Opinion

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Watching young riders grow in confidence and skill is a rewarding part of showing ponies. They are our industry’s future and we should be proud of them.

Sam Walker attracted attention when he rode Party Time, an experienced small hunter, to stand reserve to his dad, Robert, in a recent hunter championship at the British Show Horse Association Northern Spring Show. That’s a good result for any rider, but especially for a 12-year-old who is still eligible to ride 128cm show ponies.

Most people applauded this achievement, but I was disappointed to hear that it had been the focus of some internet controversy. To put the critics right: no rules were broken, as the governing body, Sport Horse Breeding (GB), has no age restrictions and Sam is a paid-up member.

The argument that it wasn’t safe is ridiculous. Sam hunts twice a week throughout the winter and this is far more demanding than riding a well-schooled hunter in walk, trot and canter in a fenced-off arena.

I was so disappointed that people should wish to stifle our up-and-coming talent that I asked Sam about his championship experience. He said it was far easier than riding challenging novice ponies!

Instead of criticising, let’s embrace talent and applaud ability and courage. If children are talented enough to move up through the ranks on suitable horses, then they should be allowed and encouraged to do so.

Poppy Carter is another example of a young jockey making her mark on horses. She is still eligible to ride in 138cm show pony classes, but competes and was placed in the intermediate show riding type section at Horse of the Year Show (HOYS) last year.

On our team, we have a new 15-year-old jockey who is in intermediate show riding type classes and competing against riders 10 years older. It’s about the training and the ability of the jockeys — and we should never stifle their passion and their desire to improve.

A bowler hat and school shoes

This isn’t a new trend. Rob Walker himself was hunter champion at Driffield Showground when he was 14; and at the age of 11, Bill Bryan’s grandson rode The Showman in the hunter championship at Three Counties in a bowler hat and school shoes.

Look at the huge success of British Showjumping’s children-on-horses classes. Here, riders aged 12-14 have the chance to jump horses and qualify for a European final.

So, here’s my advice to all those talented young jockeys out there. Aim high, train hard, get professional advice and never be put off by negative feedback, especially on social media and internet chat sites.

Don’t bash the judge

Call me old-fashioned, but I’m of the opinion that if you have something to say, you should say it directly.

Showing societies have social media codes of conduct and members should abide by them. I hate overt judge-bashing at any level — judges have a thankless task, as only the winners think they have done a good job.

Without judges, we wouldn’t have an industry, so instead of being disappointed with a judge’s decision, disgruntled exhibitors should look at how they could improve.

Ref Horse & Hound; 27 April 2017