After a senior judge had his leg broken by a kick, could health and safety concerns affect the future of ride judging?

After a senior judge had his leg broken when kicked by a horse, could safety concerns affect the future of ride judging?

Richard Mills was left with a broken leg after being kicked while judging at Balmoral Show in Belfast earlier this month (13 May).

Richard, who was overseeing the Hunter Supreme Championship alongside Chris Hunnable, had just mounted and was riding away from the line-up when his horse started resisting and whipped round.

“Chris had just got on a horse at the other end of the line and unfortunately mine took me back towards him. We both met in the middle and in the confusion the other horse caught me hard above my ankle,” Richard told H&H.

Although Richard said it was “was just one of those things”, he is concerned that the future of the art of ride judging could be jeopardised by health and safety concerns.

“The day health and safety reared its head was a black day for the sport,” he said.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if within five to 10 years there’s no ride judging at all. And I wouldn’t go to a show again —what would be the point?”

In her guest edited issue of H&H earlier this year (19 March), Jayne Ross questioned the future of ride judging and whether the next generation of judges are up to a standard needed to continue this crucial aspect of the sport.

“My concern is that we will end up losing ride judges altogether and be like so many places abroad which would be a huge shame,” she added.

Healthy and safety concerns

But could it be health and safety that curtails the art?

In 2004 doubts were raised when John Chugg, a respected English panel judge, broke his back when he was bucked off twice in the middleweight hunter class at Dublin.

And now safety concerns have been highlighted again following Richard’s accident.

There are fears that over-fresh horses are an increasing problem.

“The judge is not a crash-test dummy. If your horse isn’t going well enough for you, don’t expect a judge to ride it. Go home and practise,” said H&H columnist Simon Reynolds.

Producer and judge Robert Oliver said it is a “very worrying state of affairs” and agreed with Simon that exhibitors need to get their horses “show ready” before letting a judge sit on them.

“These days exhibitors present their horses far too fresh and unaccustomed to the situation, which needs addressing,” he said.

“A few years ago you’d have a horse that was nicely fresh — now they are over-fresh and you’re more likely to get dumped.

“ I think part of the reason is that horses don’t see the sights and sounds they should — they are in an arena and don’t see cattle, sheep and tractors. So when they get to a show and see banners and crowds, they lack bravery and act out.”

He agreed that health and safety is a growing concern.

“I don’t know about putting people off completely, but you don’t want a bad experience and land smack on your back,” said Robert.

Richard Mills believes increased time pressures lead to a lack of preparation. “Years ago producers gave more time to horses, now it’s got to be tomorrow, not next week, month or year, but all horses have to start somewhere,” he said.

What does the future hold?

Nigel Hollings, deputy chairman of the judges committee of the British Show Horse Association (BSHA), said to lose ride judging would be “very detrimental” to the future of the sport.

But he added that although we’re “more aware” of accidents now, he doesn’t think much has changed in the past 20 years.

“You’ll always rely on horses being used to being ridden and you’re going to have situations where people are injured as horses are unpredictable,” he said.

“But there are some excellent young ride judges — look at Chloe Chubb and Ben Hester at Royal Windsor.”

Though he agreed that the onus is on the exhibitor.

“Yes a judge should be fit, but exhibitors must bear responsibility for their horse. I’ve had people say to me, ‘Oh, be careful he’s not had anyone else on him before,’ or, ‘He doesn’t like men.’

“They should be prepared before they arrive at the show. There are enough opportunities out there from societies to educate horses at grass roots levels.”

He also pointed out that there is a difference between “a well-mannered horse slipping and a horse depositing a rider”.

“There’s a two strikes and you’re out policy in the BSHA so there are elements in place to protect judges,” he said.

The BSHA also intends to trial pilot scheme of newcomers novice classes, whereby horses going to shows for the first time aren’t ridden by a judge,

“This will to get them used to the environment without the added pressure of a new rider,” Nigel told H&H.

Ref: H&H 29 May, 2015