The return journey to Scotland from this year's Horse of the Year Show must have seemed all the shorter for Scottish exhibitors following a string of great results, possibly the best for years. Most remarkable among them had to be Kirsty Aird, currently based at The Howe Equestrian Centre and one of the most versatile riders/producers in Britain.

With a lorry load of 'first timers', according to Kirsty, making debut appearances at HOYS, little could she have predicted the successes accumulated over the week nor the contrast between her rides more marked throughout the week.

On the first day, when native ponies held court all day in the TopSpec Arena, Kirsty started the ball rolling with a creditable seventh place with the Highland pony mare, Glenbanchor Lismores Brighde, an 8-year-old shown for her breeder, Hon Sally Leslie-Melville from Inverness. Appearing at HOYS for the first time, interestingly, she was the only mare to compete in the class.

In terms of results, arguably Kirsty's best win came on the following day, when again mountain and moorlands dominated the TopSpec Arena, this time for working hunter ponies. An accomplished rider over jumps, it was little wonder that she steered to victory in the 133cms class another relative novice, Caroline Casey’s attractive chestnut Welsh Section C, Llanidan Bonheddwr.

Based on Kirsty for this season, this 11-year-old is a good all-rounder and purchased as a potential mount of Caroline's young daughter, Jorgi, who did well to finish up the line in a previous class for junior riders with her very attractive dun Welsh mountain pony, Rhencullen Rockette. Based in Orkney, this family had to be the furthest traveled of all to the show.

On Friday, Kirsty's interests were torn between rings with a very early 7.20 am start in the International Arena. It is several years since she sourced the chestnut heavyweight hunter, Harry's Hunter, for Edinburgh-based enthusiast Alastair Findlay. Having taken over the ride prior to The Highland, where he qualified for HOYS, a fifth place here among the established hunter professionals was a good result.

Needless to say, all the while news was filtering back to Kirsty that she had earned the accolade of having bred a HOYS winner when Nae Limits jumped his way to glory for his owner/rider Leyla Wheelwright in the Intermediate 'Plaited Workers'. This was no mean feat as the jumps are huge and the track always very demanding, just as they had been a few weeks earlier when the combination had come second in the prestigious Desert Orchid competition at the BSPS Championships. Bred to perform, the seven-year-old's dam, Freckleton Mayday, twice qualified for the Workers at HOYS piloted by Kirsty.

Scottish breeders were well to the fore in the Kellythorpe Breeders Awards at HOYS which recognise those whose stock have featured well in all the qualifiers. It was a fitting tribute to Anne Mitchell that she should take the Highland Pony award since her Dunedin ponies have been to the fore for well over a decade now with 2023 being no exception.

Dunedin Mascot, now owned by his regular rider/producer, Katie Common, came second as he did last year while Dunedin McSporran for Jan and Chris Grant dropped a place to fourth this time round; both ponies are by the leading sire, Dunedin Marksman. It was surely a fitting tribute to the late John Dykes that ponies bred by him and his wife, Kate, should stand first and third. Heading the class was Marksman of Mendick while the third was Harris of Mendick, a very familiar face to Scotland with his regular partner Brian Williams for owner, Aileen Curle.

It was Scottish breeding to the fore within the Connemara breed when John and Diana Staveley from Eskdalemoor claimed the Breeders Award for their Eastlands Stud and stallion, Eastlands Harleybrae. With two of his full-brother offspring competing in the ridden classes again this year, it was last year's winner, Eastlands Dunedin, who triumphed in both class and championship in a highly competitive Junior Riders M&M section.

The Shetland breed wasn't to be outdone during the show with a variety of Shetland ponies placed in the classes with their little riders. However, it was the Aberdeenshire-based 15-year-old stallion that rode him to victory in the third class. Still a relative novice to the ridden game with wins this year both in hand and astride both sides of the Border, he qualified for HOYS at the Shetland Pony Society Breed Show on the Black Isle at the end of the season. This sturdily-built dark bay was bred for the job and broken to ride earlier in his career which has since focused on breeding. It was his breeding success that attracted his current owner, Nicky Richards, for her Abbotsbury Shetland Stud, where he will now return to the breeding paddocks.

Towards the end of the week, native ponies gave way to the plaited variety and here again, the Scots were to the fore. It was the turn of Edinburgh rider, Katie Parker and her Thistledown Sea Mariner to head the 133cms show hunter ponies just as they had done at the Royal International Horse Show in the summer. A Welsh pony in pedigree, this attractive grey bred by Sandy Anderson had previously won at HOYS in 2021.

It was on the last day of the show that the Scottish breeds yet again held centre stage when the inaugural Gogar Services Driven Heavy Horse of the Year title in the International Arena went to the Clydesdale gelding, Walton Bomber. Taking on all the other heavy horse breeds to win, this smart bay qualified at the Perth Show in August. He was expertly produced by Ron Brewster from Murthly and owned and driven by Wendy Toomer Harlow, a true enthusiast, who is a founder member of the British Ridden Heavy Horse Society and a council member of the Shire Horse Society.

The unique class was well received by an appreciative audience that had already been treated to a heavy horse musical drive in this arena during the week. However, the last word had to go to the Highland breed, which, as part of its Centenary celebrations, was accorded evening display time. Beautiful Highland ponies in a well-choreographed display to traditional music including a piper and drums, went a long way to stir the audience.

But so too did the words of the Past President of the Highland Pony Society, Sylvia Ormiston, who, in a break from the tradition of using famous actors, had the honour of reciting The Ode to the Horse prior to the Cavalcade as the curtain fell on the 2023 event. Yet again, it was quite a show for the equestrian community and Scotland.