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I’ve just returned from judging at Wexford Equestrian Centre, Ireland. The Irish are renowned for being laid-back and I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s a cultural disposition. Organisers are happy to delay classes and wait for competitors and, in one championship, waited five minutes so the official photographer could get a picture with the sponsor, leaving all the kids standing in the middle chatting.

This was a revelation.

In England we often seem bound by time restrictions and fastidious rules. I think meeting somewhere halfway would benefit competitors and shows alike.

The children’s riding in Ireland is very competent, largely because they all have to work their ponies in and deal with the rough and tumble that this involves. However, the overall way of going could be more consistent in the ring.

Their in-hand skills leave much to be desired. Ireland introduced the marks system only last year and it seems it hasn’t dawned on many that the 50 marks available need to be worked for.

A few years ago, I judged a prestigious Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) qualifier where most riders stood their ponies in front of me as if they couldn’t be bothered.

I then made the decision as a judge to stop telling children how to stand their ponies up in the ring. That should be learnt at home, and children should come to shows better prepared.

I love it when children ask about conformation and understand that the way they stand their ponies up influences the final mark the judge writes down. If they want maximum marks for the conformation phase they need to practise just as hard as at the ridden part.

Trainers in England are more aware of it. With my team, we spend equal time teaching the in-hand conformation aspect as we do the ride part, especially in the run-up to a major show.

The Irish could, perhaps, teach some young riders here the art of gaining experience and confidence through having fun — something we believe in. We’ve just taken our team on a seven-mile farm ride and people and ponies finished with smiles on their faces: even me — and I was in charge of a lead-rein pair!

The first time we did it, the children were nervous at first, but when they finished, the first question was: “When can we do it again?”

The showing industry can be guilty of wrapping animals in cotton wool; let’s face it, horses can and do incur more damage in the field.

No sign of shrinkage

Early shows are producing good classes. Some say that entry numbers are shrinking, but are they?

At one time, our first show of the season was on Good Friday, when you’d see 26 lead-rein ponies in the class. Now you’ll find 26 shows on offer before Good Friday, so entries are bound to be more spread out.

Ref: Horse & Hound; 14 April 2016