Riding the Braes: the Scots way to celebrate a wedding!

Today horse racing is an international industry, with racecourses, training yards, rules, and regulations, mainly focussing on the Thoroughbred racehorse. However, historically, horse races of many different kinds have been run, and Scotland was particularly rich in horse racing traditions that were often very different from those in England. One of these was “Riding the Braes,” also known sometimes as “the Broose,” a celebratory horse race taking place at a wedding. These were not confined to any particular part of Scotland, but a good description has survived from Dumfries and Galloway:

“…there were other curious marriage customs in vogue in Dumfriesshire and Galloway half a century ago, and occasionally even at the present day these are to a more or less extent revived. What was called the “Riding of the Braes” was an important part of every marriage ceremony. Both the friends of the bridegroom and the friends of the bride assembled with their horses at the residence of the former, from which place they rode furiously to the bride’s house, which was sometimes ten or fifteen miles distant. The practice was to allow the bridegroom such a long start that it could only be by desperate riding that he could be overtaken, and then the relatives of the bride pitted themselves against the relations of the bridegroom in a race to the bride’s house, where the winners were awarded a bottle of whisky and some other article symbolical of victory. If the distance between the houses was short, then the race was run on foot, and although amusing in the extreme, it lacked the romance of the equestrian ride.” – Anon, “Dumfriesshire Penny Weddings,” in Dumfries and Galloway Notes and Queries, ed. Charles Mackie, 1913, 35. (Reprinted from the Dumfries and Galloway Courier and Herald.)

The Broose is referenced in a poem by Robert Burns that tugs at the heartstrings: The Auld Farmer’s New-Year-Morning Salutation To His Auld Mare, Maggie. This poem describes the auld farmer going to give his mare a handsel, a gift of food, on New Year’s Day. As he talks to his old friend, he recalls the many memories they share together, having grown old in one another’s company. When she was young, the beautiful grey, who was given to him by his father-in-law, used to run like a stag and beat all the other horses. She could jump and yet was safe enough to carry the old farmer’s bride, with her own foal – her minnie – running alongside. She has born him enough foals to make a full plough team of four, and more; she could never be matched in the broose. Now she is old – they’ve “worn to crazy years thegither” – and the farmer promises her she will always be looked after with loving care, and given her “heapit stimpart” – her generous, overflowing, allocation of feed. The poem also reminds us of the importance of versatile little horses in Scotland such as the Galloway. They could race, they could plough, they could jump, they could draw a carriage – what could they not do!

The Auld Farmer’s New-Year-Morning Salutation To His Auld Mare, Maggie,
By Robert Burns

A Guid New-year I wish thee, Maggie!
Hae, there’s a ripp to thy auld baggie:
Tho’ thou’s howe-backit now, an’ knaggie,
I’ve seen the day
Thou could hae gaen like ony staggie,
Out-owre the lay.

Tho’ now thou’s dowie, stiff, an’ crazy,
An’ thy auld hide as white’s a daisie,
I’ve seen thee dappl’t, sleek an’ glaizie,
A bonie gray:
He should been tight that daur’t to raize thee,
Ance in a day.

Thou ance was i’ the foremost rank,
A filly buirdly, steeve, an’ swank;
An’ set weel down a shapely shank,
As e’er tread yird;
An’ could hae flown out-owre a stank,
Like ony bird.

It’s now some nine-an’-twenty year,
Sin’ thou was my guid-father’s mear;
He gied me thee, o’ tocher clear,
An’ fifty mark;
Tho’ it was sma’, ’twas weel-won gear,
An’ thou was stark.

When first I gaed to woo my Jenny,
Ye then was trotting wi’ your minnie:
Tho’ ye was trickie, slee, an’ funnie,
Ye ne’er was donsie;
But hamely, tawie, quiet, an’ cannie,
An’ unco sonsie.

That day, ye pranc’d wi’ muckle pride,
When ye bure hame my bonie bride:
An’ sweet an’ gracefu’ she did ride,
Wi’ maiden air!
Kyle-Stewart I could bragged wide
For sic a pair.

Tho’ now ye dow but hoyte and hobble,
An’ wintle like a saumont coble,
That day, ye was a jinker noble,
For heels an’ win’!
An’ ran them till they a’ did wauble,
Far, far, behin’!

When thou an’ I were young an’ skeigh,
An’ stable-meals at fairs were dreigh,
How thou wad prance, and snore, an’ skreigh
An’ tak the road!
Town’s-bodies ran, an’ stood abeigh,
An’ ca’t thee mad.

When thou was corn’t, an’ I was mellow,
We took the road aye like a swallow:
At brooses thou had ne’er a fellow,
For pith an’ speed;
But ev’ry tail thou pay’t them hollow
Whare’er thou gaed.

The sma’, droop-rumpl’t, hunter cattle
Might aiblins waur’t thee for a brattle;
But sax Scotch mile, thou try’t their mettle,
An’ gar’t them whaizle:
Nae whip nor spur, but just a wattle
O’ saugh or hazel.

Thou was a noble fittie-lan’,
As e’er in tug or tow was drawn!
Aft thee an’ I, in aught hours’ gaun,
In guid March-weather,
Hae turn’d sax rood beside our han’,
For days thegither.

Thou never braing’t, an’ fetch’t, an’ fliskit;
But thy auld tail thou wad hae whiskit,
An’ spread abreed thy weel-fill’d brisket,
Wi’ pith an’ power;
Till sprittie knowes wad rair’t an’ riskit
An’ slypet owre.

When frosts lay lang, an’ snaws were deep,
An’ threaten’d labour back to keep,
I gied thy cog a wee bit heap
Aboon the timmer:
I ken’d my Maggie wad na sleep,
For that, or simmer.

In cart or car thou never reestit;
The steyest brae thou wad hae fac’t it;
Thou never lap, an’ sten’t, and breastit,
Then stood to blaw;
But just thy step a wee thing hastit,
Thou snoov’t awa.

My pleugh is now thy bairn-time a’,
Four gallant brutes as e’er did draw;
Forbye sax mae I’ve sell’t awa,
That thou hast nurst:
They drew me thretteen pund an’ twa,
The vera warst.

Mony a sair daurk we twa hae wrought,
An’ wi’ the weary warl’ fought!
An’ mony an anxious day, I thought
We wad be beat!
Yet here to crazy age we’re brought,
Wi’ something yet.

An’ think na’, my auld trusty servan’,
That now perhaps thou’s less deservin,
An’ thy auld days may end in starvin;
For my last fow,
A heapit stimpart, I’ll reserve ane
Laid by for you.

We’ve worn to crazy years thegither;
We’ll toyte about wi’ ane anither;
Wi’ tentie care I’ll flit thy tether
To some hain’d rig,
Whare ye may nobly rax your leather,
Wi’ sma’ fatigue.

Miriam A Bibby/History on Horseback January 2023

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