Why Scotland’s Common Ridings needs to be on your bucket list

  • Imagine fast, adrenalin-pumping rides across open country, festivals and ancient ceremonies all rolled into one and you have Scotland’s Common Ridings. Julie Harding finds out how to get involved

    Outside the stunning Borders area, knowledge of these age-old rides, which are hosted by Border towns every week between June and August, can be scant.

    However, those lucky enough to chance upon a ride retain lasting memories of the fervour, the friendliness, the excitement, the clamour and the pageantry and invariably return year 
after year.

    What are the Common Ridings?

    Dating back to the lawless 13th and 14th centuries, Common Ridings began when townspeople in the Borders rode their boundaries to check them and protect them from marauders.

    Out of the 11 Ridings in existence today, Hawick, Selkirk, Langholm 
and Lauder all lay claim to be the oldest, although perhaps the true original is buried in the mists of time. Lost, too, in the advancing centuries is primeval behaviour.

    “The Ridings have moved from a time of rape and pillage, to get-togethers for friends and family,” says Fiona Shepherd, secretary of the Presenting Coldstream Association. “Also, while you would once have had a celebration on returning home, that has now grown arms and legs. We run a week of events and have a committee to raise funds.”

    How do you get involved?

    Anyone from any corner of the globe can attend. Some ride, others walk and some even run or cycle. Be prepared for an early start, not least if you want to bag a prime picnic spot. Spectating brings its own challenges, such as being careful not to drive your vehicle into a bog.

    How much does it cost?

    Joining a ride-out is free, but if you don’t have your own horse you will need to factor in the cost of hiring one. There are plenty of hire centres in the Borders that specialise in sensible steeds with brakes.

    What do people wear?

    There is no dress code as such, although smart riding attire is the norm, as it would be for a conventional hunt. The horses, too, are well turned out.

    How competent at riding do you have to be?

    Most Common Ridings involve riding at various paces (be prepared to gallop) on the flat, and there may be the odd ditch to negotiate, although jumping isn’t usually required. Plenty of beginners take part and it isn’t unknown for someone to take only a few lessons before heading to the open countryside. However, Ian Stark — a long-standing participant of the ridings — whose equestrian centre staff train would-be ride-out hopefuls, cautions: “We often suggest that inexperienced riders wait another year, but most tend to get on with it and invariably they live to tell the tale.”

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    Find out more

    Most Common Ridings have their own websites, where you can find out about the best spectating spots, but returntotheridings.co.uk features the major Ridings in a one-stop shop.

    Read the full feature about Common Ridings in the current issue of Horse & Hound magazine (29 June 2017)

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