Inclusion key to a bright future

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Scotland’s top horse doctor and a European leader in the field of equine medicine has spoken of his love of the Common Riding.

Dr John Keen was born in Selkirk of Galashiels parents – Billy and Doreen – and has regularly ridden the Marches although work commitments mean his attendance at the Common Riding can be restricted.

In his toast to the Common Riding at the Ex-Standard Bearers dinner he spoke of his childhood memories in the town, of some of the characters he knew and how his parents had been readily accepted into the community after moving from Galashiels in 1968.

John told the diners: “ I was lucky enough to grow up in the company of folk that loved the Common Riding. The great atmosphere of that company fostered in me a great love of the Common Riding. I wonder what would have happened if we hadn’t fallen in with that circle of friends. Would we have been dismissive of the Common Riding ? I know for a fact we would have missed out.”

And he went on: “I think inclusion, and making sure everyone feels welcome, is crucial to the survival of Border festivals – educating the young, and sometimes even the older ones, about traditions and keeping alive the songs that form such an integral part.

“It is great to see the kids Common Riding Singing Club, the Young Souters Association and the young riders scheme. These are great initiatives to keep things alive – none of these were there when I was young.

“Of course there is the strong tradition of the exiles, of which Selkirk should be rightfully and extremely proud.”

John added: “Something like the Common Riding has a great power. It binds a community together and creates a common focus. You see it all over the world in various forms. For example in Tuscany all the hill towns, in some ways comparable to the Borders, have their own festival that celebrates community, history and traditions.”

And he revealed: “ My dad encouraged me to stand as an Attendant, and I look back and wonder why I didn’t. It is probably one of my biggest regrets.

“I look at the Attendants now and see the bond that binds them as Attendants and then as Standard Bearer and I do regret that missed opportunity.”

John is the director of equine clinical services at the Royal (Dick) School of Veterinary Studies in Edinburgh.

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