ONE of the biggest characters on the Borders and Scottish horse racing circuit was laid to rest on Tuesday.
Former jockey and trainer John Swanson Haldane, known as Swannie, died at the age of 73 last week in a Kelso nursing home, where he had been since suffering a stroke last year.
Borders trainer Rhona Elliot, whose husband Peter was a lifelong friend of the Newtown-based handler, first met Swannie in the 1970s and formed a close relationship with him and his wife Liz, who tragically died in a riding accident in October 1979.
She told us: “Swannie was very much a live-for-today, tomorrow-doesn’t-matter type of man. During his career he must have broken most of the bones in his body, but it didn’t seem to faze him.
“He was very loud and larger than life. He may not have been very big in stature, but he was huge in terms of personality.
“He was liked by everyone and never had a bad word to say about anybody.
“He will be sadly missed by everyone who knew him.”
Born and bred in the Borders, Swannie served his apprenticeship with Stewart Wight and then moved on to ride for Ken Oliver at Denholm. In all, he rode around 100 winners in 12 years as a jump jockey before hanging up his saddle in 1972, shortly after Slaves Dream finished a two-length second to Quick Reply in the Scottish Grand National.
Haldane’s training career, spread over several yards including Newtown and Hendersyde, started in 1981.
The best horses he trained were Border Knight, What A Fiddler and Highlandman, who was runner-up in the 1997 Fox Hunter Chase at Aintree.
Former stable hand June Hardie said of her former boss: “Swannie was a hard, hard worker and a great character. At times he was hilarious and other times frustrating, but then you knew just to let him get on with things and not get in his way.”
And she added: “He was known as being frugal, but was generous when it mattered and will be a great miss among his many friends and in the horse racing world.”
He trained 29 winners over jumps, seven on the flat plus several in point-to-points. His final winner under rules was Camp Hill, ridden by Jim Crowley at Carlisle in 2004.