Saddle up for the Borders Festival of the Horse

Kelso based Horse Whisperer, Peter Neilson primes his Hanovarian Jack for the Borders Festival of the Horse. Picture: Contributed
Kelso based Horse Whisperer, Peter Neilson primes his Hanovarian Jack for the Borders Festival of the Horse. Picture: Contributed
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THEY say you have to be mad to live in the Borders. Mad on rugby and mad on horses.

The Melrose Sevens a few weeks ago marked the end of the rugby season, so now it’s time for these lowlanders to turn their thoughts to all things equine. Before the Common Ridings kick off, there’s the Festival Of The Horse, a ten day event from 17-27 May, which is obviously of interest to those who know their flank from their fetlock, but also huge fun for people who may have never previously found themselves perched on a saddle.

A highlight of this year’s festival is Tilting at the Ring. Never heard of it? That’s hardly surprising – this skilled equestrian sport has died out almost everywhere in Europe apart from on the borders of Denmark and Germany. Riders gallop towards a suspended ring with an outstretched lance, on which they try to catch the ring. The winner of the event is the person who manages to catch the smallest ring: which typically go down to around 6mm in diameter.

This year a team of experienced Danish tilting riders are giving training sessions at Jedburgh and Selkirk (on 22-24 May). Their visit will culminate in a demonstration in the wonderful grounds of The Haining House in Selkirk on 24 May, and a competition at the festival’s show at St Boswells on the following day.

There are a number of guided rides throughout the festival, some of which are suitable for all ages and experience levels such as the ride from Lanton (17 May), through fields and forests.

However, a bit more skill might be required for the Eildon Endurance Ride the following day which sets off from Newton St Boswells.

If you are interested in spotting the eventing stars of the future the Floors Castle Horse Trials (17-19 May) would be the place to go. With dressage, cross country and showjumping classes, the riders will be showing off all their skills. There will also be stands selling most things that you could ever want for your steed and a bar in case you need a refreshment before seeing some of the younger riders head off on the new cross country course.

Whilst in Kelso, and for a more sedate experience, pop into The Pottery in Smailholm for the “Horse Drawn, Drawn Horse” Exhibition which will showcase a range of jewellery, paintings, ceramics and sculpture, all inspired by horses (open every day from 9am-5pm). Art lovers will also want to check out the Horses and Hounds exhibition which is a one-off opportunity to examine the sporting paintings which are part of the Buccleuch Art Collection at Bowhill on 19 May, booking is essential.

Today much amateur horse-riding is undertaken purely for fun, but we shouldn’t forget that horses were once the mainstay of transport and work in rural life. There will be all types of demonstrations throughout the festival including the opportunity to see how horses continue to be active in sustainable forest management at the logging demonstration at Abbotsford.

Author Nicholas Evans may have opened our eyes to the practice of horse whispering, but alternative treatments for mounts don’t end there. If that sounds nonsense check out the equine reiki demonstration on 20 May at Harden Mains near Jedburgh, where there will be the opportunity to work with a horse’s energy. Humans respond to the treatment, so why not animals?

No horse festival would be complete without the opportunity to have a bit of a flutter and so on 25 May “Britain’s Friendlest Racecourse” at Kelso will be hosting a day of racing.

After all these activities you might be ready for a bit of a sit down, so an evening in the company of renowned horseman Richard Maxwell will be just the ticket. He’ll be at the Nenthorn Equestrian Centre on 27 May when you can hear him talk about his life as a riding instructor in the Household Cavalry and his principles of horse training.

Of course for rose growers there’s always an extra incentive for going to the Festival of The Horse – don’t forget to take a bucket for all that fine manure that will be lying around.

• For all details on events and booking go to