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Horse sense for Wales from Hungarian Great Plain.

AT THE eastern end of the Hungarian Great Plain, towards the Romanian border and close to the village of Hortobagy, there is a resort hotel.

It has the facilities typical of such establishments: restaurants, swimming pool, hairdressing salon, gymnasium and so on. But there are no beaches, no golf courses. Instead there are horses and riding.

This is the homeland of the superb Nonius breed, renowned for their stamina and temperament. Generations of Magyar horsemen, managing great herds of livestock on the vast spaces of the Great Plain, have developed their skills and those of their horses to a remarkable degree.

There are around a thousand horses in the riding centre attached to the hotel, ranging from small ponies to powerful Nonius up to any weight.

The riding schools and stabling are superb. There are vets, farriers, saddlers and harness-makers. There are instructors for all levels from absolute beginners to Olympic standard. There are self-catering cottages with loose boxes if you want to bring your own horses, and if their manners need improving there are experts to advise.

And spinning off from all this there are craft workshops, booksellers, caterers and the rest. In all, the enterprise must provide jobs, directly and indirectly, for well over a thousand people - an impressive contribution to the local economy in an area where traditional farming is experiencing many problems.

Can Wales learn anything from the Hungarian experience? It has been a constant theme of the Country Land and Business Association's advice on developing new rural business that one should build on strength.

We have wonderful riding country, far more diverse and interesting than the Great Plain. In the Welsh cob we have a widely-respected breed. In the Equine Studies Department of the Institute of Rural Studies at the University of Wales, Aberystwyth we have a formidable research and teaching resource.

We have a growing number of well-set-up riding and trekking centres. There is strength to build on.

And now there is an exciting project which could bring all this together. The United Counties Show Committee is well advanced with plans to establish an equine centre at its Carmarthen showground.

There will be a dressage and jumping arena, and an exhibition hall which will double as a competition arena. There will be instruction, conference and catering facilities, a hotel and stabling.

There is ready access to riding in forests and open country. A network of links to riding centres across the country is being considered, making longer treks and overnight stops possible. The potential is impressive.

We hear a lot about fostering the entrepreneurial spirit - here is an opportunity to show some mettle.

Paddy Rooney is a former chairman of the Dyfed CLA
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Publication:Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales)
Date:Nov 19, 2003
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