A DAY out at the Highland pony breed show, at Strathallan, was just the tonic I needed following three weeks when stress levels seemed to be at an all-time high.

In fact, it’s the first time since April that I have attended a show without a job to do, which made it all the more pleasurable having time to enjoy the beautiful surroundings of the Strathallan Estate, some lovely ponies and, moreover, to meet up with some interesting people and old friends.

The organisers had to be well pleased with their annual breed show, comparable in standard to this year’s Royal Highland in the eyes of some and better according to others. Not having witnessed the Ingliston classes, I can’t comment, however, come championship time, the main ring was full of lovely, well-presented Highland ponies, a credit to both the exhibitors and the breed.

As elsewhere around the country, current entries may not compare with years gone by but not so quality which, in my view, looked to be as high as ever. It is a pity that some of the ponies, including those under saddle, were much too fat but seemed to remain un-penalised, which is contrary to current advice from the majority of pony societies.

Judges, more than any other identifiable group within the show ring, have the capacity to bring about a change where this is concerned and it’s about time that they exert the power to do so.

It is always interesting to cast an eye on a breed other than your own and I have to say I was impressed by the relatively uniform type which came before judge, Susan Wardrop, a well known breeder from Ayrshire, whose own ponies have topped both the in-hand and ridden rings.

Needless to say, it was this background which kept the ‘plodders’ in the paddock at home and most of the youngsters looked as if they had a job to do when they matured other than carry deer. While perhaps not the preferred choice of some of the older stalwarts of the breed, it is a reality of the 21st century and one which was reflected in the judges’ choices in the adjacent ridden ring.

‘Fit for purpose’ is a term widely used today and the Highland breed, like so many others, is doing remarkably well to make the required adjustment in that direction. That said, breeders will do well to maintain the established gene pool to which many generations have contributed and will cast it aside at their peril.

Characteristics such as pony character, strength and hardiness are essential, as too is the free, big-striding walk which must not be lost in favour of the popular gallop which, historically, has no place in any of the native breeds.

I was surprised that walk and trot featured little in the individual show required in the HOYS qualifying ridden class, although I am sure the performance judge, Maggie Inglis, had good reason for this based on her own wide experience of riding her mother’s famous Turin Hill ponies.

It was ‘fit for purpose’ which was high on my own agenda while judging the ridden Sports Horse classes at this year’s Royal Highland Show. While there was a day that I would have relished the task of riding them, at my stage in life it was more appropriate that I undertook the task of assessing conformation, something close to my own heart – as regular readers of this column will be only too aware.

Unsurprisingly, good conformation has underlying principles which are universal to ponies and horses alike so I found this experience both very interesting and enjoyable. Jumping judge was one of Britain’s top show jumpers, Geoff Billington, while ride judge was well known Scottish event rider, Louisa Milne-Hume – we got on well together and the best horses seemed to come to the top of the line.

Bearing in mind that the majority of the riders came from the performance world, show jumping in particular, it shouldn’t have come as a surprise to me that most of them had no idea how to present a horse for conformation assessment. How they do it to their advantage when selling them, is beyond me.

It warmed my heart to witness young horses which had not been overfed, unlike many show horses. However, the majority were huge (many over 17 hands) and precious few stood on good limbs.

Looking to the future and longevity, I question how fit they will be for purpose on the basis of soundness but only time will tell.

Attendance at my 50th Royal Highland Show didn’t go to plan, as judging in the all-weather arena was all but my complete experience of this year’s show although, admittedly, I did get the chance to watch a couple of ridden hunter classes as well as the championship.

It was with some disbelief that I watched the ride judge ask for canter without sitting astride so not surprised that some of the horses reacted by picking up on the wrong leg including one of the winners. Have I missed something, or are riding conventions changing?

As it happens, this was to be the least of my worries as the following day, while getting a mare ready for her class, I received an urgent call from my neighbour who was collecting sheep for clipping. The words ‘ We have found a dead mare’ and ‘there’s a foal running around’ remain fixed in my memory and by nine that morning I was home with our show prospect never having set foot on the Ingliston show field.

The mare had obviously foaled during the night and subsequently died, leaving us with an orphan foal which required immediate attention if it was to survive. This in itself leads to a remarkable story, which I’ll relate in full in a later column, but suffice to say that three weeks on I am glad to report that the foal is alive and well.

Needless to say my 50th Royal Highland will remain etched in my memory for reasons least expected.

Finally, during a month hosting so many notable sporting championships – ranging from tennis at Wimbledon to cricket at Lord’s – I would challenge anyone to deny the equestrian world of one of it’s greatest moments to date when Enable sped to victory in the Coral-Eclipse, at Sandown Park, on July 2. Arguably the best racehorse of all time and, by his own admission, the best her famous jockey, Frankie Dettori, has ever ridden, the John Gosden-trained mare is one of three mares to have won this famous race since its inception in 1886.

Enable is owned and bred by Khalid bin Abdullah, a member of a prominent Saudi Arabian family – his famous Juddmonte Farms have accounted for a great number of classic winners over the past 30 years, many of which are household names, such as Dancing Brave and Frankel.

Beautifully bred with the highly influential sire, Saddler’s Wells, both top and bottom in her pedigree, this five-year-old mare has been unbeaten in her last 10 starts – which has made more remarkable by the fact that they include the world’s greatest races, such as the Epsom and Irish Oaks, The King George V1 and Queen Elizabeth Stakes, the Breeders’ Cup and the Prix de l’Arc de Triomphe (twice).

Acknowledged as the best middle distance horse in the world, her brilliant performance can only be matched by her classic Thoroughbred good looks.