Merlin the miniature horse has a touch of magic about him

At 24inches high fully grown Vita is the smallest horse in Scotland, Pictured with owner Oli Hoffer Vita lives with stable mate Merlin at Yummleys coffee shop in Reston
At 24inches high fully grown Vita is the smallest horse in Scotland, Pictured with owner Oli Hoffer Vita lives with stable mate Merlin at Yummleys coffee shop in Reston

A UNICORN and Scotland’s smallest horse have taken up residence in Reston. Find that difficult to believe? Then take a trip to the new Yummleys country coffee shop, in the former Red Lion, and see for yourself.

At 26 just inches tall Vita, a European miniature horse, is Scotland’s smallest equine. She shares her home with fellow European miniature horse Merlin, who has been known to double up as a unicorn when there is enough Borders magic and fairy dust around – which tends to happen when there’s a charity event to attend.

“I like miniature things and its important to have some magic. Merlin and Vita are very lovable,” said owner Oli Hofer. “They have a very gentle nature and Vita in particular is absolutely bombproof.”

In fact, so good natured are these miniature horses that they are used in equine therapy, and their American cousins are now being house trained and taught to help their human owners just as guide dogs do.

The advantage of using a miniature horse rather than a dog is that the horses would be able to work as an aide for between 20 and 30 years. It costs around £50,000 to train a guide dog that would have a working life of around ten years, so if you can get treble that amount of work for the same financial input from miniature horses with an equally reliable nature it makes financial sense.

Children visiting Yummleys will be able to immerse themselves in the world of My Little Pony. There is an area in the coffee shop set aside especially for them, with My Little Pony toys and a Brio train set to play with while the adults have a coffee. Outside, families will have the opportunity to see Vita and Merlin in their specially-built miniature stable which will be decorated with hanging baskets in My Little Pony style.

Merlin’s transformation to a unicorn is developing him into a mascot, particularly for Riding for the Disabled events, and he is becoming something of a celebrity in some circles.

Contributing to society is very much in the psyche of Merlin’s owner Oli and his partner, Leya. As well as escorting Merlin to his public appearances as a unicorn, they are also donating the takings from their coffee shop to local charitable organisations once a month.

Their first charity Tuesday was this week, March 20, and the recipients on this occasion were the Eyemouth RNLI. Oli and Leah also intend supporting St Abbs and Burnmouth RNLI as well as the local Riding for the Disabled organisation which is five minutes up the road from them.

A former Swiss banker, Oli moved to the Borders five years ago, and this week opens the doors to his latest venture - a coffee shop specialising in Swiss recipe cakes and goodies.

Having grown up on Swiss apple cake, spiced apple cake, Swiss fruit and nut slice Oli knows very well how they should taste and look. Satisfied that they have perfected the recipes – after many months of baking and testing – they are now ready to open their doors to share these Swiss delights with their visitors.

The range and quality of local produce in Berwickshire and Northumberland has already given them food for thought and has got them experimenting with more recipes with a local twist.

Both Oli and Leya are amazed at the wealth of local foods available in the area and have thoroughly enjoyed their tasting sessions - all in the name of research of course.

They are also hoping at some point to be in a position to appoint an apprentice. Oli has a European attitude to the apprenticeship model. “When I started my banking career as an apprentice I went to business school as well and gained by diploma,” he explained.

“Basically we hope to give him a proper training in all aspects of pastry and we’ll be encouraging him to go to chocolate school. For me it’s important because I had an apprenticeship scheme.”

During his career in banking Oli worked for the Swiss bank UBS, followed by five years in the city of London then working on a project with Barclays. “I was always drawn to the British Isles from a young age,” he added. “The magic of these isles steeped in deep history let my imagination go. I ended up working in banking for over two decades, fully submerged in the busy life of finance. Being a family man and coming out of a marriage and a senior role in banking were lessons in my life which led me on a pilgrimage of discovery of myself.”

When he moved to the Borders Oli became involved in historical re-enactments, and recently re-fought the Battle of Philiphaugh – although on this occasion no soldiers were hurt in the ensuing fight. He still has his re-enactment uniform, just doesn’t have so much time to do battle. He is also the proud owner of a working canon!

But for now he is bringing a little taste of his homeland to Berwickshire along with a little bit of horsey magic and Oli couldn’t be happier.