Travel

Horses and hipflasks

The distinctly 'non-horsey' Marcin Miller dons his wellies in Pitlochry for a spot of whisky fuelled equestrianism.
By Marcin Miller
The showcase for the best of Scottish equestrianism is the Bowmore Blair Castle International Horse Trials. Nothing prepares you for it. To the non-horsey of us, the idea of equestrianism, and particularly three day eventing, suggests the painfully one-dimensional fictional world of Jilly Cooper. The reality is, fortunately, more exciting (and less predictable) than the prose offered by the queen of the embossed cover.Morrison Bowmore has sponsored the event held in late summer for the last 10 years and since 1996 have been the major sponsors. The event takes place below the impressive Blair Castle, home of the Duke of Athol (the only individual allowed to retain a private army in Britain), and is well worth a visit. According to Brian Morrison, "sponsorship of the Bowmore Blair Castle International Horse Trails has been particularly rewarding, given its heritage and reputation as one of the leading three day equestrian events in Europe. The satellite television coverage has certainly enhanced Bowmore's International branding and that of the Blair Castle event."There is an overwhelming sense of exhilaration seeing a rider successfully negotiate his horse down a steep, muddy slope against the clock. This is only matched by the vicarious pain felt watching a rider fall from a horse travelling at high speed over a series of towering, immovable, wooden jumps. As an observer you can ease the pain with a large pull on your hipflask or make your way over to the Bowmore tasting tent (where you can enter a Whisky Magazine competition). It's not so easy for the competitor, nor indeed for
the horse.Three day evening began as a comprehensive test of the all-round ability of horse and rider. Specifically, it evolved from the requirements for a top-class military charger. Modern dressage tests steadiness on parade, which is harder than it sounds bearing in mind that these big snorting beasts are bristling with energy and not overly concerned with the qualities of calmness and precision for which they are judged. The cross-country discipline establishes the ability to cross the countryside in battle, while the showjumping element reflects the ability to continue with duties after a strenuous day. Nowadays the skill of the rider is as important as that of the horse.
Finally, if horses really aren't your bag then make the most of the retail therapy opportunities offered by the country fair that runs concurrently with the event.