In a breakaway from my normal routine at this time of year – which usually involves a trip to the supermarket and walks with the dogs – during a seven day period I found myself competing in a bake off and attending a study day.

Even during the quiet season, life never seems to be dull and, as one of the people I met told me, ‘every day is a school day.’ Thank goodness how right he is and long may it remain so.

For those of you who know me, coming last of three in any competition doesn’t come without pain, although I doubt if I will perfect my meringue-making skills to improve upon the result any time in the near future, if ever. This unlikely and unique competition was the brainchild of NPS Scotland and courtesy of Anna Roberts, who made her beautiful home of Strathallan Castle available for the fund-raising event with money raised being shared with the Grass Sickness Fund.

Admittedly, it may have been an excuse for some competitors to view the inside of the castle having admired it from a distance when competing at the Perthshire estate. Nevertheless, it proved to be a very successful social event where fun away from ponies was the name of the game and where members young and old were locked in competition more akin to the WRI.

Former professional baker and well-known course builder, Graham Barclay, along with former Powmill Milk Bar proprietor, Ann Whitelaw, had the task of awarding the rosettes. Full marks to the organising committee for thinking out the box on this one.

The study day was courtesy of the Highland Pony Society, which welcomed all comers to the Scottish Equestrian Centre, at Oatridge, for a full programme, which covered a wide range of interesting topics. Led by the enthusiastic secretary, Susie Robertson, aided and abetted by society president, George Baird, and a number of council members, it was well received with members travelling from as far afield as Northumberland to attend.

With education central to organisations with charitable status, here is one society which takes this aim to heart and delivered good style. Saturday’s effort had to be a school day in one way or another for all those who attended.

Well-known Scottish rider and dressage trainer, Erik Mackechnie-Guire, gave us his take on improving our showing experience through an interesting practical session. Biomechanics were high on his agenda with tips on applying exercises aimed at muscle development.

Tying up nicely with Erik’s references to biomechanics was Jason Cunningham, who provided a farrier’s perspective on limb and hoof conformation. He made use of an interesting display material to clearly illustrate his points all the while maintaining a practical slant which suited his audience.

His slot was part of a break-out session where another of the speakers addressed a highly current topic, that of condition scoring. A physiotherapist by profession who works closely with the RDA, Gilean Docherty is also a well-known Highland pony enthusiast. This breed is famously a ‘good-doer’ so it was both an appropriate topic for inclusion which involved discussion and some practical condition scoring on the two pony volunteers.

Completing the morning session was Debbie Dow, from the ScotEquine Pilot, which has been set up to identify the population of equines in Scotland and their location at any one time. It all fits in with the government’s traceability model which currently applies to farm livestock so that in the event of an outbreak of disease control measures can be applied with some accuracy.

It will be worth following this one up in a future column but suffice to say, this was the topic which met with the greatest comment, certainly in the group which I followed round.

There was an illuminating presentation on the symptoms and treatment of colic in the afternoon session by Justine Kane-Smith, a surgeon and lecturer with the University of Liverpool. As most pony owners have first hand experience of this condition, needless to say the talk was well received as too was the remaining offering for the day which came as a practical demonstration with her experienced home-bred mare.

Audrey Barron, whose Kincardine prefix in Highland ponies is famous and her experience in competition driving well known, provided an extremely interesting demonstration of long-reining which included some advanced training methods including shoulder-in. I don’t think that I was alone in being both surprised and impressed that such an every-day task could be so interesting.

It was a great pity that both the NPS Scotland bake-off and the Highland Pony Society study day were not experienced by other horse and pony people in Scotland, as they had universal appeal and good reason for bringing like-minded people and enthusiasts together for pure entertainment and education.

There was no question that they took a great deal of organisation and in some ways it substantiates the call for greater liaison among societies in Scotland if not a federal approach. I wonder if Scotland can show the way for Britain by means of a Scottish Pony Society which brings together all the benefits of the existing societies.

At a recent agm, I heard a call for fewer societies which came from the floor and I can predict that this may well happen within the next decade if not before. It was a genuine plea from someone who is a member of several societies which all seem to be seeking the same objectives as well as help, sponsorship and support from members.

In challenging financial times, it is understandable that money is scarce, so sponsorship is difficult to find. While even a small amount of physical help costs nothing and the support of meetings and events often limited to the cost of fuel, it would appear that time comes at a huge premium when it comes to voluntary effort in today’s world.

This brings me to the the subject of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society and the deafening silence from its office, which has followed comments posted on social media and the article which appeared in the SF. I would just like to remind those on the society’s payroll that their funding comes not only from the money their work generates but also more importantly from hard-earned memberships and the show’s success through voluntary effort.

On behalf of all of us who hold the show dear to hearts, I appeal to all sides to start communicating both within and outwith the walls of Ingliston House in order to put to rest all the stories which continue to spread around the country and to allay concerns which exist throughout the showing world both at home and further afield.