Obituary: Ewan Cameron Ormiston, pony breeder

Pony breeder who was an all-rounder in Highland Games, excelling at Shinty. Picture: Contributed
Pony breeder who was an all-rounder in Highland Games, excelling at Shinty. Picture: Contributed
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Born: 7 April, 1929,in Newtonmore. Died: 29 August, 2014, in Inverness, aged 85.

Cameron Ormiston sadly passed away peacefully in Raigmore Hospital Inverness on Friday, 29 August, after a short illness. A fit and active man all of his life, he was still shifting ponies and going about his daily rounds only a few weeks before he died.

Born in Banchor Farmhouse in Newtonmore to Ewan and Elcie on 7 April, 1929, he claimed his prowess at shinty came about because his mother walked him through the goalposts on the Eilan shinty pitch the night before he was born.

After some time in Newtonmore school he then went on to be educated at Gordonstoun.

A sportsman all of his life and one of the greatest all-rounders in the Highlands, he not only played Shinty, even captaining the team, but was well known on the Highland Games circuit for competing in both the light and heavy events as well as running hill races and wrestling – a unique diversity of talent seldom seen today.

During his national service he was a PT instructor in the army and later on a very keen clay pigeon shot like his father, travelling all over Scotland to compete and meet good friends.

The family were always associated with the Balavil Arms Hotel in Newtonmore, where they helped start the first ski school in Scotland in 1948 and of course they pioneered pony trekking holidays in 1952, two years before anybody else, in association with the Scottish Council for Physical Recreation – something that grew in to a huge industry through the 1950s, 60s and 70s.

His dad Ewan was also very well known for his butchers and game dealing business that fed so many during the Second World War because most game, especially venison, was not rationed.

It is believed they had control of around 700,000 acres of deer forest at this time with teams of stalkers and ghillies, including Cameron himself, heading out from Newtonmore with lorry loads of deer ponies and people to remote estates from Cannich to Islay to harvest this venison, before returning it to Newtonmore to be butchered and wrapped in hessian and put on the train to the cities and eventually Germany too after the war.

His real passion, however, was his Highland ponies, closely followed by Highland cattle – traditions that his sons have all kept going today, having inherited his great eye for stock and an ability to work with all livestock.

In his early years, along with his father, they had upwards of 300 ponies used for the deer and leased out to Highland estates too, these then became the basis of the pony trekking workforce. There is hardly a farm in Badenoch that Cameron and his father have not farmed at some point, but he is probably best known for his years at Strathmashie Estate at Laggan during the 1970s and 1980s, where is own sons learned their trade among the ponies and cattle and also the deer too.

His proudest moment in the horse world was when he won Reserve Champion overall of the show in the Fredricks Trophy at the Horse of the Year Show in London in 1966 with the stallion Glentromie Trooper. This was closely followed by another of his stallions Torrin of Croila winning the overall ridden mountain and moorland at Olympia in 2008 for the Stanford family.

In latter years he lived at a new house Mo Dhacaidh (Gaelic for “My Home”), that he built at Croila Stables in the village, never retiring but still doing his daily rounds of all his animals even at 85 years old.

He still attended all local shinty matches supporting his beloved Newtonmore and every week made time to go round and visit all his old friends (and some younger ones) just like his father had done before him. A true Highland gentleman who meant so much to so many and who will not be forgotten for a long time to come.