CANCEL the milk, water the plants, grab the suitcase – and don’t forget the horse.
A new “horse hotel” scheme has been launched by the National Trust for Scotland (NTS) offering “quality assured bed & breakfast” accommodation near the Queen’s Balmoral estate for horses, accompanied by their owners.
On arrival at Mar Lodge Estate, near Braemar, the equine guests are shown to their holiday paddocks to settle in and meet new friends before enjoying days of off-road riding on the estate and on hill tracks including Glens Quoich and Lui.
The idea was the brainwave of horse lover Fiona McCulloch, estate secretary on the trust’s property in the Cairngorms National Park, who realised the acres of land offered opportunities for riders to bring their horses with them.
McCulloch, described the estate near the River Dee as an “absolute haven” offering riders the opportunity to experience all sorts of terrain.
“It’s very stimulating for the horses to be out of their normal environment. We can tell they are happy by the way they behave in the fields when they come back from the hills. We see them really chilled out, eating, drinking and grooming each other, they’re happy and perky and sometimes lie down for a sleep. If they were stressed or on guard they wouldn’t be doing that.”
Mar Lodge Estate, which has its own Garron ponies for carrying deer down from the hill after stalking, has been accredited by The British Horse Society as an approved centre under the UK-wide Horses Welcome scheme.
Dr Gundala Sharman, who runs the IceHorses Riding Club based near Aberdeen, took around a dozen Icelandic ponies on holiday to the estate last year during a pilot scheme. Sharman said one of the attractions for her was being able to take so many at the same time.
“Quite a lot of riders can be scared of not reading a map properly and getting lost in the wilds. It’s unusual for so many of us to be able to do this sort of thing together.
“It’s adventurous, there’s freedom and romance. You can spend the whole day with your horse crossing rivers, watching wild deer and birds of prey.”
Lorna Hogg, from Kintore, near Inverurie in Aberdeenshire, a member of the Scottish Endurance Riding Club, has holidayed on the estate with her two horses, De Marco, age 17, and her other horse, seven-year-old Spangle.
“Your horse is part of your family and you want to take them on holiday with you just like everyone else,” she said.
“It gives them a change of scenery and it’s a good education, especially the younger ones who get to see things they’ve never encountered before,” said Hogg, a recycling officer with Aberdeenshire Council.
Lesley Muirdon, a civil servant from Peebles, said her horse Maeve, 15, had made friends with other horses while on holiday there.
“If you’re there for about four days the horses make friends and they don’t want to be separated. I think they like going to different places and exploring just as much as humans and have that extra spring in their step when they come back from a day out.”
The initiative is part of the trust’s cash-generating diversification programme which includes Segway tours (motorised two-wheel scooters) at Newhailes estate in Musselburgh, “camping pods” – a form of wood tent – in the grounds of Brodick Castle on Arran and bungee jumping at Killiecrankie Gorge.
Henk Berits, NTS director of commercial services and marketing said: “Horses Welcome is a brilliant innovation at the Mar Lodge Estate. It opens up the opportunity for another group of people to explore our stunning countryside and contributes vital income that supports the Trust’s conservation work onsite too.”
Alison Coleman, communications executive for The British Horse Society, which inspects potential horse B&Bs to ensure stabling, grazing and other facilities are of a suitable standard, said: “To arrive at a holiday destination and discover it is not what the advert promised is bad enough, but when you have your horse in tow you need to be certain that where you are going will be safe, secure and welcoming. That is why we offer quality assured accommodation for equine guests across the UK.”