A tentative proposal has been unveiled which could see Hawick become the UK’s leading holiday destination for hundreds of thousands of horse enthusiasts.
‘The Town of the Horse’ idea is the brainchild of Dr Ross Cameron, who gave a presentation at Monday night’s Future Hawick meeting, during which he said that Wigtown had its books, Speyside had its whisky, and he asked himself what it was about Hawick that could provide a similarly lucrative tourist market.
He told the meeting he then looked into horse riding and discovered that it was a “vast, vast market”, with 900,000 people owning horses in Britain.
Mr Cameron continued: “These people spend about £3,500 each a year on keeping their horses, and they spend another half-a-billion pounds on discretionary expenses.
“But one of the key facts every time you look up a [horse riding-related] website is that these people talk about the need for access to safe, off-road riding. And it dawned on me that we are almost uniquely set in this town for giving people safe, off-road riding.
“And we’ve got farming and rural communities who are used to having horses crossing their land. We’ve also got many experienced riders, both in terms of guides to take people out and in terms of looking after horses with accommodation.”
Mr Cameron added that if one per cent of the 900,000 horse enthusiasts took a week-long holiday every three years in Hawick, for six months of the year that would be more than 100 people. And he said they would presumably bring their families or partners with them. “It just seems to me as a niche that’s not yet filled and it could be very, very lucrative.”
He said he thought the initiative would create jobs not just for guides and trainers, but for horse transport and a person to run a dedicated website. There was also the potential boost for accommodation providers, stable owners, farriers and saddlers, as well an increase in trade for local bars, restaurants and knitwear. Farmers would also receive a dividend for use of their land. Mr Cameron also mooted the idea of asking someone like Ian Stark to become involved as a project figurehead.
Future Hawick chairman Derick Tait said the scheme could qualify for LEADER funding [available to communities to boost rural economies].
Councillor Stuart Marshall added: “I think we’d kick ourselves if we didn’t explore this, to be honest. Let’s try and take it to the next level.”
Chairman Tait said fellow member Ian Lindley, who wasn’t at the meeting, had contacts within the British Horse Society, and it was agreed that Mr Lindley be asked to arrange a meeting with a representative from the BHS.