Ingliston provided the perfect setting for the the Worshipful Company of Farriers' Home International competition held last month at The Forge, the bespoke competition venue at The Royal Highland show ground.

Scotland hosted the competition this year, taking its turn on a rota, with teams competing from Scotland, England, Ireland and Wales along with the Barbarians, former farriers from the British Army. There was strong competition and friendly rivalry throughout the weekend and a great atmosphere reported during competition.

The Scottish Farmer: An impressive line-up of Highland ponies and riders, with the famous Balmoral Castle as their backdropAn impressive line-up of Highland ponies and riders, with the famous Balmoral Castle as their backdrop

World Horse Welfare, British Showjumping and Lochleven Vets were the leading sponsors, along with the Royal Highland Agricultural Society of Scotland which also hosted the prize-giving ceremony in its modern and spacious Members' Pavilion.

A table covered in familiar RHASS prize tickets were displayed prior to the awards ceremony. Representing Gogar Services and STAS Trailers, the other principal sponsors, Alison Snowie, presented the awards for the various categories, including shoe making and shoeing in which the run-away winners in all categories were the two English teams.

The Scottish Farmer: Rhuaridh Ormiston in the driving seat for his team of Highland poniesRhuaridh Ormiston in the driving seat for his team of Highland ponies

Scotland fared well throughout with placings in all categories and benefited from the sponsorship of Handmade Shoes Scotland. The Scottish senior team consisted of David Varini, Lewis Balfour, Andrew Dryburgh, Grant Watt and Sarah Brown, with Jim Balfour as team manager; the Scottish apprentices team was made up of Matt Bradley, Ben McCredie, James Sutton, Ewan Barbour and Peter Rogers, with Alistair Smith as team manager.

With few Scottish farriers coming forward for team selection, the managers were at the races to bring teams together and the situation made worse by the very small number of apprentices currently in training.

Apprentice team members, Matt Bradley, from Fort William, and Ben McCredie, from Hawick, are studying towards their Level 3 Farrier Apprenticeship Standard at Myerscough College, which lasts over a three-year period.

The Scottish Farmer: BHS Scotland's national manager, Helene Mauchlen (standing, left) with her chairman Lorraine Young (centre) at the start of the ride-outBHS Scotland's national manager, Helene Mauchlen (standing, left) with her chairman Lorraine Young (centre) at the start of the ride-out

Completion at this level is essential for apprentices to become registered farriers. With blocks of study intermingled with on the job training, they are currently based near Dunblane with Alistair Smith, one of the approved trainers in Scotland.

Despite having arguably the finest training facilities in Britain at the SRUC Oatridge Campus, it is ironic that there are no Level 3 courses available north of the Border and few apprenticeship opportunities on offer through Scottish Government funding.

Compounding the financial difficulties that beset budding farriers, is the fact that tertiary funding doesn’t extend beyond Scottish institutions. With no course available in Scotland, lads like Ben and Matt are forced to enrol at one of three colleges that offer advanced farriery courses in Britain with Myerscough, in Lancashire, the closest – all at their own cost.

Thankfully, Alistair and Alison Snowie recognised their financial plight and are assisting them by funding their training

Juliet Grant, blacksmithing lecturer at Oatridge Campus, tells me that the college does run a range of ‘Forgework’ courses, including the City and Guilds Level 2 certificate that follows a 16-week course run three days a week.

The Scottish Farmer: A contingent from the Balmoral Estate with The Duke of Edinburgh second from leftA contingent from the Balmoral Estate with The Duke of Edinburgh second from left

Aimed at ‘aspiring farriers and blacksmiths’ it provides them with a comprehensive introduction to the essential skills and knowledge to take their interest further. In her words: "At SRUC Oatridge Campus, we are dedicated to nurturing the next generation of talented farriers and blacksmiths."

Sadly the certificate doesn’t lead to registration as a farrier, which, by law is required before someone can shoe equines.

The last apprenticeship farriery course delivered at Oatridge was around 2007 when staffing emerged as a problem. If I remember correctly, the wage on offer was based on formally agreed tertiary levels at the time and fell far short of the wage that practising farriers could achieve in the world of work.

Unable to find a replacement lecturer, the course collapsed although I am assured that another would be considered if demand increased and sufficient number of apprentices came forward for enrolment.

At the end of the day, it’s all about money with the politics of funding thrown in for good measure. At a time when the country is desperately trying to bring young people into the world of work, it is surely possible for the Scottish Government to find a way to fund apprentice farriers, preferably at Oatridge but, failing that, at colleges further afield.

There was a great sight to behold at the Royal family’s Deeside residence later in the month, when more than 70 Highland ponies lined up in front of Balmoral Castle prior to organised rides through its beautiful estate.

Held in conjunction with the British Horse Society (Scotland), it was all part of a fundraising ride as part of the Highland Pony Society centenary celebrations at Balmoral. Centenary apart, the promise of outstanding Highland vistas and riding through the 300-year-old pine forest held much appeal for all those taking part, which included BHS (Scotland) members.

The Scottish Farmer: Balmoral's Highland pony stud manager and Highland Pony Society chairman, Sylvia OrmistonBalmoral's Highland pony stud manager and Highland Pony Society chairman, Sylvia Ormiston

Balmoral's Highland pony stud manager, Sylvia Ormiston, along with the strong support of the management team on the estate, made perfect partners for The SF columnist and BHS (Scotland) national manager, Helene Mauchlen and her team to make the day a memorable one.

It was all the more poignant as HM the late Queen, had given the given the celebration ride her blessing during the planning stages more than 12 months ago. It was a fitting tribute to her and her love for her Highland ponies that her son, the Duke of Edinburgh, was not only present but also took part in the ride as part of the Balmoral contingent.

BHS (Scotland) is no stranger to the estate and well versed in the complex organisation of such an event with all the implications of horse welfare, rider safety and overall health and safety issues high on the agenda.

On this occasion, brand new routes were explored ranging from optional distances of 5, 11 and 20km on offer designed for those astride as well as those on carriages. It was very apt that Sylvia’s brother-in-law, Ruaridh Ormiston, from Kingussie, made an appearance with his team of four Highland ponies, a sight which would not have been so rare in the days of the estate’s former owner, Queen Victoria, more than 100 years ago.

Participants travelled from all over Scotland and further afield to attend the event which involved stabling on site. There was the added bonus of a pig-roast in the evening, a tour round the Balmoral stud the following morning and free access to the estate during the weekend visit.

The day began with the line-up of Highland ponies in front of the castle, after which riders were set off at regular periods over the course of the morning.

Little did the general public visiting Balmoral know that they would be sharing the paths and tracks with so many others on horseback – what a pleasure it must have been.

From a personal perspective, I have to admit that I have never seen so much ‘high-viz’ in any one gathering of equines – from vests, jackets, leggings and head bands for the riders to saddle cloths, exercise rugs, boots, bandages, tail wraps and ear muffs for the horses and ponies (as well as the donkey which was driven), so there was no chance of avoiding the entourage taking part. That, in itself, was a sight I’ll never forget.

Nor will I forget the happy faces on all who were taking part, be it rider, groom, family member, friend, helper or steward – what a happy, friendly and positive atmosphere prevailed.

I saw very few excitable, or keen horses and ponies, but needless to say, the Highland ponies seemed unflappable and enjoying every minute of the day.

As I left the lovely Balmoral Estate, which I encountered on the best of late spring days, I had to wonder if it was the lack of competition that made the day such a happy one for me and all those who took part? Perhaps, here was a message for the equestrian community?