Documentary set to revive controversy over Hawick Common Riding gender dispute

This year's Hawick Common Riding.
This year's Hawick Common Riding.

A national television spotlight will focus on Hawick next week as programme makers explore efforts made by women to gain equal rights at the town’s annual common riding.

A BBC film crew followed lady riders this summer as they were allowed to take part in the common riding’s chase for the first time.

The Common Riding, on BBC2 Scotland next Tuesday night, is bound to reopen the debate on the rights and wrongs of the traditionally male-dominated event’s customs.

The documentary looks at those traditions and how they’re evolving in the 21st century.

After a legal battle that divided Hawick in 1996, women were allowed to participate in rideouts for the first time but ceremonial events including the yearly chase have remained men-only.

However, that changed this summer when women were permitted to take part in all events, and cameras were there to film how the changes unfolded, taking in viewpoints of both traditionalists and those who want to see a more modern approach.

In the documentary, two female riders, identified as Lisa and Pauline, are preparing to take part in the chase for the first time.

Pauline says: “It means the world to me to be able to do the chase, and I know I’ve got official permission, but it’s difficult to know there’s a great deal of the town not happy with it.

“There’s a suggestion that if I wasn’t to do it, I’d be respecting tradition. The insinuation is I’m disrespecting them by doing it. I don’t see it that way.”

Vet Lisa adds: “I’ve thought about the controversy a lot. I might be naive, but there’s good people in this town. I think most people realise this is the time that we need to move forward.

“I’m just pleased the time has come for lady riders to be involved because on the back of a horse we’re all equal.”

But Malcolm, who formerly held the position of acting father, believes the customs should remain as they are.

He says: “In 2018, there’s been a couple of girls who wanted to ride and that’s something that needs to be looked at very carefully because what we’re trying to do is maintain our customs and traditions. I have no desire to see those changed.

“It’s not about exclusion. It’s about complete inclusion, and everybody plays their part.”

The Common Riding is a Magic B production for BBC Scotland.

It is an hour long and will be screened on BBC2 Scotland on Tuesday from 9pm.

Cameron Knox, chairman of the common riding committee, said: “The committee was not asked to contribute or be involved in this documentary.

“If any member was involved, they are there as an individual and do not speak on behalf of the Hawick Common Riding committee.”

A preview clip of the show can now be seen on the BBC Scotland website at www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b0bshqz2