achievements of Scottish equestrianism, the horseScotland awards

dinner will be held on March 1, at the Doubletree Dunblane Hydro.

With some 17 categories available this year, the scheme also incorporates a special award to celebrate the 50th anniversary of Riding For the Disabled in Scotland. Nominations close on January 1, 2019.