Unless you have been living under a rock these past few months, you will have definitely heard of Bogenraith, Scotland’s new premier world class equestrian centre based in Aberdeen. A huge boon to the North-East, where the equestrian landscape is seriously lacking in competition centres, Bogenraith is a beacon for so many Scottish based riders who are getting all too used to losing events and centres closing. That Bogenraith has brought world class equestrian facilities to the nook of the North is not only incredibly exciting, but also a staggering achievement by the team behind the project.

As part of our Women in Business series, I sat down with Marion Dreelan, Director at Bogenraith, to find out more…

I meet Marion on a typically rainy day (when hasn’t it rained lately?) at Bogenraith and sit down for a chat on a comfy sofa outside their in-house restaurant, the Fern. Tasty smells emanate from the kitchen and unusually for me, it’s warm and cosy, somewhat of a revelation when I am used to interviewing people often in cold barns or in the middle of outdoor schools! This is all part of the comfort that has been intentionally built into each part of the centre. As Marion explains, “as a competitor and amateur eventer, I’ve been out in the middle of fields in the pouring rain, absolutely miserable, trying to enjoy your sport and you realise what’s missing”. It’s this personal insight which has informed each part of the build at every stage, “you come back from shows thinking ‘God if only they had this and that’ it would
make everyone’s life so much easier”. Being a rider and competitor herself has been fundamental in shaping Marion’s vision in what she wanted to achieve with the project. Interestingly she tells me that a lot of people advised her to go and look at other competition centres for research. “We didn’t need to”, she explains, “everything we have created here is from our own vision”. She continues, “I just knew what we needed up here. I was sick of driving 6-7 hours South for a couple of rounds of showjumping and then 6-7 hours back. I just felt for the Scots as well, we were always hard done by, the ones left in the background. There is so much talent up here and it needs to be nurtured and developed and it needs somewhere to be able to come and train”. It’s this passion for supporting grassroots training that has been a fundamental underpinning of the centre. Yes it’s a premier competition centre, but it is also a place of opportunity for everyone. Opportunities to train, to learn, to be educated. As Marion explains, “we’re very much here about nurturing riders from grassroots. Although we are a competition centre, we are very much focused on the development of it all, whether it be hosting careers evenings, vet talks, clinics and so on”.

The centre is unique in many ways because Marion’s experience is unique. She came to horses later in life and didn’t start riding till she was 44. “I came into it so late. A lot of people have ridden their whole lives and are oblivious, not meaning to be, but they have just been a part of the world for so long that they don’t see how nerve wracking it can be to compete at these centres”. It’s why Marion insists on their showjumping classes starting at 40 and 50cm. She is passionate about creating an atmosphere where everyone feels welcome, whether you jump 40 or 1.40. It’s part of the wider plan of supporting riders to progress, because anyone at any level can ride in a big atmosphere with a grandstand full of people and a judge’s box looming large above the arena. “The sooner we start people in this environment, if they do end up going to their Aintrees or whatever, they want to go and not feel intimidated”. Again, this outlook is from personal experience as Marion explains when she took her horse Apache to Aintree and he started backing up before he went into the ring because the atmosphere was so overwhelming. There was no way Marion was going to let that happen though! Her determination is writ large through the whole interview (perhaps not surprising from someone who was once 4 th in the world at dead lifting!) and is evident in her approach to everything she does, whether in her riding or business. “I’m a doer and I throw myself into every aspect of everything. When I bought Apache, I knew I had no time to lose, I had to fast track myself through this pretty quickly, so I did, I threw myself right in at the deep end and went for it!"

Building a new centre from scratch is perhaps the most telling evidence of throwing yourself 
in at the deep end! Indeed as Marion explains, when the farm first came up for sale, there were conversations between her and her husband about whether they should just buy some of the land or whether to buy the whole thing, “so we decided we would just go for it and literally bought the whole thing”. It is not just Marion’s work ethic that has been so fundamental to her success, but also her personal perspective on life in general. She credits this to both aging and her battle with cancer. For this is a woman who is all the more remarkable for having overseen this project while seriously ill. “When I was told the news I just thought ‘I can’t be sick just now, I just can’t’ I don’t have time to be unwell! So the focus was to get the treatment done as quickly as possible as I’ve got places to be!” Thankfully Marion is fighting fit again, but she tells me that having the project to focus on was crucial. “There were a few dark moments inevitably, but the saving grace was knowing that this place was being started. Seeing it through was my main focus. I don’t know how people can get through it without a focus”. Marion also credits her husband Ciaran for being instrumental in taking the reins of the project himself till she was able to pick herself up again. “It was a pretty rough time but I think what I have done in the process is show people be aware of your body, self-checking, stress levels etc and to realise you are just human at the end of the day and there does come a point where you are allowed to say tomorrow is another day”. It is this experience, combined with getting older, that Marion credits for her ability to worry much less about what other people think. “With age comes experience. You end up with broader shoulders, I don’t absorb other peoples opinions as much or let it upset me as much as I used to. I didn’t hit 50 without meeting setbacks that teach you resilience. You learn to dust yourself off, pick yourself up and get back on track”.

This has been critical to Marion’s belief, both in the project and herself. Indeed when I ask her what advice she would give someone for embarking on their own business project, she replies “quite simply, believe in yourself. Let people criticize. Get the broader shoulders on and just switch off from it all. And surround yourself with the right people”. There are no glib cliches here. These are words that come straight from the heart because I can feel their impact directly. Sitting opposite Marion, she makes me feel that I can go and do anything if I just believe in myself! And this is one of her self-confessed greatest strengths. “One of my strengths is I see the person. Yes I see the business, but I also see the person”. This also informs Marion’s approach to running her business. She values each and every person the same and will be the first to run over and help someone if they are struggling. “If someone is having a hard time, I always say, don’t get off, stay on, you can do this”. Critical to this is cultivating an approachable persona, something which Marion credits with mucking in with every part of the centre. From poo picking in the fields to wiping tables and moving jumps, getting stuck in isn’t just part of Marion’s personal outlook, but also key to her professional strategy in creating a place where everyone feels like they belong and that they are equally important. It helps too when you have a good sense of fun, for as serious as Marion is about her business, she equally doesn’t take herself too seriously. She tells me a great story about doing arena eventing on Apache and her husband tightening her girth for her before they went in the ring. At least he supposedly did! Halfway round and Marion realises her saddle is slipping to the side and before she knows it, she’s underneath Apache’s tummy before hitting the ground! She laughs heartily telling the story, “I’m on the deck, legs in the air, there’s a gallery full of people…! I just laughed, got back on, tacked up the next one and thought, ‘well that was fun!’ If you were to absorb everyone’s comments, you’d never do it. Whatever, you get one shot at this life”. 

Marion’s joy in riding, which comes in part I think from coming to it so late, is inspirational. She goes for it and enjoys every moment because those moments are all too precious when you haven’t had the privilege of enjoying them your whole life. Too often we are so bogged down in beating ourselves up about a fence we knocked down or a disappointing dressage score. As equestrians we are very good at trying to ruin the sport for ourselves. As Marion tells me, the thing that gives her most joy is seeing others enjoying their horses, having fun and leaving with a big smile on their face. “That means more to me than anything. My biggest thing is I want them to walk out that door when they leave happy and smiling and patting their horse. To me then my job is done”. Key to this is an understanding that everyone has different goals, “not everyone has a Badminton horse”. Indeed most of us don’t have a Badminton horse. A great many of us are amateur hobby riders enjoying our horses at whatever level we are at. One person’s prelim might be another’s PSG. One person’s 70, might be another’s 1.30. We all have different ambitions and being able to value this comes back to Marion’s ability to appreciate the person. “Everyone has different goals. I never ever thought in a million years I could event at 100, but this is my goal. I’ve put the effort in, I’ve attended  lessons, I’ve done the work”. Marion is aware that when she first started riding, there were probably people who thought ‘what the hell is she doing?!’ But as in all things, she ignored the neigh-sayers (neigh, see what I did there? Ok no more horse puns!) 

It is this unapologetic single-mindedness and self-belief in her vision that has been key to the project. “You have to be very driven and believe in what you are doing, regardless of what everybody else thinks, because if I was to take on board everyone’s opinion of what we have created here, I would have pulled the plug”. When I ask Marion if she was able to keep her vision largely intact throughout, she explains, “we were able to mostly hold on to it, we had hurdles along the way when it came to planning and a couple of neighbours, but we made sure that whatever we have done, we have done correctly”. She continues, “anything that has been thrown at us and as hard as it has been and the thousands it has cost us extra, we have seen it through. We are the kind of people that if someone tries to put a wall in front of us, we will find a way around it - or through it!” It’s this tenacity that has been the hallmark of Marion’s approach. But my God it must have been a steep learning curve! When I ask how on earth she managed it all, she responds laughing “with a large G&T!” She continues more seriously (not that G&T is not a serious business!) that it has been difficult to be pulled in so many different directions, “if I am not here overseeing the business, trying to organise the staff, making sure everything is running as it should be, I also have my own interests and my own horses and I have family, so I’m literally pulled in every single direction you can possibly imagine”. Marion recognises that part of dealing with this pressure is to carve out some time for herself, even if it’s just a walk round the farm at lunchtime. Putting some distance between herself and the project is also a crucial part of the decompression process, “because we have been so heavily involved and focused on it since 2019, we physically need to take ourselves away from it to digest it all. We’ve been here every day since we opened on the 12
th of January, living and breathing it. To really appreciate it, we need to physically get into the car and just go somewhere to take it all in. We’ve had so much positive comments that in some ways it feels surreal at some points”. 

As we near the end of the interview, I ask Marion what her plans for the future are and it becomes immediately apparent that the sky is the limit. From exercise classes to themed restaurant nights to yoga and pub quizzes, this centre is about so much more than competition. It has heart and soul woven through every seam of it. Marion’s passion, drive, resilience and phenomenal work ethic is evident throughout our chat and when she tells me that “I want to become the Somerford of Scotland and eventually, possibly next generation, become international”, I absolutely believe her. 


April 04, 2024 — Lynne Clark

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