Livestock breeders in Scotland dream of securing a breed championship at the Highland Show. For many it is the pinnacle of their ambition. A few manage to achieve this summit on a handful of occasions.
But Harry Sleigh of St John's Wells, Fyvie was able to count no less than 56 Highland Show championships in Shetland Ponies, Clydesdale horses and commercial sheep amassed by himself, his father and his grandfather.
In addition to his many successes in the show ring, Harry saw many of his Shetland ponies either exported to countries across the world or sold to top studs in the UK.
His most recent success at the Ingliston showground was at this summer’s Showcase event replacing the traditional Highland Show because of Covid. This followed an impressive run of victories in the Shetlands in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2019.
The success of Wells Shetland ponies at the Highland Show was not confined to the individual championship as twice in the past decade, in 2015 and 2019, Harry’s ponies went on to take the coveted Sanderson award for best overall heavy horse champion,
Harry’s standing in the world of exhibiting horses was confirmed in 2016 when the Wells’ stud was awarded the prestigious John Miller trophy. This is given to the exhibitor – across all breeds – who has presented stock to an extremely high standard and who has also enhanced the show for other exhibitors
The Highland Show successes were not achieved in isolation, as in 2012 Harry won the award for the best overall horse or pony bred by an exhibitor at the prestigious Royal Northern Agricultural Society Spring Show.
More recently, in 2019, Harry was honoured when he was presented with the trophy for Horse-breeder of the Year by Horse Scotland, the national organisation for all equestrian sports and activity in this country.
While these awards were at the top of the breeding pyramid, Wells ponies and commercial sheep bred on Harry’s farm picked up numerous awards at smaller, more local shows.
He was especially supportive of Turriff Agricultural show, with a decades-long record of exhibiting at it. On one special day, Harry’s competitive spirit must have been satisfied and the quality of his stock confirmed after he picked up the Shetland champions’ tickets at both the Banchory and Nairn shows.
Showing livestock was in Harry’s blood as his father and grandfather both had very successful careers with their stock in the show ring and when in 2009, following the death of their father, Harry took over the farm with his brother, John – including around 50 of the top ponies in the country – Harry did not shy away from the top level competition. In fact, he revelled in it.
When the Wells Shetland Pony Stud was established in 1915, the guiding principles were that Scotland’s smallest native breed should be based on their hardiness, their conformation and their mobility. More than a hundred years later, Harry still stuck to these principles.
On leaving Turriff Academy as soon as he was eligible to do so, Harry went home to work with his father, also Harry, and mother, Ann, on the family farm.
Apart from the prizewinning Shetlands, the farm was renowned for its Half Bred and Cheviot sheep, both breeds featuring in successful forays to both the Highland Show and to local events. The farm extends to 1,500 acres with crops, breeding cattle and sheep, as well as the Shetland ponies. Harry and John also diversified into renewable energy with wind turbines
Away from his farming and livestock exhibiting life, Harry immersed himself in supporting the local community. He chaired the Community Council for Fyvie, Rothienorman and Monquhitter and he also served as an enthusiastic member of the local amenities committee.
In his younger days he played football with some of the local amateur teams and when these days passed, he was also a regular on the football pitches of the north-east in his capacity as a referee. Although friendly off the playing field, his word or his whistle were not to be ignored, or even challenged, on the pitch.
While his support in the livestock world was for the most iconic and traditional of breeds, Harry’s musical taste was eclectic, but his favourite was heavy metal, especially Iron Maiden.
Harry met Wendy Stewart when she came into the Turriff area as the first female vet. Their friendship blossomed when both were members of Turriff Young Farmers club and they married in Fyvie church in 1994. Sons Harry and Stewart both work in the farming industry
Although double vaccinated, Harry’s death followed a month in hospital with Covid. Harry Sleigh is survived by his wife and sons.
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