Image: Eileen and Chief Executive Roly Owers meeting Her Majesty The Queen at a sponsored ride at Balmoral
With the Balmoral Estate being further up the Royal Deeside, around a 35-minute drive away from Belwade Farm Rescue and Rehoming Centre, they really are our neighbours in the horse world. Over the years we’ve been very privileged to be allowed to hold a number of sponsored rides on the estate, which have always been very popular. I’d like to think it’s because this is such a beautiful part of the world but I’m sure a lot of people came because they didn’t want to miss the opportunity to be able to say they’ve ridden around one of Her Majesty’s estates!
We’ve rehomed several ponies to staff at the Balmoral Estate since Belwade Farm was established back in 1990. We’ve had a couple of lovely Highlands who’ve gone there to work as hill ponies and been a great success – even now there are some things you just can’t do with machinery, especially in countryside like this.
One of my most memorable moments with a pony who was rehomed to Balmoral was in fact not a Highland at all, but a little Shetland called Harry. They’d sadly lost one of Her Majesty The Queen’s favourite Highlands to grass sickness and as a result a foal needed a nanny, so Harry went off to be an ‘uncle’. He was a great children’s pony too and I believe a number of children on the estate enjoyed the odd pony ride on him.
In those days I was doing the check in visits on rehomed ponies and on one occasion I arrived at the estate to see how Harry was getting on but couldn’t find him at all, much to my confusion. I went off to ask where he might be and discovered that he had in fact accompanied the foal he was nannying to Hampton Court, where The Queen’s youngstock were to be paraded in front of her. Harry, not having been bred by Her Majesty, wasn’t required to take part in the parade – but, being a Shetland, he had other ideas, escaped, and promptly went careering around, free-range, where all the youngsters were being paraded in front of The Queen. I’d like to think that Her Majesty, consummate horsewoman that she was, saw the funny side of this and indeed she mentioned to one of our Scottish Trustees at a later date that her response had been to comment to a member of her staff words to the effect of, “I didn’t know I bred Shetlands!”, to which he could only respond, “You don’t, Ma’am.”
As well as having several of our ponies go off to Balmoral, we also welcomed a pony from the estate to Belwade at one point (depending on stocking levels we can take horses in for rehab reasons). This particular mare, Dewdrop, had had a stellar career as a hill pony and then a broodmare, but the time had come for her to do something different. As it turned out, once Dewdrop had settled into life here at Belwade we decided that she would be perfect for our adoption scheme, given her lovely nature. This had quite an interesting result: Dewdrop was very recognisable in Highland Pony circles, so she got a lot of interest as our adoption star and really helped to raise the profile of our adoption scheme.
She may have worked wonders for our adoption scheme, but I will always remember Dewdrop’s most remarkable achievement as something else entirely. At one point we ended up with an orphan foal and, knowing she’d had foals in the past, we thought we’d try Dewdrop as a foster mum and, remarkably, she not only adopted the foal, but we also managed to bring her back into milk. However, the story doesn’t stop there: unfortunately, we do get grass sickness cases in this part of the country and later that summer we had a mare with a foal at foot suffer a bout of it. Although she did survive, the mare wasn’t able to produce enough milk for her foal – but once again good old Dewdrop came to the rescue and adopted that foal too.
For many years, we’ve been very privileged to receive a donation every Christmas from the gate money at Balmoral Estate. The Queen used to make sure her favourite local charities all got a Christmas gift – a true testament to her generosity, affiliation with the area, and of course her love of horses.
When we realised that Her Majesty’s funeral cortege would pass by the farm as she left Royal Deeside for the last time, we all wanted to be there, not only to pay our respects to The Queen but also to show support for our President, HRH The Princess Royal, in such a sad time for the family. We initially wanted to have some of our ponies stand with us, to reflect Her Majesty’s love of horses, but the road is quite narrow and we didn’t know how the horses might react, so we decided on balance it would be best to leave them at the farm. The team all lined up in their uniform by the side of the road to watch the procession pass and it was a great privilege to witness history in the making, as The Queen embarked on her last great journey. May she rest in peace.