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Look back at old summer shows

Have you noticed that the television adverts for cosmetics, deodorants and perfumes rapidly took a dive after Christmas only to be superceded by similar-looking glamorous and youthful gods and goddesses flaunting the joys of holidaying abroad?

Looking at their trim and ultra-fit bodies it is fairly obvious that none of them succumbed to overindulgence during the festive season and appointments at local tanning studios had not been interrupted by wintry conditions. Perhaps, like me, you are not drawn into the holiday trap but the promise of a warm sun, high in the sky, is an indulgence for which to be thankful. One often hears it said that the memories of childhood are warmly embedded in long summer days which, for most, I think is true. After all, other than making icy slides in the playground and enjoying snow fights over the garden fence, what was there about winter that had a lasting negative affect on children? Someone else saw to the fires, gritting the paths and thawing frozen pipes. Moreover, someone else saw to feeding and watering the pony if you were lucky enough to own one. Sadly, none of these has ever been the case for some unfortunate youngsters but, thankfully, it applies to many. It is only after the misery of the recent cold and inhospitable weather that it is great to indulge in some thoughts of summer and, for the more mature among us, there are many occasions to which we can turn our thoughts and just as well while the memory is still active. Yes, regrettably there were some miserably cold and wet days, but there were some ‘smashers’ that lie lodged in brain and many of them took place at horse or agricultural shows. Here in the East, there were several prominent gymkhanas, which were popular and competitive, albeit at a local level. Everyone wanted to win and each and every one of them that I can remember was held in glorious sunshine. The first of the year was held at Gateside, in a field adjacent to the small village hall and organised by the Baillie family, from Bannaty, of show jumping fame. At the time, I was competing with a useful small grey horse named Tango, by the Arab sire Silvadoris. We did a bit of everything and, on this particular day, we won the working hunter class, which was slightly unconventional by today’s standards. It had all the usual natural jumps but included a gate which had to be open and closed – uniquely, the whole competition was timed, so I had the fastest clear round that afternoon. For many aspiring horsemen, competing at a show included a day out and a picnic for a large number of the family. My dad was the driver and he was justifiably proud of a new trailer which was colour co-ordinated to match his Ford executive car. Having purchased the basic shell from local coach builder whose ‘Kay’ trailers were well-known both on and off the farm, my dad and the joiner we employed in our small firm completed the woodwork as well as the paintwork which was grey like the car. Bursting with pride on account of the success of his son and the beauty of his trailer, you can imagine his horror when a local blacksmith on inspecting the latter, far from being complimentary asked him why he had painted it such an bl**** awful colour. Needless to say, the red rosette swinging from the rear view mirror of the car did nothing to quell the rich language which accompanied the trip back to Dunfermline. It took a long time before my dad forgave his tormentor but in time they became the best of friends. Another of the early shows was Drymen Show, held in late May. Given the exceptionally wet days recently experienced, it is almost unbelievable that show days should be so hot that exhibitors took to the river with their horses to cool them down. We’re talking the early 1970s here, when the in-hand prize money was a staggering £12 first prize and a cross country event was incorporated into the annual agricultural show. At the height of the summer, Jackie Low-Mitchell’s mother, Peggy Balfour, was the organiser of Pittenweem Horse Show, in the East Neuk of Fife. With three rings running all day, competitors covered every age and level. Again, I remember lovely hot sunny days, particularly the day before the show when David Blair and I used to set up the working hunter and pony courses and Mrs Balfour arriving with her little Mini Countryman (remember these?) and her picnic basket with afternoon tea for ‘the boys’. This well-respected lady and senior BSJA judge, had everything organised to a T, including rustic material for the courses. One year she excelled by securing a trailer load of used fish boxes from the fishing village of Pittenweem. They made a marvellous ‘broken’ wall which required an element of bravery as it was both big and imposing. Unfortunately, for the chicken-hearted, any hesitancy before the jump brought an unexpected problem which none of us had anticipated. As the sun rose in the sky, so too did the aroma of fish from the boxes. Having slowed down sufficiently to breath in the smell, it emerged that nothing on earth could coax the perplexed equines to venture anywhere near the boxes for a second attempt. Without doubt it was a case of: “He who hesitates is lost.” Further north, Angus Show at the front in Arbroath, regularly brought with it two extremes of weather. A cold haar rolling in from the sea on an easterly breeze invariably preceded a scorcher of a day which suited the thousands of holiday makers absent early on but who made the embankment overlooking the main ring their own for the afternoon. The cold morning was less than inspiring for the ponies, especially when their coats stood up on end. However, the brilliant sunshine later in the day particularly suited one of our ponies on one particular Angus Show. Bearing in mind that this was probably 30 or so years ago, in hand production had yet to reach the dizzy heights that it has today and brow bands were simply two coloured by standard, there were no glittery bits and quarter marks and flashes were never applied. We had captured the riding pony in-hand championship with a pony belonging to a friend. However, being a yearling at only 12.2hh (and admittedly not much of a mover), we knew that we’d struggle to come anywhere meaningful in the light horse supreme with one so young and small, particularly with the ridden champions also being in contention. Aware that ridden show ponies often appeared with narrow ‘shark’s teeth’ marks on the quarters, I decided to have a go to see if this might enhance our chances. It looked great in the brilliant sunshine but not content with this, I then applied the shark’s teeth along the pony’s shoulder visually making it more sloped than in reality. All in all, the pony looked like a Christmas cracker and shone in the sun – and duly trotted off with the supreme award at the show. Climate change may have dealt Kinross Show a bitter blow in recent years, with some wet show days. However, my memory of this show will always be of extremely hot days from early in the morning when we arrived. For those of you who don’t know this show, it is traditionally staged in the grounds of Kinross House. It is compact to say the least and parking was the tightest of all the shows we attended. Limited room for exercise was a problem which we all tolerated, however it was the presence of wasps which was a bit harder to swallow. Obviously they took exception to being disturbed and these persistent blighters made their presence known early in the day until close. My memory doesn’t recall either equines or humans being stung much by the wasps, but the memory of their threat and annoyance lingers on as there was no escape from them – as for enjoying an ice cream in the sunshine, it became a major victory just to be able to consume one in peace. Hopefully, you too will have fond memories of summer shows and, if not, I trust that sharing in mine, like the holiday ads, has taken you to a warmer place albeit in your imagination. As we enter our sixth week of snow and ice, let’s raise a New Year’s glass to warmer times and I close by wishing all The Scottish Farmer readers a very healthy, prosperous and happy new year.