It’s beyond my reasoning why there should be an air of confidence in equestrianism when Britain continues to face uncertainty over it’s position in Europe and confidence in our members of parliament seems to have hit an all-time low.

Perhaps it goes to prove that Mother Nature plays a much more significant part in our lives than we think with the spring equinox bringing equal dark and light to our days as well as spring weather continuing to encourage the greening of our fields and trees.

Notwithstanding the critical time currently facing our farming friends and neighbours, it’s with a positive mindset that I bring you my March column – despite the comment from one of my pony friends yesterday who told me that all I do is criticize and moan!

I am encouraged to read the recent update on equine influenza from the Animal Health Trust, which shows a healthy reduction in the number of recorded cases of the flu virus in Britain. With 48 cases in total by March 15 and no cases in Scotland for some six weeks – although it doesn’t mean to say that there aren’t many more unrecorded cases – I think that the threat of epic proportions of its spread seem to have dissipated and thankfully so.

Undoubtedly, many owners helped this both by having their horses and ponies vaccinated when otherwise they might not and by acting sensibly in terms of possible spread.

It would seem that most equestrian centres have now brought out their own precautions, with many of them insisting on vaccinations for competitors visiting their sites. How organisers of events, who rent their facilities, deal with this varies just as our major shows are varying in their approach to a rule on vaccinations, which most of them now seem to have endorsed.

Crucial to them all will be passports and details of currrent vaccination records. Some shows are enforcing passport checks on arrival and others check when collecting class numbers.

It is official that the Royal Highland Show requires ‘mandatory’ vaccination this year for all horses, ponies and donkeys with random passport checks being implemented. Exhibitors will be well advised to make sure their passports are valid, otherwise it will be a case of an early bath and those not complying going home before they have a chance to compete

Like many others, we have decided to have any ponies likely to compete vaccinated, primarily on the basis of compliance, rather than health grounds alone. Thankfully, we have had no reactions to the vaccines so far although it has not been without concern based on previous experience.

A way back in the 1980s, when there were similar problems with equine flu, one of our stallions had a serious reaction and was properly sick and couldn’t move his neck for a week. It seemed to trigger a mild laminitis in another pony and a friend’s show horse was critically affected by laminitis immediately after vaccination.

However, on balance, it is worth the risk which would appear to be limited to a few.

While I fully endorse the action taken by the BHA (British Horseracing Authority) I still question if the equine industry would have been sent in such a spin over equine flu had it not been for the seven-day halt to racing which was based on welfare grounds.

This has to pale into insignificance compared to its threat to the betting industry and the Cheltenham Racing Festival, with its 250,000 attendance and value to the betting industry of well over £0.5bn in stake money. However, thankfully it did go ahead and, as always, it was full of memorable highlights including large competitive fields, exciting finishes, masterful jockeys and beautiful horses.

Seldom do individual horses capture the attention of the public but the likes of the magnificent Altior and versatile 2018 Grand National winner, Tiger Roll, most certainly do.

Among the many celebrities, who seem to flock to this event and the best trainers in the business from both sides of the Irish Sea, there were three people on the third day of the four day Festival, who captured the hearts of the racing public this year.

Pride of place must surely go to Bryony Frost, whose gutsy finish with Frohon to win the Ryanair Chase placed her in the history books as the first woman to claim victory in a grade one chase. She endeared herself to everyone by the modesty she demonstrated towards her own personal achievement and the enthusiastic way she claimed victory for her horse, which she claimed as a best friend.

Most significantly, this victory was heralded by the likes of Sir Anthony McCoy as the one which recognised the worth of a jockey based on ability and not on whether they happen to be male or female. In many ways it’s all down to opportunity within a previously male dominated sport.

Interestingly, just after she rode to victory in the Ryanair, it was a female trainer who saddled the winner of the next race. Emma Lavelle is no stranger to success at the top level and this time it was the popular Paisley Park which took the Stayers Hurdle. Owned by Andrew Gemmell, it would be hard to find a more delighted and enthusiastic owner made all the more remarkable since he has been blind since birth.

Eventing, show jumping and dressage would have ignored at their peril the capability of the female rider, whose victory at top level has been well established for decades. The RDA (Riding for the Disabled Association), headed by The Princess Royal, is an organisation positively led if not driven by women and it was to her surprise and delight that Borders volunteer, Susie Elliott MBE, from Minto, was recognised by horsescotland for her outstanding contribution to the RDA.

It was fitting that RDA chief executive, Ed Bracher, had made the trip to Dunblane to make the presentation on this, the 50th anniversary of the RDA in Scotland. He was full of praise for the drive and commitment which the recipient had made at both local and national levels and advised the room that she was indeed a force with which to be reckoned, a quality which endeared her to everyone’s heart.

For her part, Mrs Elliott made a humbling response, in much the same way as Bryony Frost, when she said: “Horses make dreams come true; it’s the magic of the horse.” Well, so say all of us.

Finishing on the last of my positives for this month, it was great to be out and about with like-minded pony enthusiasts last weekend for the BSPS Scottish Branch Winter Show, at Highfield at Howe Equestrian Centre, Ladybank. It was encouraging to see a sizeable entry forward and a good atmosphere with exhibitors braving the previous day’s snowfall to meet the challenges of the day, which included qualifying classes for the Royal International Horse Show.

Working hunter ponies met a fitting challenge over an attractive rustic course, so it was no wonder that regular members of the Scottish BSPS team came to the fore early in the season to ensure a serious challenge once again at Hickstead this summer.

Waxwing school teachers in the limelight

Tom Best and his partner, David Blair, were recently jointly honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award at the horsecotland annual awards ceremony.

Previously school teachers, Tom and David became involved in equine breeding when they formed their Waxwing Stud in 1972. Their Welsh Section A and B ponies are renowned for having excellent temperaments and trainability.

Many ponies with their breeding have gone on to become winners, including Horse of the Year Show supreme pony champion, Waxwing Thumbs Up. “Their continued passion and dedication to the world of breeding, showing and judging coupled with their willingness to share their knowledge and expertise makes them very worthy winners of this award,” said the judging panel.