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Hats off to the RHAS

I HAVE to take my hat off to the board of directors of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society of Scotland for its recent decision to make a huge £500,000 commitment to the light horse section at Ingliston by investing in an all-weather surface for Ring 6.

Often referred to as the show jumping ring, it takes a pounding throughout the show from the many competitions it hosts, including working hunter and working hunter pony sections as well as the various show jumping classes in which many of the country's best compete.

The diggers moved in and the first turf lifted on April 27 for completion well in advance of this year's show. From 2015 onwards, exhibitors will be assured that the show will go on regardless of the worst conditions Scotland's weather can throw at the event; cancelled classes should be a thing of the past.

Internationally renowned company, Andrews Bowen - responsible for supplying the equestrian surface at the London Olympics - has been contracted to fit the same high-performance surface for the show.

It incorporates their Equaflow water management system which will provide recycled water for use in other parts of the show ground during the show. By gathering and storing rainwater, it provides a long-term sustainable water storage system potentially leading to large savings on water costs, a factor which no doubt swayed the board's decision.

Knowing a bit of that which went on behind the scenes, I have been impressed by key members of staff, Steven Hutt (chief executive) and David Jackson (show manager), who listened to the request for the all-weather surface then went off and did their homework on costs and logistics prior to placing the item on the agendas of the appropriate committees.

However, if any one person has to be applauded for their efforts to secure the new facility, it has to be RHASS director and RHS show jumping chief steward, Anne Logan, who has worked tirelessly to secure the new facility for competitors.

It is little wonder that she was voted 'Volunteer of the Year' by Horse Scotland. Like me, she has a passion for the show and equestrianism generally in Scotland and is a major player within the RHAS board.

More than 50 years on, I realise that it was a great day for me when my parents made me a member of the Royal Highland and Agricultural Society. I just loved going to 'The Highland'.

I well remember lying awake in bed during show week, anxiously listening out for a 'phone call my dad would make to our local blacksmith to arrange his lift to Ingliston.

Zero contracts have hit the headlines in recent weeks leading up to the General Election in a way that suggests that it is a modern phenomenon. However, 60 years ago, as a self-employed lorry driver, if there were no bricks to be delivered the following day, there was no work for my dad and no pay but, thankfully for me, an opportunity to go the show.

Bearing in mind there were no motorways, no Forth Road Bridge and the ferry crossing over the Forth was never considered an option, the journey to the show ground took us from Dunfermline via Kincardine and Linlithgow.

For a wee lad it seemed an eternity only to be followed by another seemingly eternity watching hours of horse shoeing.

My other early recollections includes the class for light horse trade turnouts in which my great uncle Will was a highly successful competitor and the grand parade with all the cattle and horses, which I watched hoist aloft on my dad's shoulders.

Sharing the same name as my dad, it took me (Tom Best junior as my membership card read) another 15 years before I could afford to pay for life membership. It was expensive at the time, but an astute financial decision in the long term.

During the interim period, my enthusiasm for the Highland has never diminished, in fact I'd say that it has grown over the years into what can only be described as a passion.

However, in my case, with passion goes criticism of the highest level and I have to admit to having been active in that department over the years, especially via the columns of The SF.

So much so, that the light horse chairman of the day, Ayrshire's well-known farming personality, Hugh Guthrie, introduced himself to me at the show one year and invited me to join the after show meeting when issues were raised before the light horse committee members.

I well remember him telling me: "We'd be as well hearing from you directly as reading your comments in The Scottish Farmer."

Well over a decade on, I continue to be invited to this annual meeting where, having been an exhibitor at the show for more than 40 years, I think I am well placed to represent the views of many who take part in this great event.

I have witnessed great improvements over the years and this year, invitation pending, I look forward to adding my compliments on the improvements to Ring 6 as I am confident that they will be great boost to and lasting asset for the Show.

Returning to the new all-weather surface, from a selfish point of view, it swells my heart with pride that 'my' Highland Show can boast a facility which no other in Britain can.

The Ingliston site uniquely provides hard standing for horse boxes and an all-weather surface for competition at the show itself and for other organisations which would like to make use of it throughout the year.

I sincerely hope that the venture will be supported by competitors and event organisers alike. Unlike the now defunct Royal Show of England, one of the first to install a major all-weather arena, the Royal Highl and Show has a real future and reason to look forward to the highest level of equestrian competition at the show for the foreseeable future.