Young Scot is Welsh Ambassador
This years Welsh Pony and Cob Society young ambassador is Gillian McNinch, from Mossblown, in Ayrshire.
It was inevitable that Gillian would be attracted to the Welsh ponies and cobs as her parents, Alistair and Ella, had several on their farm. Wendy, an unregistered Welsh section A type pony, was Gillian’s first introduction to the breed and she rode about the farm. Later, Bryony Bright Eyes, a Welsh section B proved a useful schoolmaster in the showring.
One of her first forays into showing was with Vimpenny Lucky Strike under saddle. Spinner as he is known at home, took part in lead rein and first ridden classes by Gillian in order for the pony to gain experience at shows before Ella started to drive him.
“He was just broken to drive when we got him,” said Gillian, “but mum just loved him because he was dun.”
Ella and Spinner had a memorable first visit to the Horse of the Year Show when it was held at Wembley, being awarded the harness pony of the year championship title. Ella has now taken up Hackney pony driving and last week she won at Balmoral Show with Potpourri Farm Comin Thru.
Spinner is now retired, but Gillian has caught the driving bug herself and qualified her own mare Churchwood Country Rose, for the Horse of the Year Show last year. “I was always keen to help mum and dad by grooming at driving shows but it wasn’t until I was watching a teach in at Ingliston a couple of years ago that I thought I’d quite like to try it,” explained Gillian.
Jazz, as Churchwood Country Rose is known at home, was advertised in a driving magazine with her harness and exercise gear two years ago and the family thought the mare would be a perfect introduction for Gillian.
“Although she’s seven now, when I got her she was really quiet and bombproof, and was a perfect pony for me to learn to drive,” said Gillian.
In 2009, they won the novice class at Border Union Show, but last year “had quite a lot of seconds” including at the Highland. They did, however, win the class at the BDS Show at Border Union to qualify for HOYS.
“She was still quite novicey at HOYS but I was really pleased to get there. When I look at pictures of her from the start of last season compared to when she was HOYS I can see she has improved hugely,” said Gillian.
At home she drives around fields on the farm and has two in-hand Welsh ponies and a coloured cob to show this year, although she hasn’t turned her back on the ridden ponies.
“I enjoy the ridden horses but I’ll also ride the driving ponies; it’s good to teach them to listen to the voice and it helps with their training, is good for them to relax and you can teach them more when ridden,” explained Gillian, who has started to ride her mum’s novice Hackney pony.
“Driving needs to be correct with bend and the correct way of going. The harness and gig need to fit the pony correctly and there needs to be extra attention to detail for the accessories. The hubs need to be kept clean and there can’t be any squeaks.”
As part of her young ambassador duties, Gillian has to attend a number of shows, including Lampeter, Glenusk, Cheshire, the Royal Highland, the Royal Welsh and the breed show at Builth Wells
Part of the ‘job’ is to interest spectators in joining the society as well as encourage the younger members to be involved. Gillian sits on the Scottish Welsh Pony and Cob Association committee, who suggested that she put her name forward for the position.
The young ambassador trophy, a wooden harp made from Welsh oak by Robert Upton, was presented by Ifor and Myfanwy Lloyd of the Derwen Stud.
Phillipa Aitken, from Ayrshire, was the first recipient of the harp and the only other Scottish winner. The award is to encourage young people to undertake an active role in the promotion of the Welsh breeds. They did not set parameters but they hoped that successful candidates would be good communicators, bring ideas forward and be good adverts for the breed and society at all times.
Gillian will be holding a young judges training day at Gartconnell this summer. She was part of the Scottish young judges team at the national championship at Shrewsbury in 2006 and has been invited to judge at some shows this year.
“I would like to do more judging; it gives you confidence and experience but it’s much harder to judge inside the ring than standing outside – you are much closer to the animal and you have to justify where you put each horse. Everyone has their own opinion in a pony, but as a judge you need to have your own opinion and not be swayed,” adds Gillian.
“I hope the young ambassador role will encourage people to join the society and try something different – from driving to ridden ponies, there is a Welsh pony to do every job,” added Gillian.