Opinion

Showing judges are often asked about their pet hates. Some — like the over-use of cosmetic products, too many plaits or the use of a particular bit — can be fixed quickly, but others come down to schooling and take time and expertise to put right.

A few years ago, one of my pet hates was a trend for ponies going far too fast, being pushed out of their rhythm in an attempt to make them look as though they were better movers. At the time I was dismayed, watching class after class of ponies scuttling around the ring and losing all cadence and elegance, especially in trot.

However, I’ve noticed a new trend this season, specifically in the intermediate classes, that is equally bad. Now we are seeing animals going far too slowly, especially in canter. They are simply not travelling over the ground or going forward. This weekend I witnessed one jockey in trot overtake another competitor who was in canter at the time.

Making these animals canter so slowly is unnatural and to achieve it, they lose straightness. The result is an animal going along on three or four tracks. This is definitely a trend that needs ironing out and I believe it should be penalised by judges. It isn’t a quick fix, but a schooling issue that will take time and expertise to correct.

Perfecting the go-round

I also noted that some intermediate competitors disregarded the judges’ request for an extension on the go-round and in their shows. I tell the children on our team to watch the horse classes to see how the professionals do it and then we practise, practise, practise to make sure this phase is executed as well as the others.

The same advice should perhaps be applied to intermediate riders. After all, they are only a step away from horse classes and should be raising their game and setting an example to children in the classes below them.

I have always been in favour of pulling in a class based on your preference on the go-round. Some judges go as far as giving a mark for the go-round. This is a great idea, as otherwise competitors may as well just come into the ring and line up before their individual shows.

From a production viewpoint, it is far easier to make the animals flat enough that the children find it easy to ride them and are able to give a safe show than to produce an animal with the X-factor — where it is schooled enough that the child can ride it and catch the judge’s eye on the go-round, but can also contain itself enough to give a good show.

If children believe that the go-round really does count, they will try harder and it will make them hungrier for the pull-in. This will have the knock-on effect of improving ringcraft and showmanship — those old-fashioned values that sadly seem to be lacking in many of today’s competitors.

Ref: Horse & Hound; 22 June 2017