By Tom Best

Since last year’s Royal Highland, it’s hard to believe that we would enjoy better weather, so would it be too selfish to wish that every summer in Scotland enjoyed six warm, sunny and rain-free weeks like last year and a mild and dry winter like the one we are currently enjoying?

Life would be so much easier for humans and equines alike.

Just think of it: We would have beautiful green dust-free hay, little or no mud, fields which still look green in January and, most importantly, a smile on faces which otherwise would be wearing a frown.

It’s hard not to feel mildly anxious about what the weather will throw at us during the next six weeks, but the days are drawing out and the snow drops have popped up early and besides, there’s no harm in wishing and, since it’s the time of year for wishing, why stop at the weather?

Top of my list, like so many others, has to be a resolution to the Brexit deal, which, rightly or wrongly, was scuppered in parliament this week.

In my own case, ignorance and uncertainty go hand in hand, along with a growing distrust in our politicians whose eyes seem firmly set on selfish or political gain rather than delivering for the country.

Directly related to this is my second wish that someone tells us how leaving the European Union may/will impact on equestrianism in Britain.

There are obvious concerns at both the equine industry and competition levels, but what about the everyday horse and pony enthusiast, who is being bombarded by stories of economic doom and gloom?

Will they be able to afford their hobby/passion? Could we witness a significant rise in welfare issues related to equines or even widescale abandonment?

We can only hope not, but who can tell what the future will bring and is it wise not to prepare for the worst case scenario?

Equine welfare brings me to the third of my wishes for 2019. While I think I have an awareness of major welfare issues which cover the care and management of horses and ponies and can recognise obvious forms of physical abuse, I wish answers were available on some of the less obvious or contentious issues based on reliable research or sound scientific grounds.

Rumbling on from last year are several such issues which include: The use of nose bands and their fitting; the severity of bits and bitting; the acceptable ratio of rider weight to mount; and pre-competition schooling at competition events.

As public awareness of animal welfare issues seems to have reached an all-time high, the equine industry ignores any issue related to equine welfare at its peril.

However, it seems to know no bounds and one wonders how long it will be before the very riding of a horse comes into question, let alone jumping it over obstacles or galloping along roads such as occurs during the common ridings.

As an interest group and an obvious target, my own prediction will be that the mental welfare of the equine will come into question in the near future as well as its own equine rights. It may not be so far away if the current rise in veganism is anything to go by.

A quick glance at the Vegan Society website provides a definition: “Veganism is a way of living which seeks to exclude, as far as is possible and practicable, all forms of exploitation of, and cruelty to, animals for food, clothing or any other purpose.”

How long before the ‘any other purpose’ comes the way of equestrianism?

Fourth on my wish list covers the growing need for a younger generation of enthusiasts to become involved in all forms of the equine world be it for competition or pleasure.

There is a desperate need for younger people to volunteer especially as the older generation, which currently bears the burden, has to bow out due to age and not lack of interest or passion.

It may take that older generation to loosen its grip on how things are done sooner than later, but that generally sits comfortably with the pattern of evolution and there comes a time to let go.

My penultimate wish covers a wide range of issues which I genuinely feel need to be addressed within the showing world of which I have been a part for the past 50 years.

As mentioned in last month’s column, I wish the various societies would get together and adopt a federal approach which benefits all members in a consistent and transparent way.

Top of the agenda, I’d wish for a coming together of rules to replace the plethora which currently exist.

Next, I wish the showing societies would address the controversy which continues to surround the use of a marks system for judging by initiating a review which incorporates all stake holders in an attempt to consolidate an agreed system which is fit for purpose.

Any system is only as good as the judges who use it and they are not exempt from my wish list. As with other professions and skilled groups, there is a need for continuing development among our judges with an identifiable goal of improving consistency between and among them, an issue which plagues the credibility of the mark system.

Dare I wish that some form of quality control, as well as training for judges, is added to my list for 2019?

I’d like to see the smallest ponies released from the grip of adult riders in competition and exercise at shows and I’d like to see the current fashion of ‘going in an outline’ (whatever that means) to be replaced by going in a natural way, particularly in our native ponies.

I wish children’s ponies could be just as described by definition, starting with lead rein ponies for the youngest jockeys, who should be learning to ride without knots in reins, handle bars on saddles and anything but simple snaffle bits in the mouths of their little ponies. Needless to say this would impact on training methods, not to mention breeding policies which put temperament and ‘trainability’ before glamour.

Lastly, I’d like to share a few wishes with others. Let’s all wish that the nominations for the various awards on offer in Scotland’s equestrian world during the coming months fall to worthy winners and those less lucky enjoy defeat.

Let’s all wish that, contrary to popular belief, social media shrugs off its negative reputation by demonstrating a benevolence beyond belief.

Finally, let’s hope we come out the other end having enjoyed the best possible year with our ponies, horses and friends. That’s a great outcome for all associated with this industry.