Like me, The Scottish Farmer readers of this column will be relieved if not delighted to learn that headway has been made on the controversy surrounding the apprentice farriers examinations. The news was extensively covered in the November column and related to the withdrawal of the Farriers Registration Council's approval for the Worshipful Company of Farriers to run the examinations and the resultant uncertain future of apprentices hoping to qualify last month.

It comes as welcome news that an established organisation, VetSkill, has been approved to run the end-point examinations, the first of which will be run at the Myrescough and Warwickshire colleges towards the end of January. Already accepted by Ofqual (the responsible government body for qualifications) it would appear that the Worshipful Company of Farriers is lending its vast experience in a variety of ways to VetSkill and working closely with this company to deliver an acceptable examination diet for the farriery apprentices.

The Scottish Farmer: Bay Arab horse modelBay Arab horse model

While the resolution of the exam problem comes as great news for the apprentices, the issue of course provision for Scottish apprentices in Scotland remains an unresolved issue. Currently, Scotland’s Rural College (SRUC) offers the only farriery related course at its Oatridge Campus. The City and Guilds Level 2 Diploma in Forgework, a full time 16 week course designed to prepare students for farriery, begins next month with encouraging sounds coming from SRUC to expand the provision in the future. SRUC has clarified the situation in a statement to The Scottish Farmer issued this week:

'SRUC has been working with the Farriers Registration Council and key sector partners to identify demand for farriery training and continuing professional development (CPD). SRUC Oatridge, with sector leading equine facilities, is ideally placed to host farriery and wider equine CPD. In light of the anticipated demand for CPD for experienced farriers, as well as those wishing to enter the field, SRUC is also beginning work to explore re-establishing farriery apprenticeship provision which will require planning, identification of funding, and curriculum development with engagement from relevant industry and policy stakeholders.'

This is great news for the farriers and the equine industry in general. Looking through the SRUC prospectus, there is a terrific range of equine and equine related courses on offer at a full range of levels leading to an Honours Degree planned for the first time this year at Oatridge. Ironically, the MA qualification, which most of us recognise as Master of Arts, takes on a new identity in the equine field as it stands for Modern Apprenticeship, a term that a College spokesperson quickly attributed to the apprenticeship scheme and not the SRUC.

The Scottish Farmer: Bay horse ModelBay horse Model

While course delivery occurs throughout Scotland, the Scottish National Equestrian Centre (SNEC) at Oatridge remains the principal campus. There is a clear development in the teaching facilities there such as 'RoboCob', the recently installed robotic horse costing a cool £100k (see SF 30th December 2023). A considerably less expensive but equally useful teaching aid comes in the form of a life-size fibre glass horse model, which has the equine anatomy on its near side while the offside remains normal. We all remember the human eye, ear, and digestive system models from school days in the science lab so the idea isn't novel but a tried and tested teaching aid nonetheless.

By coincidence, the supply of these models to both the Craibstone and Oatridge campuses cropped up in conversation during the summer when I was on a judging mission at the Perth Show. During lunch, one of the stewards for the day introduced himself, and seeing that I didn't recognise him, he quickly put me at ease by saying, 'You won't recognise me but I was the lad you put first in the working hunter class at Perth Pony Club camp over forty years ago.' He added, 'I always wanted to thank you for that as I immediately went up in popularity with all the girls whose abundant numbers was the main reason I joined the Pony Club in the first place.' Needless to say, he was obviously a real character then just as I found him to be at the Show; this was Kenny Farquharson from Longforgan situated on the main road between Perth and Dundee.

The Scottish Farmer: Poppy display at Westminster abbeyPoppy display at Westminster abbey

The equine world is a very small place and it wasn't long before common factors started to emerge through conversation including the identities of both his mum and aunt who were well known to me as competitors on the show circuit in the 'early days'. Slowly the penny dropped that Kenny ran the family business called The Horn Milk Bar, a well-known landmark on the A90, which was voted home of the 'World's Best Bacon Roll' by the general public in an on-line poll in 2012. Easily recognised by the positioning of a life-size fibre glass cow on its roof, the resultant popularity of this icon fueled a business opportunity for Kenny, and Art Animals by Horn was established. Kenny's enduring sense of humour is witnessed by the fact that he regularly identifies himself as a 'plastic farmer' when completing forms.

Twenty years on from its first appearance at The Horn, a herd of plastic cows and other animals can be found across the length and breadth of Scotland. Enhanced by an equestrian background and quick to maximise this niche market, life size model horses became an obvious choice varying from Shetland Ponies, Riding Ponies, Arabs, foals, and, the most popular, the Hunter Style Horse which stands around 16.2hh. Other than equine related clients such as SRUC, Art Animals boasts both a world-wide and impressive clientele such as Old Spice, Ralph Lauren, JD Sports, and Selfridges. Their models have appeared on the London stage, in Westminster Abbey as part of a Poppy Day display, and closer to home throughout Musselburgh as part of the town's Riding of the Marches celebration in 2016. Additionally, models can be found in Japan, Bahrain, the Falkland Isles, and New Zealand, and a pink model unicorn, complete with horn, has recently been shipped to The States. Currently, a Clydesdale commission is presenting an interesting production challenge.

As much as Kenny's entrepreneurial story has impressed me, I doubt if it will have as lasting an effect as my memories of visits to the Perth Pony Club summer camp based at the now long-gone stables at Perth Racecourse. As the older generation is regularly heard to say, 'Those were the days.' If Kenny went along to impress the girls, I remember enticed along, not by the ponies or the young riders keen to learn, but by the wonderful supper that was on offer, home cooked by the parents and supplied in copious amounts. Yes, those were definitely the days!