Opinion

Judging conformation in the amateur cob, hack and riding horse classes [at Royal Windsor] was a pleasure. Amateur riders form the vital grassroots of our sport and must be looked after.

As judges, we must be kind, without lowering our standards or expectations. We must also be constructive in any criticism. I’m the first person to say if I think a horse is in good condition — and the first one to say if I think an animal is too fat.

As I told one rider whose horse was on the verge of being overweight: “One day you will be up against a competitor on an equally nice but slimmer and fitter horse, and you’ll lose out.” I believe that if we think horses are fat, we should keep putting them down the line.

Sometimes, small changes can make a big difference. I pointed out to one cob competitor that if the horse had been hogged with a better technique, it would have looked much more “quality”.

The biggest compliment we can pay amateurs is to measure them against professional standards. As the ride judge for the SEIB Search for a Star series for 16 years, I know we’ve reached the stage where some amateurs already meet these, and I was delighted to see the winner of the amateur cobs stand fourth in the open lightweight class.

Challenging sphere

Hacks are perhaps the biggest challenge for an amateur rider. These horses must be elegant, responsive, beautiful and impeccably mannered. We had a real mix of types at Windsor, although I appreciate that riders must have horses which suit their riding ability, experience and lifestyle.

Our winner was truly elegant. From the point of view of conformation, any of the top three placings could have gone any which way, and it came down to ride. When I’m judging conformation, I always keep an eye on the way horses ride so that I can discuss it with my ride judge colleague.

Style is key

The amateur working show horse class had about 30 chasing two places in the SEIB working show horse of the year final at the British Show Horse Association national championships, and produced just five clears.

It was a fair, up-to-height course that rewarded correct riding and horses with sufficient scope and fitness.

Riders must remember that jumping style is important — I don’t like seeing horses showjumped around a workers’ course, although the trend for courses where you’re always turning into another fence as you land means there is sometimes no other option.

Working classes are about a quality animal with a good jump and conformation, who is well ridden and well presented. Our winner knew what a good hunting pace meant and met all these criteria.

As always, it was a privilege to judge in this great setting. There was also a heaviness of heart which many in the showing world will appreciate, because the last time I stood in the centre of the ring at Royal Windsor, I was judging alongside the late and much-missed Sue Webb.

Ref Horse & Hound; 17 May 2018