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Top horse breeder Harry Sleigh, 53, of Fyvie was double vaccinated but died from Covid

Harry Sleigh.

With the death by Covid of Harry Sleigh, aged 53, St John’s Wells, Fyvie, Scotland has lost one of the most respected breeders and exhibitors of livestock.

The Wells Stud of Shetland Ponies is renowned not just in the United Kingdom but also in other countries across the world where the small hardy native breed of ponies are kept.

An illustration of Harry’s success with Shetland Ponies in the show ring came when he exhibited the champion at the showcase event at Ingliston showground this past summer. This replaced the traditional Royal Highland Show which was cancelled because of Covid.


This year’s victory followed an amazing run with the Wells Stud winning the breed championship in the Shetland Ponies at the Highland in 2014, 2015, 2016 and 2019.

For livestock breeders in Scotland who dream of securing a breed championship at the Highland Show, that level of success is unprecedented.

In addition to his many successes in the show ring, Harry saw many of his Shetland ponies either exported to countries across the world or sold to top studs in the UK.


The success of Wells Shetland Ponies at the Highland Show was not
confined to the individual championship as, twice in the past decade, in 2015 and 2019, Harry’s ponies went on to take the coveted Sanderson award for best overall heavy horse champion at the Highland Show.

Harry’s standing as an exhibitor at the top end of the world of exhibiting horses was confirmed in 2016 when he was awarded the prestigious John Miller trophy.

This is given to the exhibitor – across all breeds – who has presented stock to an extremely high standard and who has also enhanced the show for other exhibitors

The Highland Show successes were not achieved in isolation as in 2012, Harry won the award for the best overall horse or pony bred by exhibitor at the Royal Northern Agricultural Society Spring Show.


More recently in 2019, Harry was honoured when he was presented with the trophy of horse-breeder of the year by Horse Scotland, the national organisation for all equestrian sports and activity in this country.

While these awards were at the top of the breeding pyramid, Wells ponies and commercial sheep bred on the home farm picked up numerous awards at smaller, more local shows.

He was especially supportive of Turriff Agricultural show with a decades long record of exhibiting at it.


On one special day, Harry’s strong competitive spirit must have been satisfied and the quality of his stock confirmed after he picked up the Shetland champions’ tickets at both Banchory and Nairn shows.

Showing livestock was in Harry’s blood as his father and grandfather both had very successful careers with their stock in the show ring.

In 2009 after the death of his father, when he and his brother John took over the farm including around about 50 of the top ponies in the country, Harry did not shy away from the top level competition. In fact, he revelled in it.


When the Wells Shetland Pony Stud was established in 1915, the guiding principles were that Scotland’s smallest native breed should be based on their hardiness, their conformation and their mobility. More than 100 years later, Harry still stuck to these.

On leaving Turriff Academy as soon as he was eligible to do so, Harry went home to work with his father, and mother (Ann) on the family farm.

Apart from the prize-winning Shetlands, the farm was renowned for its Half Bred and Cheviot sheep, both breeds featuring in successful forays to both the Highland Show and to local events.

The farm extends to 1500 acres with crops, breeding cattle and sheep as well as the Shetland ponies. Harry and John also diversified into renewable energy with wind turbines.


Away from his farming and livestock exhibiting life, Harry immersed himself in supporting the local community. He chaired the Community Council for Fyvie, Rothienorman and Monquhitter and he also served as an enthusiastic member of the local amenities committee.

In his younger days he played football with local amateur teams and when these days passed, he was also a regular on the football pitches of the North-east  in his capacity as a referee.


Although friendly off the playing field, his word or his whistle were not to be ignored or even challenged on the pitch.

While his support in the livestock world was for the most iconic and traditional of breeds, his musical preference was eclectic, but his favourite was heavy metal, especially, Iron Maiden.

He is survived by his widow whom he met when she came as Wendy Stewart into the Turriff area as the first female vet.

Their friendship blossomed when both were members of Turriff Young Farmers’ Club. They married in Fyvie church in 1994. Sons Harry and Stewart (Stewie) both work in the farming industry.


His family wish it to be known that Harry’s death followed a month in hospital with Covid despite being double vaccinated.

“He was part of a very tiny cohort of people, who still lose their life to this horrendous virus, leaving clinicians with no answers,” a family spokesperson said.